Tuesday, November 14, 2006

My first real paper route

I always thought filling the newspaper with information every day was the hardest part. Now, I have newfound respect for those who get it to your doorsteps and driveways.

By now, Charlotte.com readers are well aware of the freak power failure that caused more than half of our readers, including all of those in Charlotte, to miss getting their papers this morning. When an appeal went out asking for volunteers to deliver the belatedly printed papers around midmorning, I wanted to do something to help.

I made my way to a distribution center and discovered that step one was rolling and bagging the papers. I was paired with John McBride, one of our news systems analysts and a fellow volunteer equally unfamiliar with our delivery system. The bagging in itself was surprisingly difficult – the narrow bags used for our papers most days proved a tight fit, since our papers were wider than usual because they came from a substitute printing press, so we used the wider bags made for Sunday papers.

Then we piled them into the backseat of my car – they formed a slippery avalanche we had to quickly slam the door on – and set out to navigate the streets of the neighborhood we both call home, Elizabeth. Should have been a piece of cake, right? Wrong.

First off, we tried delivering to the addresses on both sides of our busiest street on the route, Seventh. As cars roared up behind us, we crept along looking for the right house numbers, eventually both hopping out of the car to find the appointed homes on foot.

As we turned deeper into the neighborhood, we figured out that it made more sense to go up one side of the street and down the other, but throwing papers from the car was still a challenge. I always thought the expression “throwing like a girl” was sexist, but well, I learned I throw like a very girly girl. John had to hop out of the car and re-deliver most of my pathetic tosses.

And then there were those extra-wide bags. We discovered that if you give them a particularly hard heave-ho toward a front porch, the papers can easily slip out of them, causing their sections to drift slowly down onto the recipient’s front lawn like some kind of pitiful bird.

We discovered house numbers can be extremely difficult to spot, that trees can form a daunting obstacle course in front of a house, and that it’s really hard to make the paper land where you intend it to be. So, to all of those Elizabethans who discovered their newspapers in their ivy or bushes or dangling from the edges of their stairwells today, I apologize.

Those of you who only read our news online may not understand what the big deal is, but a couple hundred thousand people out there still treasure the experience of unfolding the day’s news on paper and savoring it at the kitchen table or on a porch swing or a comfy couch. Apparently, most of them called to complain when they didn’t get theirs today, so I’m glad my company is doing what it can to make things right for them.

I’m going to be giving my paper carrier an extra-big tip this year.


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