People on the street often run up to me and breathlessly inquire, "Tim, what made you the tough guy you are today?" My answer is always the same and always succinct. "Throwing papers."
It started when I was in the 3rd grade. Mom and Dad decided that my older brother and I needed to start saving up for college. Either that or they sensed an air of entitlement from us that irritated them. Soon thereafter, we were the proud owners of a Dallas Times Herald paper route fairly close to our house. But those of you who are long time Dallasites may remember 1957 as the year when the drought of the mid-50's was broken. There were days when a canoe would have come in handy in delivering those papers.
The early months were terrible. The previous paperboy had left the "route book" a mess. My brother paid me $3.50 for each month, and often made nothing for his trouble. Gradually we began to show a profit, and both of us opened savings accounts at Grand Ave. Bank.
From 1957 to 1963, I was a loyal Times Herald paperboy. Seven days a week, 365 days a year. Hot weather, cold weather, tornadic weather (I remember watching the great Dallas tornado of April 2, 1957 as I threw my route). Then, in order to bring in the big bucks, I switched to the other paper in town, The Dallas Morning News. The key word there is "morning". For two years, I arose every morning at 3:15. I could usually be back in bed by 5:30. On school days, that would give me about an hour extra of sleep before I got up again to drag wearily to school.
Paper throwing, as it was called, is nothing like it is today. Nearly every paper deliverer today is an adult who does his/her route from a car, and the paper is tucked inside a plastic bag. He doesn't have to collect money from the subscribers at the end of the month like we did since folks today mail it in to the paper on their own.
We tough guys (today's deliverers are wusses) folded the papers and secured them with rubber bands. I remember the thrill of having a rubber band snap on ice cold hands...I've never been shot, but the pain from a bullet can't be much different. You want to scream, but that's not what you need to be doing, say, at 4:30 AM on a darkened street.
My parents laid the rules down early. Our driving goal was to give our route customers the best service they'd ever seen. This was demonstrated on rainy days. We didn't have the plastic bags, so Charlie and I would find a dry spot on the porch to deposit the paper. But often there was no dry spot, so we would open the screen door and lay the paper behind it. If the door was locked or if the area behind the screen door were wet, we would knock on the door and hand a dry paper to the thrilled customer. Sometimes this would earn us a tip ranging from 10 cents to (gasp!) a quarter.
My next blog entry will focus on some of the most memorable days I had while throwing papers and becoming the tough guy I am today, including the scary morning I returned to the house at 5:30 and found that the rest of my family was almost dead. (This is called a teaser, you know.)