The janitor pushed a trash bin into my office yesterday morning, just as he does every Friday. And, just like every Friday morning, I took his visit as an opportunity for a short break from the file I was underwriting. I removed the earbud from my right ear that was broadcasting a radio talk show and sat it aside.
"How ya doing, Kevin? Any new war stories?," I asked.
Performing maintenance and facilities cleanup duties was just Kevin's "day job", as he was also a Flint Journal newspaper carrier. Kevin knew I had spent a good number of years at the newspaper in the Circulation department, and therefore liked to swap delivery stories.
Kevin also knew that I had the dubious distinction of being the last Circulation Director at the helm of The Flint Journal when it still had a 7-day distribution model. The Journal was founded in 1876, the same year Rutherford B. Hayes was elected president of the United States, and there had been 25 presidents since then. I'm not sure how many Circulation chiefs there have been, only that I somehow was the one at the wheel when it hit the iceberg. But I've already told you about that. See the various links at the end of this blog entry if you need a refresher. I was talking about Kevin's stories...
Sometimes his story would be the stereotypical "dog versus delivery man", and Kevin has been known to repeat his favorite one with equal fervor every time. Caught unawares outside of his car in the middle of a darkened pre-dawn street, our hero was confronted by three large pit bulls intent on making him their breakfast snack. The pit bulls were kept at bay and eventually discouraged into retreat by a steady stream of liquid pain dispensed from Kevin's pepper spray. It was a close call, as Kevin tells it, as the last dog turned and ran at the precise moment the pepper spray can was exhausted. "I now carry an extra can," said Kevin.
Sometimes he will complain about how late the semi was with the papers at the DC, or his latest "slip and fall" on an icy porch step. Or he will tell me how big the Thanksgiving edition was this year, and how many hours it took him to deliver his entire route while driving in his father-in-laws old pickup that got "2 gallons to the mile". Or about the ridiculous quantity of ad pacs (or 'market-places' or whatever they call those free flyers distributed to the non subscribers) and how many extras he received every week.
All these stories are familiar to me and remind me of my own similar experiences over the years. I usually am able to put these memories on and wear them like a pair of comfortable old jeans.
Yesterday's news, however, only made me sad.
Kevin told me about his latest batch of "stops" he received that morning. His daily draw is now a little under 600, down from just over 900 just 3 years ago. Quite a plunge, albeit anecdotal, I can't help but wonder just how much longer this print newspaper patient can last on life support.
It's hard to believe, but in 2005 The Flint Journal was publishing newspapers every day and averaging 85,000 daily and over 100,000 on Sunday. Today, just 10 years later, the newspaper only provides home delivery four days per week, making Flint the fifth-largest city in the United States without a daily newspaper. As far as the current circulation numbers, they are roughly half of those daily and Sunday numbers from 2005.
I still think about my old co-workers often, and can't help but smile at some of those memories and good times we shared. I recently had the pleasure of attending a poker game with some of the boys last month, where we swapped some of the old stories between hands. Like the time when several District Managers and myself piled into the luxurious confines of Mitch's personal limo he owned in order to deliver a north-end route for a carrier contest winner. I think it was one of Pratt's carriers who had won, and I remember more than a couple addresses for "new contest starts" appearing on the list, yet finding nothing more than growing weeds in a vacant lot where the new subscriber was supposed to be living. Man, did we ever have a great run (and even some laughs).
VIDEO: An actual voicemail message from one of Pratt's longtime adult carriers in the act of dumping his route.
"I want you to love me forever. It is raining out there. I can't get the papers done..."
One of the "joys" of being a District Manager was the occasional surprise down route requiring your personal attention.
Before you ask the obvious, my job required my presence in the projects. I kept that faux-$20 in my desk to remind myself the cost of being gullible. When my job required delivering an open route in the projects, I learned to take a couple extra packs of smokes with me. I would paste an idiotic smile on my face and pass out single cigarettes to anyone who looked at me cross-eyed as I hurriedly made the rounds. Hey, it worked!
Those were some of the lessons I learned the hard way. I'm from Flint... so RESPECT, yo!
My favorite newspaper memories, however, involve the time spent prior to being hired full time at The Journal and delivering the neighborhood route with my brothers in the 70's. Route 1102E. Lockhead, Dell, McKinley, and Shawnee streets in Flint's south end. A route we had in the family for maybe 12 or more straight years, and passed down from Rick, to Greg, to me then to Donnie (pictured here). After our Sunday morning deliveries, we would rush home to watch whatever Abbott and Costello movie re-run being broadcast that week.
Pictured below is my dad gently hinting to Donnie to scrap the scrabble game and that he might want to consider doing the weekly collections, crutches or no.
My dad was always there to support us, or to physically pull us out of bed (or the top bunk) for the Sunday morning deliveries. As much as I dreaded those moments at the time, I'd give anything to relive just one of those Sundays.
Links to other of my newspaper blogs:
Confessions of a Tree Killer
A Paperboy's Tale Of Unrequited Love
The newspaper implosion continues
Phone call bookends from father and son
The Pledge of Allegiance Convenience
What used to be Black and White and Read all over, and Spoiled after just a few hours if not consumed?