March 08, 2013

Paper Routes and How the Pennysaver Turned Me Into a Kid Criminal

When I was a kid, I delivered the Welland Tribune.  I had some sweet customers on my route.  My faves were an older couple who gave me a goody of some kind (cookie, chocolates or candy) and a generous tip.  In the summer, I got a popsicle or a cold drink.  If they weren't home when I came to collect, they left the money and a treat in a baggy hanging from their door handle.

Today, my paper is delivered by a faceless man who creeps up to my mailbox under cover of the night.  I pay for my paper bi-yearly and I do it online.  I do not leave a treat for the paper man.

How things have changed.

In 1983, I would walk up Riverside Drive, meander across Maple to Wilton, then go up and down Oakville, ending at 210 Maple.  My favourite part of the route was along Riverside, a curvy road that hugged the banks of the Welland River - a brown and weedy waterway with an unpredictable current.  There were only a few houses that I delivered to on Riverside and one of them was always in arrears on collection day, but I loved walking by the river.  Equally exciting and terrifying was the monstrous Annex - the creepy, abandoned hospital where my Mother had been born in 1943.

I was able to see past the rock-shattered windows, garbage-strewn grounds and graffiti on the building's exterior.  I knew that it had been a beautiful building in its heyday.

While writing this, I did some googling and found a picture of the Annex in the Niagara Falls digital archives, dated 1927:

We lived about a 2-minute walk away.  The river runs directly behind the hospital, so it's not visible in this photograph.

If you're interested, you can see more pictures of Welland and the surrounding area at:  Welland, Ontario, Canada

Oh, the memories:  throwing eggs at cars and people while hiding in the forest adjacent to the Annex, sneaking into the hospital and throwing things down the elevator shaft, throwing rocks to dislodge the remaining shards of glass in the windows, throwing things in the river, being hit in the head by a stone thrown by Janice Seko and being rushed to the other hospital for stitches... good times.  Seems to me that we did a lot of throwing. I blame my brother for all of it.

The BEST was when we found the money.  We were adventuring on the banks of the river and I spied some foreign money on the ground that looked a bit like this:

That is a LOT of 000's!  We were rich!

Then I noticed that there was more money scattered everywhere amidst the dead leaves and garbage.  We gathered it up like maniacs and filled an entire bag! (On the subject of illicit finds, I also found a big bag of pot at Crystal Beach a few years later but that's a story for another day).

We gave the money to my Dad, who was quite interested in our story (he made us take him to the spot we found it, presumably to look for more).  We had been quite fastidious with our money-grabbing (grubbing?), and none remained.  My Dad took the lire to the bank to get it exchanged.   He said that the cashier gave him $27 for it.  What?!  I thought we were millionaires! Harrumph.  Doesn't really matter as I never saw a penny of that money anyway.  He kept it all, the miser.  Grrrrrr.

I am feeling nostalgic...

But, let's get back to the subject at hand: paper routes.

This morning, I found this in my mailbox:

I showed it to Richard and the kids.  RB rolled his eyes and said:  "you know who's going to be doing that!".

Meaning us.

The same people who walk, feed and take care of the kids' dog.

RB said that there would be stacks of flyers delivered to our home - more than necessary! - and that we would have to assemble the flyers before delivery.  At this point, I began to laugh hysterically, so hard in fact, that I was a bit worried that I might choke on my coffee or snort it out of my nose. The family looked at me strangely, which made me laugh even harder.

Nathaniel seemed interested, until I recovered from my hysteria and told him about how his Uncle Ian and I had a flyer route when we were his age.  We delivered a scrappy publication called The Pennysaver.  My Mom must have known someone there because as soon as we expressed interest, we had the route.

Things were good for the first couple of weeks, the halcyon days.  By good, I mean that the papers were delivered.  There was complaining for sure, but it got done.

After a few weeks, the papers started to pile up in the mud room at the back of the house because our delivery grew more sporadic.  The stacks grew and grew, and threatened to topple over and it looked like we were hoarders.  My mother, who never ventured into the filthy mud room, was oblivious.

There was no recycling back then and so when you have STACKS and STACKS of undelivered flyers you have some choices to make. We weighed our options:

1) leave papers in mud room - NO!  Paper stacks were already HUGE, they were getting huger and Mom would catch on soon. Punishment was imminent.  

2) burn papers in back yard - NO!  We had been punished last year for setting fires in the park.  Ian set my new Levi's cords on fire, they burned, I burned and my butt burned when I got the wooden spoon for being an accomplice to the pyromaniac

3) throw out papers - NO!  See #1).  Too many to put in garbage without attracting attention

4) abandon papers behind old hospital and in river - Yes!  Old hospital was a perfect dumping ground. It was already trashy, it was near our house, it was on the "route" and no one would know.

Turns out someone did know.  The Pennysaver Police were on to us. They knew, after making phone calls to "random" homes on the route, that we were NOT delivering our papers.  My Mom got the phone call and informed us that we were fired.  We were grounded - again - but relieved that the hell of delivering the evil Pennysaver would be unleashed upon some other unknowing victim.

I did eventually get a "real" paper route when I was in Grade 6, my Pennysaver sins long forgotten by the newspaper establishment.  I miss my paper route and I am sad that my son will not know the joys of delivering a paper to happy neighbours.  RB is right about the Starmail flyer route - it will be a horror and there is not a snowball's chance in hell of Nathanimal delivering all those blasted flyers.

On the up side, I have decided that I am going to leave a treat for my newspaperman tomorrow.  I hope he likes it.