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My First Big “Growing Up” Experience

July 11, 2011

My First Big “Growing Up” Experience

When I started sixth grade, I signed up to be a future paperboy for the Pittsburgh Press, the afternoon newspaper.  (It ceased publication in 1991 and was folded into the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)  I expected to get the route in two years when the current paperboy, David Sales, would be ready to move on to something else.  David just started high school and began delivering papers that September.  His parents and mine were friends.  Then tragedy struck.  David had an epileptic attack in the high school swimming pool and drowned.  It was a very sad day for our neighborhood.  A day I’ll never forget.

The route manager for the Pittsburgh Press now had an unexpected problem.  As saddened as he was about David’s death, he also had to find someone to deliver the papers.  He learned of the tragedy when he was unloading the bundles of papers at David’s house.  He threw them back in the truck and drove to our house.  I was considered too young to be a paperboy but he had no other choice at that moment.

Without any training or time to prepare, I started my first real job on a moment’s notice.  I was given seventy-six papers to deliver and a ring of receipt stubs with names and addresses.  I loaded the papers into a wagon and a satchel and set out.  It took me over two hours to deliver the papers, an hour longer than normal since I was figuring things out as I went.  Plus I began nearly an hour late because of the circumstances.

So customers were complaining my first day on the route. “Where have you been?” “Why is the paper so late?”  “The paper should have been here two hours ago!”  Then when I took a minute to explain, I was even later for the next customer.  In the end, customers were understanding and sympathetic.

I got better and faster at delivering the paper over the next week, which turned out to be quite rainy.  Then I had to go around to each house and collect money for the prior week’s paper.  Most people paid weekly.  Some paid every two weeks.  One paid monthly.  And several were a few weeks in arrears. Collection time was also complaint and special request time.  Mrs. Brown wanted her paper under the mat so it would not blow away, as it did earlier in the week, and did not wanted it folded and tossed.  Mr. Spanelli’s paper the day before got wet.  His house was up two flights of concrete stairs and he instructed me to make sure the paper was placed at least three feet from the edge of his porch so it would stay dry when it rained or snowed.  Mrs. Jackson wanted her paper in the milk box which meant I couldn’t toss it from the curb and had to walk up several steps to her porch.  Mr. Anderson wanted his paper inside his storm door and he promised me a 25 cent weekly tip if I did.  In 1962, that was worth it.

Tips were how customers told me in tangible terms if I was doing a good job.  Most gave me a dime and considered it generous.  Christmas tips were the best.  I knew how well I was doing by the money left over after I paid the route manager the “wholesale” cost of the paper.  The daily paper cost 7 cents in those days.  The Sunday paper was a quarter.  So from most customers I was collecting 55 cents a week.  I needed to collect about $50 and then pay the route manager about $34 and I made $16 plus about $7 in tips if everyone paid.  The job required about 14 hours per week, so I was earning roughly $1.65 an hour.

The best news is that I gained a lot more from the experience.  I learned many things that have helped me throughout my life and career:

  • I had to set priorities . . . which meant I had to stop playing with friends when the paper truck showed up at 4:30.
  • I had to take care of customers and honor their special requests – tips depended on it.
  • I needed to have “get up and go”— that was a choice I had to make every day – rain, shine, snow or freezing temperatures.
  • I learned how to increase my efficiency and quality of service
  • I learned how to handle and keep track of money.  It was a tutorial in business finance on a small scale.

Most of all, I learned how to take responsibility.  As a parent and manager, I realize that people become more responsible when you give them responsibility. That’s also a lesson for me . . . and I understand that when I stretch myself and take on greater responsibility and a meaningful purpose, I grow as a person and accomplish more.

Steve Weitzenkorn

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 11, 2011 9:45 am

    I LOVE this story, Steve! It’s personal, touching, and there’s such an important entrepreneurial lesson behind it! Thanks for sharing it via your blog and for last month’s presentation to Phoenix Downtown Express Network. I’ve submitted your name as a suggested speaker to the chair for the Arizona district so that she can add you to the newsletter list and others might call on you.

    Best –

    Laura

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