7. I put my car in first gear and ran alongside it delivering newspapers
So yeah despite the previous instances you may have read about, this is officially the dumbest thing I’ve ever done. Number one with a bullet.
The crazy part?
I actually thought about it first.
And I still did it.
At 3am and on a hostess donette breakfast, some pretty dumba** ideas can come flowing out.
“We’ve got a gusher!”
One of the biggest bummers about having a paper route as an adult is that it almost ruined the experience I had of having a paper route as a kid.
Like Ali standing over Sonny Liston.
In other words it didn’t just color the experience, it clobbered it.
When I accepted the unenviable job of adult paper person I let myself get sucked into the lure like so many others.
“I’ll have all day to do what I want,” I thought. “Do another job, or start a side business or…”
Or wake up at noon, groggy and cranky and dreading ever doing it again.
There really only is 24 hours in a day. I know that sounds crazy and you’re thinking who does this guy think he is, shoveling this first-grade-level reality on me?
A first-grader would have had more sense than to have taken this job.
But it’s true. The extra time you think you’ll have comes at a high cost. The cost of knowing you’ll have to get up at 2:00am tomorrow and do it again is a high cost. And you’ll have that feeling every day.
Seven days a week.
And that side hustle you thought you’d have time for? That second job that will bring in more money so you’ll actually get ahead? If you’re lucky to find one it’s gotta be one that will allow you to be dragging a** for the first few hours and let’s face it — never really recover.
But I’d quit my job at the pizza place. My bike business start-up was stalling. My drop-out-of-college plan wasn’t looking like the greatest idea.
So I took the route.
Never mind that I didn’t even live in the same town.
That’s right. I signed up for something dumb with a dollop of dumber piled on top.
But it’s not like I didn’t try.
I learned the route and I got better at my route.
Then I honed it down to the quickest and most efficient way possible. Each pattern had the most efficient process.
- The folding of the papers.
- The loading of the papers into the car.
- The route itself.
- Each street.
- Each house.
- Each paper toss.
- Eventually even the driving and the gears for each section (mostly 3rd gear, with lots of fluttering of the clutch to avoid inefficient shifting).
There is something satisfying about quickly performing a rote set of tasks, like an exercise routine.
Years later I was bragging about this trait to a short-term roommate as we were driving around accomplishing different errands on a Saturday, grouping them and knocking them down. I probably boasted in a fatherly tone, which caused said roommate (Jeff) to exclaim drolly:
“Captain efficiency strikes again. . .”
So there I was.
Captain efficiency flying through the city in dark of night, serving the daily news, one porched-paper at a time.
But like I said, I tried.
I even cleaned out my car regularly. I didn’t want to become one of “those” people. You know the type. The walking dead that live in the underbelly of any community. Driving the decades-old station wagon with the dog in it and the stack of papers and cigarette packes stuffed between the dash and the windshield, some of which may be conspiracy-laced, and assuring that the defrost never *quite* works.
Yeah. Not me.
So I persevered.
My route had two annoyances.
Almost every route has an apartment complex. Maybe multiple. There’s a benefit and yet a rub with an apartment complex.
The benefit is you might get rid of six or 12 papers on one stop.
The rub is you have to stop.
Stopping is the killjoy of the adult paper route.
In hindsight my apartment stop wasn’t bad. Getting rid of ten papers on one stop was good, and walking around probably woke me up a bit too.
The annoyance was stop number two.
There was a street in Santa Rosa, somewhere between Hearn and Sebastopol road, with those duplex things on it, and there were three duplexes. . . all spaced out.
So parking at one and running them all meant the car was idling a bit too long, it was a VW with a so-so cooling system. Or if I stopped and did one and then started and stopped and did the next, and then, well… it was all just too much.
I also can’t stand microwave ovens that have seconds left on the timer.
CLEAR IT OFF!
(it’s not that hard).
But that question was my problem:
Not enough houses to turn the car off, but too spread apart to run to.
So I hatched a plan.
I didn’t say a good plan — just a plan.
The VW was a manual 4-speed transmission and in first gear it rolled along at a nice, chill 3–4 mph. In otherwords, a speed you could run next to.
You see where this is going.
But it’s gonna get worse.
If you remember Guy Ritchie’s ‘Snatch,’ this thing I did would have fit right in.
What if I got out of the car and delivered the three houses while the car rolled next to me down the street?
Yes, three houses.
Three whole papers, delivered to three whole houses, annoyingly far apart, is what this whole thing was all about.
See what I mean about logic at 3am?
Then it came.
That fateful day.
It was about two weeks after the infamous Oakland Hills fire, only significant to locate the event in history.
I’d tested the plan a few days in advance, but I thought
“Well, I’ll just do two houses maybe.. see how it goes.”
The craziest part?
I put my car in first gear, jumped out, and gave the steering wheel one last adjustment and headed to the first house.
Yes, my car was now rolling down the street, sans driver.
I threw a paper to the first house in the first duplex. I ran across the lawn, now even with my car (shooting it an approving glance), and threw the second house in the second duplex a paper. I ran across the last lawn, now slightly ahead of the car (my plan was totally working!), and threw the last paper.
I should have quit while I was ahead.
The third paper hit the house about two feet from the actual doorstep.
If you’ve played the video game Paperboy, or you’ve seen Better Off Dead, you know the porch is pretty important. At least to us paperboys.
In this case?
I should have let it go.
Yes, you can guess where this is going. If I would have let it go I would have run back to my car, jumped back in, and successfully thrown the annoying duplex row with a ridiculous unoccupied-car-plan that had actually worked.
But I didn’t.
I went back to “porch” that last paper.
Then I heard the worst sound I could imagine. Maybe the second worst.
I guess the worst would have been if it had gone into someone’s living room.
So other than the obvious stupid idea, what had happened?
I forgot I had a slow leak in the passenger side front tire.
So the car pulled to the right.
The crunch I’d heard was my green VW stopped (with the driver’s door wide open still) and slammed, t-boned as it were into (I think) an early-80’s Maverick.
Maybe a Nova.
Whatever car had picked the unfortunate corner spot to park at on the day when some dill let his vehicle roll unoccupied in the dark of night, just to be more efficient throwing newspapers to three adjacent houses.
Oh how luck finds a willing recipient, for better or worse.
I ran over, heart beating out of my chest and waited for the yell. Waited for the angry man to come out of his house on that late fall day in Santa Rosa.
But he didn’t.
Nobody came out of any houses. Nobody yelled at me. Nobody asked me for my name or my insurance information. Good thing because I may or may not have had any.
So I left.
My hands shook and my heart was beating as hard as in a horror movie.
Look, before you think ill of me I wasn’t pleased with my actions. I just didn’t know what to do. And the reality of what I had actually just done was hitting me harder than I was prepared for.
WHAT THE ACTUAL HELL WAS I THINKING???” I yelled to my inner self.
But I already knew the answer, and it was simple.
I wasn’t thinking.
Not that day at least.
I wasn’t thinking about anyone else’s car. Or myself. Or my own car. Or my own health. That’s how I’d gotten into agreeing to drive 45 minutes at 2am to throw a paperroute in a town I didn’t live in, just to make $1,000/ month.
I skipped an entire street out of nervousness, finsihed the route in about 15 minutes and drove home.
I had to think.
I got home, slid into bed dirty and smelling like newspapers, and slept uneasy (shocker).
I woke up at noon and knew I had only one choice. I was many things but I wasn’t a crook. I wasn’t someone who hits someone’s car and does nothing.
I felt like Peter in Office Space, delivering the money and the note, completely aware that jail time may await, but knowing it was the only way.
I scraped all the cash I had at the time, even any reserves, and put it in an envelope. I think it was $350. I put the envelope on my dash.
Now I was one of those people I didn’t want to be — driving around in a car with bills on my dashboard, doing a paper route at 3am. I had become one of them.
I think my note said:
I’m sorry, I hit your car in the middle of the night and this is all I’ve got. I hope you can forgive me.
I folded my papers that next morning in silence, didn’t chat with the other drivers. I was on a mission.
I threw my route without music or talk radio, even Art Bell would stay silent for this day.
I came around the corner, parked my car, walked all three papers to the duplexes, and headed down to the scene of the crime.
The car wasn’t there.
I walked up and down the road but never found it.
Ditto the next day.
And the next.
I came to my senses and quit the route less than a month later, and found a full-time job.
But I still wonder what happened to that car.
Mr. Maverick, Mr. Nova, if you’re reading this I’m sorry, I really am.
And I still have your $.