I stared at the green carbon copy of an office memo with an address hand-printed on it. RR2 Box 347…no city, no zip code. Was this address at the beginning of the Staunton part of my route or at the end of the Waynesboro part? At 4 o’clock in the morning I couldn’t exactly go knocking on doors, nor could I telephone saying, “Hi, I’m your newspaper carrier and I can’t find your house.”
Maybe there was a clue in the street address. Ahh. Here it was: New Hope Rd. But before I could get comfortable with this new information, doubt crept into my mind. Was it New Hope Rd or Old New Hope Rd? Or was it RT 254 or RT 612, both of which some folks called New Hope Rd? Are you with me or did I leave you somewhere around Box 347?
I tried to remember what the person at the circulation desk had told me.
“It’s the place with the black mailbox with gold numbering,” she said, adding, “You can’t miss the potted geraniums or spotted chrysanthemums…whatever.”
I looked about me. The roadside sported a row of fifteen black mailboxes and several of the visible porches had potted somethings on them. With 277 more papers to deliver, I didn’t have time to check out each porch. Though the mailboxes each glittered with gold numbers, there was no way to tell which were the corresponding dwellings. (As it turned out, the route number and the street address never did match.)
So I bagged fifteen papers with post-its announcing myself as the new carrier on the block, and encouraging the recipients of this free edition to start every day with our paper in hand. I dropped a note in the mail asking her to call me so that we could get it all straight. Three days later we were having coffee and inspecting her chrysanthemums. I gave her an armload of papers and a gleaming new tube decorated with our company logo…and an orange reflector dot on it, so the next carrier couldn’t miss it in the dark.
Now and then even the easiest newspaper toss winds up in the bushes. The subscriber probably chalks it up to sloppiness, but most of us really try to get the paper as close to the door as possible. For some carriers it’s the perfection of an art to land the paper in that special spot. Try to do this from your car window in the dark, and you’ll see what I mean.
When a toss goes awry, I usually retrieve it and jog those extra steps to the porch. It gives me an aerobic stretch and the only exercise of my sedentary night. I’m a lot less cavalier about it since one of our group recently broke a hip taking a paper to someone’s door. A slippery walk can be especially dangerous in the dark, but I at least give it a try.
Several homes on my route come equipped with the anti-burglar device known affectionately as “Pepe LePew,” aka the skunk. There is no carrier or burglar in the world who will dispute the territorial bounds of this animal. There is no bribe you can feed it nor is there a way to stop its unique ammunition, once deployed. So when I come face-to-face with Pepe guarding the lost paper in the bushes, I get my exercise in reverse. Pepe always wins.
One crisp, moonlit night I turned down a gravel road which was about five miles long and had only one customer on it, located at about the half-way point. The woods to my right gave way to an open field, bordered by a narrow driveway. A small blot ambled from the driveway onto the road before me, his striped tail bobbing as he went. He trotted at a brisk pace of 3 mph, squarely in the center of the road. Road painting crews in broad daylight have never exacted as straight a line as Pepe. There was no room to maneuver around him; so on we went, in tandem for a mile and a half, until he had his fill of tormenting me.
At last he turned into a driveway. His tail flicked a quick salute and off he disappeared into the night. I hastened away, lest he decide to renew our brief acquaintance. But I’m sure we both breathed a long sigh of relief.