A brief history of newspaper carriers

Larry Van GuilderAs I see it

As a boy, in between stints as a Marine Pirate, I delivered the afternoon newspaper. Those were the days when $4 would buy a fistful of comics and a whole week of vanilla cokes at Bryant’s Drugstore in Fountain City.


Despite the cold weather (remember when Christmas was cold?), I looked forward to the holiday because my take that week could jump to $5 or even $5.50. If I didn’t have the most prosperous route, at least my subscribers were honest – those few who paid by check always promised another if the first one bounced.

I don’t know what it was about newspapers, or me, but something in the combination proved irresistible to dogs along my route. By the time I got to my last house the pack was trailing me like I was the canine answer to the Pied Piper.

One little guy especially grew fond of my right leg. Yes, my leg. He expended a lot of energy doing, or trying to do, what male dogs do naturally to their female paramours.

When you’re 12 years old and just beginning to seriously notice girls, and your paper route just happens to hold more than its share of cute girls, and you’re being stalked by a canine sex fiend, well, you can see the stage is set for humiliation or hilarity depending upon your point of view.

It happened one evening as I was collecting for that week’s paper. I rang the doorbell at the home of the prettiest of all the pretty girls I admired from afar, expecting to confront a grownup.

The door opened and there stood my cute classmate. At that instant, my oversexed canine Casanova began to molest my leg.

Summoning my limited composure, I tried to shake Fido free, but this served only to draw her attention to the action.

To this day I can’t utter the word “collect” without feeling my face turn red and experiencing a muscle spasm in my right leg, and that family still owes me 75 cents.

That was not a red-letter day in my carrier career. Sympathetic readers will understand that I did the only thing possible to overcome my embarrassment by running away for a year hoping her family would move before I returned. Didn’t work out, and eventually, my folks insisted I stop riding the rails and come home.

The lot of newspaper carriers has always been a rough one. Imagine the poor Stone Age carrier lugging carved stone tablets from cave to cave. Of course, one cave, two tops, comprised a route considering the weight of the daily paper, and don’t even ask about the Sunday edition with all the ads for sabretooth tiger filets and wooly mammoth steaks.

The invention of the wheel helped. Rolling the paper to the cave was a huge advance and extended the career of many carriers at the expense of a few cave-owner toes.

Of course, the greatest technological advance was the introduction of the clay tablet and cuneiform writing. The Assyrians put this to great use, but it was only recently that some of their writings were translated.

One fragment particularly puzzled scholars for years. The debate went back and forth: Was this part of a news story or an editorial?

Leave it to a Harvard-trained former newspaper carrier to come up with the answer. Following years of careful study, he made an announcement. The mysterious fragment of the clay tablet reads: “Somebody get this dog off my leg!”

Larry Van Guilder is the government/business editor for KnoxTNToday.

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