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November 03, 2002

State of the Union

This morning when I was out walking the dog, I saw my neighbor delivering newspapers. This neighbor is probably 11 or 12 years old, and every morning he gets up to roll and throw his papers. But he doesn't get up alone; one of his parents also gets up with him to drive him along his paper route. The family owns a Toyota Corolla, a Ford Explorer, and a restored 1940s Ford pickup. It's usually the dad who drives on the paper route, and he usually drives the Explorer, but sometimes the pickup. The kid sits in the back of whichever vehicle, the vehicle's tailgate up (in the case of the Explorer) or down (in the case of the pickup); the kid's legs dangle outside the vehicle as it moves down the road, so he's always ready to spring out and deliver a paper to the next house when the vehicle stops. But I've never seen him spring. Instead, he waits for the vehicle to stop, then typically reaches slowly for a paper before he saunters up to the door to drop the paper, then return slowly to the vehicle. I see this nearly every day, and I'm reminded that this is what we've come to as a people: We use our least fuel-efficient vehicles to drive our kids around their paper routes so they can make $5-10/day. I wonder: What is this paper boy learning from this experience?

Does this matter? Maybe not. Perhaps it just strikes me as significant because I actually delivered newspapers for nearly 10 years—from age 9 to age 18. During that time I always had at least one morning route, sometimes two; and for a couple of years when I lived in Iowa I had both a morning and an evening route (two different papers—the Des Moines Register was the morning paper, and the local paper, the name of which now escapes me, was an evening paper). And I'll admit that there's no way I could have delivered papers that long without lots of help and encouragement from my family. For many years, in fact, my mom and sister also had paper routes, so we'd all get up together and help each other to get our jobs done. Sometimes my mom would drive me to the start of my route, which was about a mile from my home. My mom also provided vital help with collections and keeping the books for my routes, so I couldn't have done it without her. Still, the only days I accepted a ride around my route were when the temperature was less than 40 degrees below zero (that usually happened a few times per year in Wyoming), or when I was injured and unable to walk or bike the route. So I know I sound like an old goat to be even talking about this, like the cliche of the old man complaining to the younger generation, "When I was a kid we didn't ride busses, we walked to school—uphill both ways! And we liked it!" I don't mean to sound like that. But still, these parents driving a lazy looking kid around his paper route every day just strikes me as a sad waste. I really think the whole Protestant work ethic is overrated, but still....

Posted November 3, 2002 12:35 PM | general politics

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