05/17/10 — Workin' It -- Service ... with enthusiasm

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Workin' It -- Service ... with enthusiasm

By Laura Collins
Published in News on May 17, 2010 1:51 PM

The Job: Newspaper Carrier

The Location: Goldsboro

Going into this job I felt a new level of nervousness. All the other jobs I've worked, I knew that at the end of the day, I was leaving. Which means if I really messed things up, I would never have to go back there ... and no one could find a way to deduct damages from my paycheck.

But working as a carrier for a day, I knew that anything I mess up could directly affect me. Even though carriers are independent contractors and not actually employees of the newspaper, they know my boss, Mr. Hal Tanner -- and if I was a total basket case, they would know whom to tell, and where to find him.

It didn't help matters that after the other carriers found out I was riding with Chris Drake, they didn't exactly give him a ringing endorsement.

"You're going with Chris? You're going to work real hard. He's like a demon, I heard," one said.

"Make sure to put your seat belt on," another added.

And Drake himself didn't do anything to make me feel better.

"You don't get car sick, do you? We'll find out I guess," he said.

It's been my experience while doing various jobs around the county that nothing good happens after that question is asked.

Drake is a 24-year carrier for the News-Argus. He started a route when he was 14 years old and had 32 customers. When he was 18, he had 500 stops. Now he has more than 900. Carriers work six days a week, regardless of the weather, and are at work at about 3 a.m. Sunday mornings to get readers their papers by their morning cup of coffee. Unlike other jobs, carriers can't call in sick. If they can't do their route, they find someone who can.

This is one of the first jobs I've done that I've actually had previous experience. I had a paper route when I was younger, so I knew all about it. Actually, it was my big brother who had a weekly paper route. He would let me tag along, which I called "helping," and occasionally I would throw a paper or two in between showing the neighbors the newest addition to my rock collection. Working with Drake wasn't much different. Drake worked incredibly fast, almost on auto-pilot it seemed, and every once in a while he let me "help."

As we pulled out of the parking lot, Drake was all ready to work. He keeps rubber bands on his turn signal and rolls newspapers while at stoplights so he's ready to put them in mailboxes by the time we arrive. He gets more done in his car then most people do at their desk.

Drake has committed his 900 stops to memory, not looking once at his route sheet. In addition, his attention to detail is remarkable. He remembers where everyone likes their paper, whether it's in their mailbox, on their back porch and for some of the elderly he will slip it in the door at their request. He is very much in the zone while he is working. This became apparent as he was throwing newspapers to houses from the driver's seat through the passenger window. He throws the papers like a Frisbee, so his arm fully extends in front of my face when I'm seated in the passenger seat. The first time he did this, my life flashed before my eyes. But after a few times without incident I got used to it. That's when I got an elbow to the face.

"Oh, sorry, I forgot you were there," Drake said.

"How? I was in the middle of talking?" I said.

While I seemed to be relatively forgettable, Drake knows almost everyone on his route. People's faces light up when they see him and one man saves all the rubber bands around his papers and returns them to Drake so he can use them again. But it was hard to decide who was more excited to see whom at the Kirkwood Retirement Community. Drake saves Kirkwood for his last stop of the day -- the highlight -- and the ladies at Kirkwood seem to be equally as excited to see him. He takes several papers directly in to some of the women on oxygen and puts papers in the hand railing if it's hard for them to pick up the paper off the ground.

It was nice to see such attention to detail and I realized that there was another aspect to being a carrier. In addition to being reliable and consistent, there's a certain level of caring that goes into it. For many people, the carriers are the face of the News-Argus. They are the ones who subscribers see and interact with six days a week, all year long. And it's comforting for me to know that for more than 900 people, Drake is representing this paper.