The air carried a slight breeze. The mist from the morning haze caused my arms to raise small goose bumps that stiffened the short hairs. The hum of the fluorescent lighting in the hallway of the apartment complex invited my mind to vibrate with an uneasy reminder of how tired I was. My fingers were sticky from the sweat and the ink while my palms were dry after having their moisture leached by the paper. The two crumpled one dollar bills in my pocket from earlier in the night were still on my mind. Just one more hour until I could hand them over to the cashier and receive what I had been waiting for since last Saturday night. I blinked twice and shook my head as I ran down the hallway. My footsteps pounding, my heart racing. I swung around the corner, my hip violently smashing in to the imitation siding of the wall as I dropped the package, and pushed harder to maintain my momentum. The stairway loomed ever closer that led in to the early morning light. The pinks and purples of the clouds were vibrant enough that I could almost hear the colors. As I rushed towards the stairs and broke past the threshold of the enclosed hallway into the chilly open air, my mind snapped back, almost like a taught rubber band, to the urgency I was feeling. Only 12 stairs left on this stretch. I had to get back to the street before my ride came back in to view. The rhythmic thumping of the old stereo getting closer told me that this was going to be close.
Let me back this story up about 6 hours while turning back the clock about 15 years. I used to deliver newspapers. Not some little piddly route where I rode a bicycle and threw them at doors (I did do that for a while though), but a real paper route. Hundreds of papers, late at night, driving in a car. It started with my dad. When I was 14, he woke me up at midnight and told me to get in to the car. It was full of newspaper bundles already and he was ready to go. He just needed some help I suppose. We drove around SilverdaleWashington for the next 5 hours delivering the Seattle P.I. to various houses, apartments, nursing homes, and businesses. I would do the running. He would drive. And at the end of the evening, I would receive my wages of 5 dollars, a quick trip to Taco Bell for a crunchy taco, and then home where I could get 3 hours of sleep in preparation for church the next morning.
Looking back, it was really some of the best times I think I had with my dad. It was just us. We were busy, we worked hard, and there was nothing to stop us from conversing as people. As father and son. And if for some reason things got awkward, there was always another paper to be delivered that would break the tension while I was out of the car.
This ritual took place each Saturday night. After about 6 months of it however, I was told that my older brother Ryan needed assistance on his paper route. I changed vehicles, and I got to learn an entirely new set of 249 houses to remember. This time, I was delivering papers on the lower east side ofBremertonWashington. The big differences here were the music, the size of the vehicle (I went from a Chevy Celebrity to a Ford Mustang), and the conversation.
I honestly don’t remember a lot of what we talked about while I was delivering papers with Ryan. He was my older brother, and as much as I wanted to be like him, he intimidated me a little. I don’t know why.
At the end of the evening, he would pay me $10 and we would still get the taco. But it felt different. Not bad. Just different.
After a few months of showing up with my father to load papers, I found myself in a spot that made me feel kind of proud. The man who was over our paper delivery region was named Malcolm. He was kind of old as I recall, but he was nice. As I was standing around as a 15 year old punk in front of the “40 Thieves”, he told me to climb up in to the truck and start throwing out bundles of papers to the older men on the ground. And so I did. I threw almost a thousand bundles of papers each night that I did this. And for my efforts I received two crumpled one dollar bills. These bills would be used to pay for the tacos at the end of the night. A fool’s treasure. A simple treat for whomever I was working with. I had often felt like I was being paid too much for the work I did, so I looked for a way to carry part of the fiscal load of the evening. The tacos were how I did it.
So, after having delivered papers with my dad, my brother, and worked for a creepy yet kind old man for a few dollars each week, the paper route thing suddenly encountered a twist that would change my life for the next year.
I started working with Dedra.
What does this mean? Well, Dedra and I were much closer in age than anyone else I had worked with previously, and we were both in high school / junior high at the time. The pay wasn’t going to be any different. We were doing the Silverdale paper route (which we both knew since I had started on it and Dedra had been helping my dad since I left to work with Ryan). We had similar tastes in music. And Dedra had recently acquired a driver’s license. All in all… this was a combination that could work well… or would be written down in the history books as one of the worst things ever to be unleashed on the streets of Silverdale.
Luckily for us… it turned out to be the former.
It worked well!
Dedra and I would play games while we were out delivering papers.
We would see how fast we could finish the route.
We would see how many papers we could throw and hit the doorstep from the car.
We would see who could sing the loudest while we were delivering to the nursing homes.
We would see who could drop their papers at the different apartment complexes the fastest and be back to the corner first.
We would get bored and do the paper route backwards.
We would pick a random spot in the middle and start the route from there and work the entire night from a different point of reference.
We would see how much caffeine we could get in to our systems and then just gibber like fools for the next 4 hours.
This would happen each night of the week. We had picked up the daily route somehow. I don’t really know how that happened. Though, I was still delivering weekends with Ryan.
Dedra and I would talk, share stories, discuss concerns, talk about girls or boys, who we liked, what our fears were, how school was going, what we were doing in seminary, and so forth. We were good friends. It was enjoyable. And at the end of each night, we would sit in the car just outsideShari’s and eat our taco. And if for some reason we had reason to celebrate, we would hunker down and go IN to Shari’s and enjoy a drink and some Tucson Nacho’s. Really, I think some of the best times of my youth were spent in that car with my sister. The music was loud. The work was hard. The conversation was good. And the opportunity to be friends with my father, my siblings, and just experience something like that after dark was one of the key periods of my youth growing up.
Would I do it now of my own accord? Probably not.
Will I do it 5 years from now when my son can benefit from it? Quite possibly. I’m not sure.
But I do know that the smell of newsprint, the feel of dirty sweaty fingers, and the tangy cool taste of a Taco Supreme at 4am make for some of my favorite memories of my life before marriage.