Thursday, May 7, 2009

Wondering Why I Like the Night, Part Two

I would like to say that photography was always my dream job, and that as a young boy I was driven to seek work as a photojournalist for the San Francisco Chronicle, or the then-fledgling (and mind you, anti-capitalist) Rolling Stone. But instead, my first job, although with a newspaper, was of somewhat lower aspirations. I was a paperboy for the smallest daily paper in the county; The Times Green Sheet. It was six days a week I got up before the crack of dawn, and sadly, after years of that routine, I can't tell you which day I actually had off.

My morning routine: I'd first walk to the front door to check the porch to see that my 80-plus papers had indeed arrived at some point in the middle of the night. A quick glance in the dim light at the girth of the two twine-tied stacks would tell me how hard my job would be that day. A light day I could get all the folded papers into my front and back "saddle bag"; a heavy canvas set of pouches worn on the shoulders. A bigger paper meant I may have to make two trips, coming back to the porch for a refill, two streets at a time.

Once I had a visual, I'd go back to the kitchen for a bowl of cold cereal dowsed with a couple spoonfuls of white sugar, and a glass of orange juice. If there was leftover Chocolate-Sundae Pudding in the oven, a good sugar rush was in order. I'd then throw on some clothes and head to the front porch for folding, the morning light just beginning to come over the roof of the house and filter through the mulberry trees.

If it was a summer day, the cool porch felt good, and I'd sit and fold each paper, a cat or two lounging nearby. Small papers could be held together with the right inserted fold. Bigger issues required a rubber band from the quart-size bag I'd buy from Mrs. Huntsman, my "agent".

On colder winter days when the concrete front porch was inhospitable, I'd haul the bundles of papers into the living room and set up shop in front of the T.V. set. Wherever I was, I had to be quiet; the rest of the family would still be asleep.

Getting the saddlebag over my shoulders was not always an easy endeavor. I was but a lad of around 90 lbs. soaking wet. Often, it seemed like a bag full of papers weighed more than me. With a big Wednesday, or giant Sunday double issue, there was only one way to get the bag onto my small shoulders. That was to carefully prop it on the porch with the papers standing upright, and then lay down on the ground and slide my body under the shoulder sections, popping my head up through the hole. A little wiggling and onto my knees I would be able to stand up and wobble to my trusty chrome sting-ray coaster-brake bike. Once on my bike I was ready to roll. You know, I honestly don't know if a photograph actually exists of me prepared like this for my route. I hope that your imagination does it's job.

On the streets I was in familiar territory. I knew the houses where the pretty girls lived. I knew the houses whose owners never paid (it was voluntary back then) and I delivered the paper anyway. I knew the house where a dog would bark when the paper landed on the porch; those got a soft touch. I knew the house where a dog might be lurking in the bushes; those were approached with caution. I still remember the morning that dog came bounding out and gripped my front tire in it's unrelenting jaws. I was so afraid he would pop my tire that I was in tears before the owner came out to free me. I knew the house where the family always tipped me, and at Christmas would even give me a little gift. Their paper was always perfectly placed on the doormat, headline up, fold-end toward the door so that I could almost picture the man of the house picking it up and smiling each day; his beautiful wife waiting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and lightly tossled hair, their two sweet kids asleep; the clothes they would wear to school that day already laid out on the beds. That was one of the first families I ever thought "there's something wonderfully unique about them..."

After years of doing the same route; 52 weeks a year, 6 days a week, I could probably ride it now and recall all the houses. By the time the sun was full in the sky, I was rounding the last corner with my own house just a few doors away...but wait, I haven't told you the scary part.

About every two weeks, usually on a Sunday, the monster would show up. It was always before dawn, and thankfully I could hear it coming before I saw it, or it saw me. The lights were the first tip-off as their orange flash was reflected on a wall of the Safeway store. My feet would pedal faster. Soon the sound would inevitably get louder; a whirring, swishing sound like hard brushes against a harder immovable surface. No matter how fast I rode, how low I stayed on my sting-ray, or how quickly I would toss the papers, my ink-stained hands still making sure none strayed into a hedge or bushes, I knew the monster would eventually round a corner, it's orange lights would sweep my trembling frame and it's emotionless eyes would direct their full gaze on my fearful face. It never did devour me, but the regular visits of the city street-sweeper made a quiet Sunday morning a lot more exciting.

Note: the photo at the top of this post is of my oldest brother Bob, and oldest sister Barb making a "photo-op delivery" to our own front porch. Not sure who the tall blonde is, maybe our cousin Jan?

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