Delivering Newspapers: My Most Memorable Job

As Labor Day approaches, I began to think about the various jobs I have held during the past 50 years or so. Mostly, I have worked as either a teacher or a writer, but I have also had some interesting part-time jobs: loading boxcars, working at a concession stand, and taking bets as a mutuel clerk at the Saratoga Race Course. As I reminisced, I drifted all the way back to my first job ever: delivering the Amsterdam Evening Recorder (in upstate New York) for 18 months — from May of 1964 to November of 1965 — and my memories from that experience are all positive.

Each afternoon at about 4:00, I would walk from my home at 5 Wilson Avenue to the bottom of Glen Avenue at Union Street. On that corner, I would sit with fellow paperboys Paul and Danny as we waited for the green Recorder van that delivered our newspapers. As I recall, I had about 65 customers, and after I used my wire cutters to snip open my bundle of papers, I slid them into my orange, over-the-shoulder newspaper bag, I said good-by to Paul and Danny, and we all headed out to our respective routes.

I walked west on Union Street, and since I didn’t have any customers until I walked two blocks to McDonnell Street, I merely rolled my newspapers, so I could easily toss them on the appropriate front porches. At McDonnell, I turned right and headed up the hill. I chuckle at the memory because I never knew many of the family names on that top half of the street. For some reason, the young man who had that route before me didn’t record their actual names in his little collection book. Fortunately, he had the correct house numbers, but the names were listed as follows: mustache guy, old lady, red head, big dog on porch, new Mustang in driveway, etc. During my time on the route, I did add some real names to the book, but the originals are the ones I remember today.

After I trekked up the east side of McDonnell and strolled back down the west side, I turned right on Union and enjoyed my two daily highlights. First, I gently tossed a newspaper onto the Browns’ porch where a lovely, blonde, high-school student sat reading. Though as a 13-year-old, eighth-grader, I never had the courage to actually speak to her, under my breath, I sang a song made popular at that time by Herman’s Hermits: “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter.” Then, I imagined she watched me as I crossed the street and faced my daily challenge: tossing a newspaper to an unusually high, third-floor porch that had a small opening of perhaps four by six feet. Usually, I needed two or three tries, but every once in a while, I threw a strike on my first pitch.

When I reached the end of Union Street, I turned left on Brandt Place and braced myself for the most dangerous part of my daily journey. Max was a mean German shepherd who did not like mailmen or paperboys. Max was chained to the far end of the front porch on one of the homes on the west side of Brandt. My task each day was to quietly slide the newspaper into the mail slot on the front door and get back to the safety of the sidewalk before Max knew I had arrived. If I walked slowly and softly, I could escape safely, but if I were daydreaming or if I let the mail slot close too loudly, Max would chase me off the porch and nip at my heels. Though Max never actually bit me, he chased me almost daily, and he did manage to destroy two or three pairs of pants.

At the bottom of Brandt, I turned left on Guy Park Avenue past Whitey Murray’s Gas Station. Long-time Amsterdam residents will remember that Whitey Murray was the man who founded the Little Giants football program at about that time. Through the years, the program blossomed, and I’m convinced that Murray’s efforts — and the efforts of all those who helped him — contributed mightily to the many gridiron successes achieved at both Amsterdam High School and the former Bishop Scully High School.

At McDonnell, I turned left again to deliver papers to the bottom half of that street, and I looked forward to seeing Harry, my number-one customer. An older gentleman, who I believe worked as an executive at Mohawk Carpets, he was my biggest tipper. At the time, the Recorder cost 40 cents per week, and when I collected on Saturday mornings, most customers handed me two quarters and told me to “keep the change.” Harry, however, always pulled out a crisp, new dollar bill and echoed those same three, magical words. I will never forget the regular generosity of this kind man.

When I finished delivering my newspapers, I hustled back up Glen Avenue to meet my best friend, Larry, who was finishing his route on Henry Street and parts of Academy Street and Glen. Together, we hiked over to the corner of Bunn Street and Henry to Rudy’s Candy Store. Rudy had to be about 70 years old, but he welcomed us daily, and he allowed us to sit with him in his basement store. There, we used our newspaper-delivery earnings to buy sodas, ice-cream sandwiches, penny candy, and baseball cards.

Unfortunately, in November of 1965, I had to give up my paper route because as a pimply-faced high-school freshman, I wanted to play basketball at Saint Mary’s Institute, and the practice schedule wouldn’t permit me to do both. Over 50 years have passed since I tossed my last Recorder onto that third-floor porch, and I doubt I could even complete that same toss today. As I look back, however, and recall that daily ritual of delivering the day’s news to my neighbors, I realize that my first real job was also my most memorable.

Jim LaBate works as a writing specialist in The Writing Center at Hudson Valley Community College (HVCC) in Troy, New York.