It all started at the age of eight with my paper route. Each day the three paperboys from our little town, Howdy, Roy and I would sit in front of my aunt’s grocery store chewing double bubble bubble gum, or dipping a one cent pretzel rod in a ten cent Coke while we waited for two trucks to drop off our papers. One contained the Connellsville Daily Courier, the other had The Uniontown Evening Standard and the Pittsburgh Press. The trucks drove by like NASCAR racers and the tightly wrapped bundles of papers would come flying out of the back and hit somewhere in the muddy front of Aunt Mildred’s property. Usually the Uniontown and Pittsburgh papers arrived early.
I’d count the papers carefully to make sure that they hadn’t short- changed me. If they did, my parents would have to sacrifice their paper for one of my other customers. Then, I’d count them again (until my fingers were black from the ink), to see if they gave me any extra papers that I could try to sell. That didn’t happen often, but when it did, I could make some extra money and recruit new customers.
My take home pay was $.015 (one and a half cents) for the Pittsburgh Press and $.02 (two cents) for the Uniontown paper. My total profit was about $1.00 a day and $2.50 on Sundays. On Sundays I’d deliver 50 papers from a red metal wagon with white metal sides. Sections of the Sunday papers came on different days, and, on Sunday morning we’d put them together into one big fat newspaper. Eight dollars and fifty cents a week was ENORMOUS MONEY for a kid in the late 50’s and early 60’s.
Eight dollars and fifty cents in 1950’s money is worth about $70 now. Think of it. Seventy dollars a week in spending money! Heck, I could buy shoes, a shirt, socks, and dress pants for about two weeks’ worth of work. I spent most of my money on clothes. My second addiction, however, was building plastic models of airplanes, rocket ships, boats, and cars. My room was filled with models.
I really liked most of my customers. Generally, they were sweet people. Of course some weren’t. At least six of my customers tried to stiff me every week. They would hide when I came to collect the 42 cents that they owed me. It was great practice for my future, losses from accounts receivable. It used to take me one and a half hours to deliver about 45 papers every day. Because of my paper route and my love of music, I developed the discipline to live on a schedule. I used to deliver those papers, go home and practice my drums or trumpet, take a nap, do homework, eat dinner, practice more, and then stay up to watch the Johnny Carson, alone every night.
Sometimes life on my paper route was cluttered with complications, challenging personalities, and, every type of weather, ferocious dogs, slippery sidewalks, and the occasional town bully. But all of this was like an amazing internship for what would become my adult life. As I went from playing drums to trumpet, to becoming a band director, to arts center director, to tourism president, to hospital administrator, to founder of a research institute, and now to entrepreneur, those days of my youth have served me well.
I still buy my own clothes, interact with the good and the bad personalities, the rip-off artists, and the kind, loving, gentle people who only want to make life better. Because of my paper route, I understand that I was given an amazing opportunity to learn, to grow and to get a head start on adulthood. Some days, as I watch my grandchildren on their I’s (I Phones, I Pads, I Touches, I Pods), I just feel a little sad that they don’t deliver newspapers.