Chapter 8: My Life as a Street Urchin

I have a confession to make.  I was a Paperboy for almost 10 years.  I still have nightmares about it sometimes.

It was a fascinating way to both earn money and to meet and spend time with friends.  It also gave you some amazing insights to people’s lives in the 1970’s.

Back then, there were two daily papers and I delivered them both.  I’ll be honest, it was a real bitch to get up at 5:00 am for the morning run- especially in  my late teens when I was frequently hung over…

But it gave me the two things I most desired:  Money and Freedom.

My paper route paid for my first car and assorted clothes and housewares.

It also thoroughly pissed off my control freak father.

His control lever was always:  “I won’t pay for that”.  My response was always “I have a private income”, which I got from seeing too many movies.

In short, I had cash, so he had no control.  In fact, once, due to my Mother’s proliferate spending, he once had to borrow money from me….

It was lovely.

In case you have not figured this out by now, it also fulfilled my major desire in life:  It got me out of the house.

I would schlep through the snow, sleet and freezing rain  to deliver the morning paper as long as I could spend several hours socializing while delivering the evening paper.  And visiting with my friends.

My friends may have teased me about this at times, but it saved my life.  Besides, I only worked a couple of hours a day and made as much money as they did as bag boys and at restaurants.

Early on, I could spend a couple of hours both delivering papers and talking to my friend Renee.  I was out of my house and talking with someone who understood me and who I understood.  I’m not sure she ever knew how much that time meant to me.  I hope she does now.

Later, I would spend time with my friend Gail- or her Mother.  Even when Gail wasn’t speaking to her.  It could take me hours to deliver papers as I was so busy socializing…We would sometimes talk to Terri.  Mary.  Stuart.  Whoever came along…We lived in the streets of Temple Terrace.

We talked face to face.  I know that is strange to kids now for two reasons:

  1. They consider their parents their friends and can’t imagine wanting to be away from them
  2. They don’t understand we didn’t have the internet and video games.

We had to talk face to face.  As scary as that might seem now…we learned to give and take.  We interacted in person.  We talked through all the adolescent crap and got through it together. As we grew older, we talked about how ridiculous our parents were and how we never wanted to become them.

We gossiped, we chatted, we plotted and we survived adolescence together by finding commonalities no matter how different we were.

We are all young and in Temple Terrace in Danville, Virginia with screwed up parents, but we were together and aware of the strangeness and newness of life.

We had hope and we had plans.

Mostly to get out of Temple Terrace.

It was also fun for me to see the adults.

Looking back, with the wisdom of my years, I can see drama I missed then.

People who wouldn’t come to the door to pay their paper bills when I called.  People I woke up at 4:00 in the afternoon.  The “bachelor” who lived alone and played classical piano at night while drinking as soon as he got home.  The man who was so differential to his wife that we were all shocked at the murder/suicide a few years later.   The sons who finished college but never quite left home.  The men who came to the door in their boxers when their wives weren’t home…

I learned a lot.  And a lot of it went over my head at the time.

Thank god….

But I interacted with people and I survived.  Fortunately– or unfortunately– with my innocence more or less intact.

It makes me wonder, why are people so scared now?

Is it because of Cable TV needing to fill a 24 hour news cycle and magnifying every crime?  Has it made everyone paranoid?  Is it the Internet?

In any case, I strongly recommend your turn off the computer and the TV and throw your kids into the street.  Without their cell phones.

Let’s see if they survive.

They may surprise both you and themselves….




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7 Responses to Chapter 8: My Life as a Street Urchin

  1. Pingback: Chapter 8: My Life as a Street Urchin | My Southern Gothic Life « Lost in the 21st Century

  2. Van says:

    I am dying to read more!! Keep it coming! This is really awesome.

  3. Scott,

    Weirdly, we had parallel lives. I delivered both the morning Washington Post and the afternoon, Northern Virginia Sun. My parents were a bit different in this situation (on Sundays, Dad would actually get up at 5 to drive me around because the Sunday Post was enormous — and he was always in a better mood than I was.)

    But the stories of seeing the neighborhood in a wholly different way because of being a paperboy broadened my understanding of people. Those who wouldn’t pay (sometimes I paid for them because of the hassle of getting the money from them), the men in boxers (I sympathize with them now that I’m over 50, but at the time I was a bit disturbed), the overly-flirtatious housewives, and more.

    One thing that my paper route also gave me was a love for long walks, which I still have — plus I got to know people’s hobbies, etc., because some of the customers got to know me. I also had about a half hour where I’d tell ghost stories to the kids up the street who’d gather round when I took a bit of an impromptu break.

    The money also allowed me to buy my own extras and put aside some savings. I bought my first stereo at fourteen with the proceeds and always had a little money for things — plus, by the time I quit the paper routes (I was about 14) and started getting the lawn mowing, babysitting and even bricklaying jobs that I could then get, I had about a grand put aside for college.

    Your memories bring back a lot of my own. I wonder if there are kids today who are paper deliverers, or if it’s all like where I live — some adult in a car drives up and drops off the paper.

  4. Scott M says:

    Doug: This is funny how our lives paralleled. My Dad also helped with the heavy Sunday papers and I also paid for some of the “customers” who were just too much trouble.

    I don’t think they have paperboys anymore. To your point, even in Danville now they have people drive by and put the papers in plastic mailbox type things on the street.

    For a while, in the summer, I would do both the paper route and work in the warehouse at my father’s company. That reminds me of more things to write about!

    It’s a shame….I agree, we learned so much doing this. This change is just another factor that leads to our isolation in America today…

  5. gail says:

    We only had 3 paperboys in Temple Terrace. First, there was Freddie Somebody, who looked really old to me as a kid (I vaguely remember a lot of facial hair). Then, there was James Thompson, middle son of the Widow Thompson who taught school. And Scott. It was a really big deal to get a paper route back then because you basically had to wait until someone grew up before you could get the job.

    I was really naive back then, I don’t think it ever dawned on me that you actually got paid to deliver papers and that if you did you were actually saving the money. Or that there were scandals in the neighborhood that you were privy to. I doubt I realized that it was even a job. Lest anyone think that I am a total moron here, I don’t remember too many of my friends working, except a couple at Western Sizzlin’. My father made me work at the tobacco warehouse and, of course, I didn’t get paid.

    And I have now had the great epiphany about my mother. Everyone talked to my mother because she was the only parent who didn’t care if we smoked. And if we chain smoked then all the better! haha

    See, your blogs bring back such memories for all of us, Scott. Bless you for remembering.

  6. Terri Pettyjohn says:

    I am thoroughly enjoying reading these too, Scott. I had forgotten so much of this, but your blogs are “bringing it back”. In fact, my dad is here with me and I am reading much of it to him, and he is filling me in with even more (like which of his friends frequented Earl’s). And Gail, I had a job at the Danville Public Library from 10th grade on…. However, although we shared many friends (Mary, Renee, RW, etc) my primary group (we were a year older) was the MOST NAIVE ever. We NEVER did any of that “wild stuff”, at least not until college anyway. I guess I never wanted to disappoint my dad and still don’t fifty years later. But we had our share of “clean” fun and I don’t regret a minute. And as for the newspaper, my day is not complete if I don’t read one. I guess I owe part of this lifetime love to you – thanks for that and thanks for all these memories (and I hope my parents always paid, I don’t think my dad ever answered in boxers because he worked 10 hours a day, 7 days a week, as for my mom, well…..)

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