Paper Girl: Small-Time Media Mogul
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
The newspaper business may be losing readers and turning less of a profit these days, but commentator Anna Hebra Flaster says that you can still make money in newspapers the way that she did when she was younger.
ANNA HEBRA FLASTER reporting:
Our newspaper arrives at the end of our driveway each morning, tossed there by a man who drives a nice car and always leaves a little envelope with his address so we can mail him a tip. I've never spoken with him but we leave him a Christmas card with a little gift each year. I can't bring myself to tip him on a weekly basis because as a former papergirl, I have high standards.
Paper routes aren't for sissies. I learned that when I was 13. I wanted a lime green Schwinn 10-speed and got a paper route to earn the money for the bike. Each week I had to pay back the newspaper company for that week's papers. But not every customer remembered to pay me on collection day. Some weeks I dug into my earnings to pay the bill. On those Saturday mornings I'd walk out of the building doubting I'd ever own a new bike.
By the time my route got to 70 houses, I started recruiting assistants to help me on Thursdays, collection day. The route took more and more time to complete, not only because I had new customers but because many of them were retirees who were home when I stopped to collect.
So after a few bad hires, I settled on Susie Bates. She was a younger girl who worked hard. It was easy to motivate her with Sno-Caps and Raisinettes.
My favorite couple of the route lived around the corner from our house. They were the oldest people I'd ever seen. They were old old, the kind of old you can smell. When I first started delivering the paper, they scolded me every day. They hovered behind their screen door together and criticized me for not understanding their instructions.
Sometimes they wanted the paper placed in the chair they kept in their carport. Sometimes they wanted it to be left on the threshold of the front door. Their preferred location changed all the time and they expected me to keep up to date.
I finally figured things out and the scoldings because les frequent. Eventually they began pulling me into their Pepto Bismol paint kitchen on collection days. I towered over them as they circled me, asking questions, two small birds hungry for conversation.
I never saw anyone else in their home. Even the friendliest neighbors considered them cranky and stayed away. Each Thursday as we talked, the woman would reach into the jar near her sink and hold the coins in her hand while we finished our conversation. The money always felt warm when she pressed it into my hand. The couple never failed to pay me on Thursdays. Sometimes I got a dime or a quarter tip.
One day when I delivered the paper, the man told me his wife had had a fall. She never really recovered. Not long afterward she passed away. After that, the man held my hand on collection days and we talked for a long time. He didn't want me to leave. I didn't know what to do. I had other papers to deliver before dinnertime.
I'd apologize and leave, the feel of the warm coins in my hand. I knew he cried after I left because sometimes he cried while I was with him. After a couple of years, I earned enough for the bike, and I rode it everywhere in lime green glory. I think Suzie took over the route then. My days as a papergirl had ended.
SIEGEL: Anna Hebra Flaster lives in Lexington, Massachusetts.
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