When we were kids, Smokey and I shared a paper route, just like a million other little boys and girls. I really lament the dissappearance of newspapers because paper routes used to be such a part of growing up. Along with yard work, car washing, running numbers, and snow shoveling it was the classic way a kid made a couple of bucks. It was sad watching the trade be corrupted by people with cars, and then killed completely by the internet. Smokey and I delivered papers for The Times Tribune, the papers were dropped off every morning in bundles by a stoner driving a beat up van. Our “boss” had dropped a joint down one of the heater vents so it always smelled like weed.
Once the papers hit the porch, dad dragged our asses out of bed. Huddled around a little space heater in the living room, we got to fold ’em, put in any extra advertisements, slap a rubber band on ’em, put ’em in plastic if it was raining, and load them into saddlebags for the handlebars of our semi-trusty BMX bikes. Then we would head out into the rising sun, pedal for about twenty feet past our driveway, then dismount and start pushing.
You see we lived at the base of two of the worst hills ever to grace suburban living. Newspaper boys in the flats had it easy. We had two streets to choose from, Altamont or Midway. We usually took Midway; it was the steeper nastier hill, but since you had to push anyway it was over quicker. Then you could coast down Altamont tossing papers. Coasting down Midway with a full load of papers would be a double black diamond experience, potentially fatal if it was wet. The rest of the hills were mere 30 degree grades and aren’t really worth mentioning.
We would shove the bikes slowly up the hill, nervously looking up at the peak which was obscured by clouds. We would occasionally nod to a mountain goat or share tea with a Sherpa. The only positive thought was that with each paper we delivered the bike got lighter. Sunday mornings were looked forward to with terror. Especially around the holidays when the thousands of extra advertisements made them so much heavier.
On one such morning, the street still slick from last night’s rain, we headed out laden with tomorrow’s hamster litter and schlepped miserably up Midway. The thick fog weighed us down and we were dragging ass even worse than usual. All I could think about was getting back to the house and crawling into the waterbed I’d left cranked up to 100 degrees. By the time we crested, my legs were noodles. I was too beat even to bitch about it. We shared a hit off an oxygen tank we kept stashed at the summit.
But then we swung around the last block and reached that glorious downward stretch. Smokey took one side of the street and I took the other. The race didn’t have to be announced, we were brothers so competition was implied. I kicked off and took flight down Altamont, whipping papers as I went, tears streaming down my face from the wind. I didn’t even have to think about the route or the addresses by then, it was like playing a video game. There was a long circular driveway at one customers house that never had a car in it during the week. I’d use it to bleed speed off, as well as toss a copy of the Tribune onto the porch.
One small oversight. I’d forgotten it was Sunday. Heavier papers meant I was picking up speed at a concerning pace. As I dropped into the turn, my blood turned to ice. A truck was parked smack in the middle of that driveway/savior. “Shit!” I yelled and grabbed the single hand brake, my knuckles turning white as I prepared to kick the back wheel out and slide onto the lawn.
The brake cable fell out and slapped me in the legs. I probably should have fixed it properly the night before I remembered. My brief life flashed before my eyes as I shot across the customer’s lawn, tore through their flowerbed, and slammed into a fence on the far side of the front yard. I woke up on my back in a bunch of ivy completely intertwined with a bike and some saddlebags, newspapers lay all around me.
“This job will be the death of me,” I muttered, no doubt quoting our illustrious father.
The neighbor yelled out the window “you okay kid?”
“I’ll live” I replied.
“Oh good, try to stay out of my petunias, and I don’t have your money today” The neighbor left his window.
One day, I thought, people will get newspapers right through their fax machines. What a beautiful day that will be, I thought.
And that’s why I’m not a millionaire.
And other reasons.
I shook myself off and finished the route walking my now brake free bike. Then I went for stitches.