(This is the seventh in a series of growing up in Lewisburg, West Virginia in the 1950’s, perhaps the greatest town and in the best time to grow up that a young man could ever ask for.)
Lewisburg was a Mecca for young bikers. Other than Washington Street, a fairly steep incline, most streets were level or close to it. We went everywhere on our bikes – in traffic and along the back roads, day and night, rain or shine.
Bikes had kickstands, but I don’t know why. No one ever used kickstands. We simply let the bike fall after the final pedal.
We rode our bikes to school and left them out front. Nobody knew what a bike lock was. Who would steal a kid’s bike?
We rode our bikes to the Dairy Queen in Fairlea and to the Little League Park on Holt Lane. We biked to the movies and downtown to Zelda’s for an emergency loaf of bread.
Sometimes we rode together in little wolf packs, and sometimes we went for a spin on our own. When my bike came in really handy was when my neighbor and sidekick, Brad Stuart, talked me into taking over his paper route in the Graham Addition.
Brad had decided to give up the route for the Beckley Post Herald, but first had to find a replacement paperboy. Brad told me that I could make ten dollars a month. In the 1950’s, a ten spot was Warren Buffet-type money. All you have to do, Brad said, is drop the morning paper off to the 30 or so subscribers, then collect the subscription fees each week.
I accompanied Brad on two beautiful September mornings. The skies were blue. The air was fresh with the approach of autumn and the morning hour was a wonderful time to be out and about.
“I’ll do it,” I told Brad and he handed over his tools of the trade, which included a cloth bag for the papers, a hole puncher, and a cardboard account on a ring for each customer. When customers paid, you punched their ticket for a given week.
Delivering papers went well, until Sunday. Brad had failed to mention that if a bag filled with papers weighed ten pounds on a Saturday, it would weigh 50 pounds on Sunday. The weight was such that it compressed the tires on my Schwinn bike to almost flat.
I finally figured out that if I put half my papers in the bag, then picked up the remainder midway through the route, it was an easier chore.
Brad also didn’t tell me about a certain Irish setter on South Jefferson that had a thing for the feet and ankles of paperboys. Brad must have convinced the owners of the attacking canine to keep the dog inside until he had formally ceded his delivery rites to yours truly.
Somewhere around week two, the setter began the attacks. It was guerilla warfare as the dog lay in waiting, only to charge with vengeance as my bike approached the house.
Each time I collected from those subscribers, I asked if they were sure they really needed a morning paper, and each time they said yes.
Ultimately I learned to pedal with just my right foot, keeping my left leg high enough off the ground that the dog’s sharp teeth would not find tender flesh.
Rain was another detail not mentioned during the paper route negotiations. For the first month, it was clear blue skies and ideal weather. In October, Mother Nature decided there should be rain. Lots of rain. Rain every day.
Newspaper readers, I would quickly discover, did not like to have their papers delivered in the form of a wet sponge. Rather, they overwhelmingly preferred dry papers, which meant I had to shield them with my body from the encroaching elements. I frequently finished my route soaked from head to toe; often having to wear the same wet tennis shoes to school. Wet tennis shoes, by the way, get a little rank during the monsoon season. Mom had to get me another pair – one for the paper route and one for school, or when in the presence of other human beings.
In December, it snowed. As all paperboys will attest, bike tires and snow much deeper than 3- or 4-inches are not compatible. In the snow, I had to hoof it, unless I could convince my Dad to get out of his warm bed at 6 in the morning and drive me door to door. He turned out to be a champ, listening to my creative pleas and generally obliging.
After two years of paper-boying, I finally decided I had had enough of heavy Sunday papers, Irish setters, and the rains and snows of the season.
Thus, I approached a new kid on the block with this proposition.
“How would you like to make ten dollars a month? All you have to do is…”