There was a time in my life when every boy in the class had a job delivering newspapers. It was an easy way for kids to make money and there were plenty of papers being printed.
My first job was selling papers on the street. I shake my head today thinking about this job. One of my grade school friends must have talked me into this. We’d pick up a stack of papers at the bus station, probably Fargo Forums or Minneapolis Tribunes. There’s even the possibility that my papers were Grit. Then it’s out to the street to sell them to people walking by.
I’ve read stories about kids in big cities selling papers. It was a tough job. It must have been too tough for me, because I didn’t last more than one or two days. My visual memories include dark streets and men rushing by in dark top coats. Then there was the bus station. Are there any nice bus stations in this country? Not in Jamestown,ND in the fifties.
Sales has never been my forte. I keep trying, but there are far more failures than successes. After that failure, I moved on to delivering papers to houses in the neighborhood. Maybe I was a little lazy, but the prospect of delivering papers every single evening didn’t seem like a good thing to me. Instead of the daily Jamestown Sun, I picked the Minneapolis Tribune, a Sunday only route.
There were incentives. When I started we delivery boys would go downtown to get our stack of papers. I brought my little red wagon. The successful boys had fancy canvas bags slung over their shoulders to carry the papers. They were so cool! I wanted in on this version of success.
I started small, with maybe thirty papers to deliver to homes near mine. There were two ways to make money. The first was to sell new subscriptions. I’d go door to door knocking, asking if they’d like to have a shiny new paper delivered to their doorstep every Sunday morning. Early. I could be there early. Once again my sales skills failed me. It seems that nobody wanted a Sunday paper. That canvas newspaper bag seemed out of reach.
The other way to make money was essential to the success of a paper route. I had to collect money from customers for the papers I had delivered. This was a monthly exercise. The office gave me a little book with one page per customer. Each page had a coupon for each week’s paper. When the customer paid, I’d give ’em the coupons. All I had to do is go to their door, knock, and ask for the money.
I never did figure out where Jamestown people went every day. All I knew is that they were never home when I came by to collect for the newspaper. My coupon book didn’t get much lighter with each round of the ‘hood. It seemed so simple. Not for me. I learned that asking for money isn’t one of my skills, either. That job didn’t last.
That newspaper bag eluded me. Maybe I wasn’t cut out to be the cool kid.