A Newsboy’s Lament

When I was a kid, I had a job that no longer exists – a paper route. I had 150 customers. Every afternoon, I would get out of school and rush to a house two blocks away, where I would pick up 150 papers from the local distributor. I would fold them, stack them in a wagon with high slatted sides that my mother nicknamed the giraffe cart.

On Sunday mornings, I’d be up at the crack of dawn doing the same thing with papers that weighed four times as much because of the ads and supplements. On Wednesday evening, it was collections – 35 cents a week times 150 houses. I carried a ring with a card for each account. When the customer paid, I’d punch out that week on the card.

So why tell you this story? Because this was the experience, more than any other, that taught me problem solving and resilience. You see, I got pelted with snow, rain and hail accomplishing my appointed rounds. I sweated in the heat and froze in the cold. Newspapers arrived late. Newspapers got wet. Newspapers got torn. Newspapers blew away. Even the wheels came off my wagon at one point.

Then there was collections. Not all customers paid on time, of course. So I’d have to chase them down. I discovered at an early age what lengths some people would go to avoid paying their bill, even one totaling three dollars or less.

I had days where I came within a whisker of quitting. I didn’t, however, not the least because my parents wouldn’t let me. Besides, the money was pretty good and I had mastered the job, so there was a sense of pride involved.

Sadly, kids no longer have this opportunity and many similar. I say opportunity, because the skills and attributes this job compelled me to develop have served me well for the past 40 years. Educators talk of how learning is scaffolded as one experience is built upon another. In many ways, delivering newspapers became the foundation for the success I’ve enjoyed.

I’ve heard some parents, teachers and counselors tell students and graduates not to include menial jobs on their resumes. I have mixed feelings about that since these kinds of positions can teach perseverance, the overcoming of obstacles, dealing with disappointment and the blood, sweat and tears that the internship in the fancy office does not.

Progress, like new technology, is always a mixed blessing. I have to wonder if, in certain ways, we have progressed ourselves out of the development of work ethic that has served this nation so well.

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