We still get a newspaper, an actual, physical, paper-and-ink newspaper, although just on the weekends–I have so many other things to read that the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday editions are about all I can keep up with, and even then I mostly pull out the Arts section and recycle the rest. A few times I’ve seen the guy who makes the deliveries, driving slowly through neighborhoods some time after dawn, his emergency lights blinking. He has excellent aim. He always manages to hit the ditch next to the driveway. Our neighbor gets a paper too, but I wonder how many homes still get a newspaper. It’s a dying business. I don’t want to wax nostalgic about the bygone era of kids on bicycles throwing a morning newspaper onto the porch of every home just as the residents were starting to stir but I also want to wax nostalgic about the bygone, or nearly gone, era of regular newspaper delivery. Not that I ever had a paper route, or even knew anyone who did before I went to college.
I met Jeff early in my sophomore year at a small gathering at his place. Maybe it was a party but I don’t know if you can call four people a party, and anyway his room–part of a row of student apartments next to the fraternity houses, so that it was both off-campus and technically part of the campus–while bigger than a dorm room was still pretty small. We drank and talked through the night. He played Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk”. At some point early on I quit drinking, but Jeff didn’t, and at around three o’clock in the morning he said, “I need to deliver papers. Can you drive?”
Well, sort of. I didn’t have a license and it had been a few years since driver’s ed, but I decided driving a car is like riding a bicycle; you’re just less likely to fall off. It had been a few years since I’d last ridden a bicycle too. Following Jeff’s directions I drove to a warehouse downtown where we picked up a stack of newspapers, then through the neighborhoods of straight streets where all I had to do was hold the steering wheel while he bagged and threw newspapers.
I rode along with him a few more times after that, and one day we even took a half hour road trip to a bigger town. He was looking for a book at a bookstore that turned out to be closed when we got there. A few days later I went by his place and knocked. There was no answer. I couldn’t find him the next day either. The day after that a girl I knew told me Jeff had been reported for smoking pot in his room, maybe by one of the fraternity guys who would have recognized the smell from one of their own parties. The details were obscure but at the time any drug use was dealt with swiftly and harshly. Jeff was expelled and left without telling anyone. The abruptness of it has stayed with me even as the newspaper delivery business slowly fades away.