I walk to work in the morning. Shortly after 5 a.m.
One gets a unique perspective on the world during a solitary walk through the neighborhoods of Oneonta each morning. Everything is quiet and tranquil. I rarely run into anyone. Except for one person who, like clockwork, slowly passes me by like a ship in the dark. And it's a kid.
I guess we call them paper carriers now. It got me thinking recently about my own time as a paperboy when I was 12, in 1961. I had the largest route in Sidney. I loved it all. My brother Jim joined me in my entrepreneurial endeavor soon after I began.
My product was the Binghamton Press. My tools of trade were a pair of wire cutters and an English bike, with saddle baskets over the back wheel.
Initially, I walked the route. I had two large, gray canvas bags that crisscrossed my chest. I arrived before dawn at a private residence where I would let myself in and unpack the papers, which had been dropped off overnight.
That's right. I actually let myself into a home whose owners I had never met and whipped out my wire cutters and started folding the papers to stuff into my bags. While the owners were sleeping upstairs. Try that today!
I was a master of the art of "newspaper folding." The double fold, the tight tuck, the thumb and index crease and then, finally, the victorious knee slap. "Thwack!" In the category of newspaper folding I was definitely medal-worthy.
After a short period of huffing along my two-mile route on foot, looking like a Sherpa guide with a week's worth of supplies strapped to his chest, I succumbed to getting a bike.
I bought it from Dick McCauley at the Sidney Western Auto. I hardly ever rode the bike on the route, but walked it along next me. It was the pack mule, if you will.
The Sidney Hospital was on my route, and Jim and I would raid the vending machines for candy, snacks and hot chocolate before heading out on the final, hilly half of the route. This expenditure usually wiped out any profit we would make for our morning's work.
Collection day was interesting. Do kids still go "collecting"? I guess everybody just prepays by credit cards today. Not in 1961, though. You'd approach and ring the doorbell and shout "collecting!" The door opened a little and a hand would stretch out with a dollar in it. I don't think the paper was much more than that back then. For the whole week.
Christmas season was the best. Despite trudging the bike through snow drifts as tall as me, we were rewarded with gifts, tips and treats along the way. Our customers would hand us envelopes with a couple of bucks in it. Sometimes a little present wrapped in holiday paper.
One paper route memory sticks with me all these years.
I had an older couple on my route, the Laphams, up on Cobbles East. The week before Christmas I'd shove my paper-laden bike through the snowdrifts up their little driveway. Chet Lapham would holler out into the blizzard, "C'mon in, Chuckie, for your present." I leaned my bike against a tree (akin to tying up a horse outside a saloon) and entered the bosomy warmth of their tiny cottage.
There I'd sit at the little kitchen table, and they would feed me. Why? I have no idea. Mrs. Lapham would whip me up a batch of pancakes and eggs as I sat at the table chatting with ol' Chet. After, he would thank me for my service and wave me off into the snowstorm.
I had never met them before I had my paper route, and I never saw them after I ended it in 1964. I can still see them smiling at me out their living room window as I disappeared into the snow. A sweet couple.
At week's end the guy from Binghamton would come to "sort out the money." He and I would sit in my living room as he looked through my record books and tapped furiously at his pocket-adding machine. Finally, he would tell me how much I owed him.
I'd get my mayonnaise jar down from the cupboard and count out his money. The rest was mine. There wasn't much left. Sometimes there was nothing left, and my mother had to make up the shortage.
I blame it all on the hospital vending machines.
"Big Chuck" D'Imperio can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also Thursday nights from 7 to 9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his "Oldies Jukebox Show." You can find "Big Chuck" on Facebook under Upstate New York Books. He invites you to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck.
I walk to work in the morning. Shortly after 5 a.m.
- Big Chuck
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