A paper route + a bike = you know everyone in the neighborhood

My two brothers and I had contiguous paper routes in Tallahassee, Florida, while we were in junior high and high school that we ran on our bikes every morning for years. We knew everyone in most of the houses from the high school to the north edge of town in the neighborhood where we lived.

I believe I got my paper route first followed by my brothers getting paper routes. When one of us was sick, Mother ran all three routes in the car while one of us handled all three routes. We delivered The Florida Times-Union, from Jacksonville, in the mornings. That meant we were up early because we had to get all the papers out before we went to school.

Sometimes I even substituted for the carrier delivering the local paper when he was sick. His route covered the same territory as mine, the difference being that he delivered papers to almost every house. That made it easy for me since I seldom had to worry if a home got a pape or not. Most did.

Most of the people on our routes paid us monthly for the paper. That meant going from house to house down our customer lists collecting for the paper. None of the dogs liked us. One bit me. Most of the people paid, though some bounced checks or the person with the money wasn’t home. I could have written a book about the trials and tribulations of a newspaper carrier, listing (among other things) the excuses for not being able to pay to the eccentric places in their yards where they wanted the paper to be tossed.

A surprising number of people knew our parents through PTA, the university, Scouting, and various civic clubs. Even though Tallahassee had less than 40,000 people then, within our paper route neighborhoods, the atmosphere was very much that of a smaller town. And, since I walked or rode my bike to school–through our paper route area–everyone knew who I was, where I was, and whether I was doing anything wrong (in their parental opinions).

I liked having a paper route because it was an easy way to earn money. I didn’t like the fact that I couldn’t walk or ride anywhere without somebody seeing me and remarking to my parents that they saw me walking down Spruce Street later than expected, to which my parents replied “he has band practice after school.” While that response kept the spies from thinking I was up to something, I didn’t really like them knowing everything about my schedule.

Of course, if anyone told my parents they thought I threw a rock at their yapping doggie, I could always tell my parents they bounced two checks and still owed me for two months’ worth of papers.

There are days when it seemed like a war zone out there and days when I knew that knowing everyone (and their foibles) in every house gave me more power than a teenager ought to have. Tattle on me, suckers, and your paper’s going in the flower bed with the snakes.


I didn’t want to get sued, so I never wrote that “What the Newspaper Boy Knows” novel