A Scarecrow in the Backseat

          This is my last week as a seven-days-a-week carrier for the Oregonian.  Three days ago, I had a unique opportunity to pick the brain of the 43 year old guy who I was training to replace me, as I drove the 20-mile route.

"Hello.  I'm Veach.  I understand you're taking over this route?" (As I shake the guys hand).
"Hi. Yup.  That's what they told me.  How long have you been doing this?"
"Well... (pause; I tell myself to say 'I didn't catch your name' but instead I say) two years.  Total.  Almost five months on this route."
"Can I ask you wh...  You're quittin right?"
"Can I ask why?"
"It's personal.  I..."
"...That's OK..."
"...don't like to talk about it because..."
"...none o' my business..."
"...it's kinda embarrassing."  (Which is what I tell everyone.  There's no reason to explain my need to maintain sanity by camping, hiking and lazing on the beach.)
"So let me ask ya.  I'm just doing this because I need the money.  How much can I expect to make?  If you don't mind my asking, how much did ya make last month?"
"Nobody does this job for any other reason.  There's nobody delivering papers because it is a great work environment, or because the pay is great, or because of the fantastic benefits.  We all are doing it for the money.  Last month I made about $1,550."
"Yea?  Great.  That's perfect for how many hours of work?"
"It varies.  Maybe 30 a week.  More at the beginning until you learn how to speed up."  
          (Fast forward.  Skipping the short cuts and how-to details of memorizing and paperwork.)
"So I recommend we load all these in your car; I'll ride in the back, navigate for you, and stuff the papers into bags, while you drive and deliver."
"Umm, would it be OK if we use your car?  I, umm, don't have much gas.  I'm pretty sure I can borrow some money for gas now that I've got a job and all."
"I guess that'll be OK, but it isn't the best way to learn a route...from the back seat that is."
          (I should not have acquiesced.  Skipping more boring stuff.)
"Veach, can I tell you something and you not tell anyone?"
"If you're a serial killer, I may feel compelled to inform someone."
"Ha!  No.  It's just.  See.  The real reason I didn't want to use my car is, umm, I don't have any insurance on it and all.  I plan on getting some as soon as I get my first check.  And I know they don't hire anybody without insurance so I fibbed and said I had it.  Do you ever get pulled over by the cops?"
"Yes.  I've been pulled over six times while delivering.  Which is about average for someone driving with his high-beams constantly on, not wearing a seat-belt, thru stop signs, on the wrong side of the road, after the bars close.  But I never get a ticket.  They're just looking for drunk drivers.  If you got pulled over with no insurance, you could get a ticket.  Why take a job that requires driving every night if you don't have car insurance?
"I used to work construction.  A few months ago I had a triple bypass.  When I got out of the hospital my apartment was all padlocked and so I live in my brother's basement now his girlfriend is constantly up my ass and bitchin about me so I figured I could do this with their car an all.  It's got plates on it and I got a license.  It's just the insurance lapsed."
"A triple bypass?  Someone your age?  That's—I've got to say—a surprise.  How long ago was this?"
"It's been nine weeks now."
"Nine.  Weeks.  Are you sure you can do this job?  It.  I walk three-four miles a day.  On Tuesdays it is more like ten or twelve with the Food Day."
"Oh yea, they've got me running on a treadmill three times a week.  The exercise is not a problem."
"But.  You're young."
"Well it's because of all the drugs I did in the past and the cigarette smoking and it's also genetic.  My brother is five years younger than me and he just got three stints put in!"
          (At this point he must be able to tell from my silence that I was recalling his cigarette before he got in my car.
                    I was also thinking about death panels—which he wouldn't have sussed.)"
"And I know.  I need to stop smoking..."
"I think open heart surgery might have had an impact on you, yea."
"blah-de-blah yabba-go-dabba..."
          (The only part of the next five minutes of rationalizations and explanations I need to include is the part
                    where he spoke of himself in third person)
"...and Tom is pretty good when it comes to math.  Remind me again, how much will I make?"
"Depending on tips and how many extra papers you deliver you could average fourteen to fifteen hundred a week."
"How about when they change to...what's it going to be in October...three, four days a week?"
"It will be less, obviously.  Two days off a week is—at a minimum—two thousand five hundred papers less a month, at ten cents a paper, how much less would that be? (Yea, I almost said 'how much will that be Tom.')
"And then you have to deduct for gas.  How many hours a night?
"Fast nights, three.  Busy nights, up to four or so."
"Sundays pay almost double, seventeen cents a paper, and you get more time to deliver, if the paper is huge it can take all of six hours.
"So, I know I keep asking about money...sorry...but that's about ten dollars an hour?"
"I don't think about it as an hourly job.  It's a paid-to-complete-a-task job."
"I get an extra hundred dollars a week, four-hundred a month, to deliver Food Days on Monday nights and Tuesday mornings.  Yes it's a lot of walking, but that means less money on gas.  I listen to my music and toss papers.  It's simple.  No stress.  Like getting paid to exercise.  They are not paying me on the hours it takes to deliver them, they are paying me to put twelve hundred Food Days on twelve hundred porches."
"And you have to put them on every porch?"
"Nah.  You don't give them to anyone who gets a paper at night, and th...
"...How come?"
"Because they get it inserted in their Tuesday paper.  And there are a large amount of people who specifically ask not to get a Food Day.  There are entire blocks where neighborhood associations ask none be delivered, and there are a bunch of apartment complexes who don't want them too."
"How do you know who gets them and who doesn't?"
"You'll get a list.  It shows who gets them."
"Like this list?  The one you updated before we left?"
"Nah, that is one I typed up myself.  It has everything on it and it has all the driveway counts and.."
"Driveway counts.  What's that?"
"See the numbers to the left?  Before the house numbers?"
"Ahh can't read em.  I'm gonna need to bring my glasses tomorrow.  Anyway you could give me this list when you leave?"
"You see how I've made pencil changes and then erased and then made more?"
"Well, see how dogeared they are?  And how some of the pages have already pulled out of the binder?"
"That's only six weeks of wear.  I could download the entire thing I guess.  You got a jump drive?"
"I don't have a computer."
"Yea, well, I don't know if the pages would do you much good with no way to update them."
"Sorry for continually asking the same question over and over, but what do you think I can make a month after the October changes?"

          Tom asked two more times about money.  He never asked about driveway numbers or the codes I use for the different types of customers.  At the end of the night he asked me if I would be able to 'bum him a few bucks for gas'.  I politely declined.

          The next night he was given one hundred papers to deliver solo.  The office received 30 complaints of missed papers the next day.  He was unreachable.  They fired him when he arrived the next night.  An additional 8 customers complained the following day, and when I was delivering that night a lady told me she also didn't get a paper but didn't complain because she thought the Oregonian had already switched to three-days-a-week.   Three days later there were still customers reporting he didn't deliver their paper.

          To understand the title of this post read:  So You Want to Deliver Newspapers.  Even though he got a new heart, Tom was a scarecrow (of the tweaker variety) not a tin man.  He weighed about 120 pounds, bad teeth, bad skin, bad eyesight (I understand meth wreaks havoc on the organs).

          On a related note, under a socialized medicine system, all the Tom's would never become candidates for triple bypasses.  They've been failing to commit slow-suicide; I say, let them succeed.  Death panels?  Sure!  I'm all for them. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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