Restocking Newspaper Machines

It had been a few months since I was laid off from my cushy desk job.  The severance was starting to run low and I wanted some way to supplement my unemployment check.  To use dot com lingo, we have a high ‘burn rate’ what with the mortgage, car payments and kids who demand the latest Disney /McDonald’s cross promotion toys.  

I remembered that my wife had a newspaper delivery route back when she was in college.  I helped out a few times, it wasn’t that bad.   This sounded like a good way to make some extra cash.  It only takes some an hour or so in the morning then you have the rest of the day free.  What could be better? 

After calling the circulation department of our local paper they put us on a list.  There wasn’t anything available but they’d call us when something opened up.  There was supposed to be a big turnover after Christmas.  About two months later we received a call from the paper.  There was an opening for a route, were we still interested.  It was delivering papers to the coin operated racks.  Easy I thought.  Just shove a bunch a papers in a rack, no folding or messing with rubber bands or plastic bags.  No complaints from cranky geezers when a paper ends up on their roof. 

The first warning sign I should have noticed was there was no interview.  They just called the next name from a list.  All you had to do was say ‘yes’ and you’re hired. No interview, no references, no tests, nothing.   All we needed to do was come in fill out some paperwork and go through a dry run and we were on our way. 

The job was a horrible nightmare.  And I say 'was' because we already quit, lasted a whole three days.  The job had a lot more duties than originally anticipated.  We started this adventure on Sunday of President’s day weekend.  The Sunday paper is the biggest, fattest edition of the week.  To quote Dr. Evil “It’s re-God-damn-diculous”.  There were 800+ papers stacked waist high on pallets, too many to fit in our monstrous Suburban.  Since this was our first day, one of the circulation managers showed us the route and put half the papers in his van.  Otherwise we’d have to make multiple trips.  The poor saps next to us had over 1,000 papers with only one small pick up truck.  

We followed him around going from rack to rack.  This large unruly paper comes in two sections, which requires them to be assembled before putting in the rack.  We started at 1:30 am finished around 7:00 am.  Finally with hands black as soot and feeling nauseous from the smell of newsprint, we made it home. Ten minutes later both kids are up and ready for quality time.  Guess we could catch up on sleep tomorrow. 

Another part of this job is you have to collect the coins from each rack. Which didn’t sound too bad.  Except you are an independent contractor so you’re technically selling the papers yourself and the newspaper then bills you for each paper.  This requires dealing with huge amounts of quarters, dimes, and nickels, totaling around $2,400 a week.  The banks take them only in counted bags of $500.00 or rolled. Some banks won’t take them at all.  After collecting Sunday’s take, we spent over an hour on the floor counting a bucket of coins.

So you are supposed to make 15 cents for daily and 25 cents on Sundays foreach paper sold.  But what if someone steals papers, takes more than one you say?  Well they just stole money right out of your pocket.  If any come up short it comes out of your 'profit'.

They also forgot to mention there were dealers on the route. That means gas stations and liquor stores.  They aren't open so you leave the papers at the door.  How do they pay you ask?  Well you have to go collect each and every week during the day after they open.  So more time needed to drive around town.  They are suppose to pay in cash so if the minimum wage cashier dude doesn't have the cash or even know what the hell you are talking about, you get to come back. 

They also want you to 'recover' on Sundays.  That means after spending 5+ hours in the wee hours of the Sabbath stocking the racks they expect you to go back mid-day and add more papers, there goes another hour.  Which makes a whooping $10 extra.  Of course if nobody swipes too many.

At the end of the week they bill you for your weeks for of papers.  We figured it should be around $2,000 for one week.  After you have emptied out all the racks, and collected from all the dealers you pay the bill (cash only please, no personal checks) you keep what's left over.  Now many things factor into what you earn, but the theft issue makes a huge difference. We noticed after collecting Monday there were quiet a few papers that didn't get paid for. For each one stolen that’s 50 cents less we get keep, and on Sundays its $1.00 for each hijacked paper.

Monday was our second run. With less than 4 hours of sleep and two cups of coffee we were ready to go.  This time the circulation manager followed behind us in his van just to make sure we didn’t get lost.  About 5 racks into it a key snaps off in the lock.  Guess we won’t collect on this one, or the other 6 racks with the same key.     A few more stops later there is a homeless guy sleeping 10 feet from the racks.  Don’t mind us, it’s the middle of the night nobody else is around and we have a big bucket of money here, so go back to sleep.  It’s amazing how many people are out at 3:00 am riding a bike, walking the street, or just watching you. 

We finished the route on Monday, this time it was only 525 papers.  They told us it should take 2 to 2˝ hours.  It took over 3.  Plus the time need to go back to the station and count all your returns and bundle them up.  You need to make sure you do this otherwise every paper you don't return is charged to you.

Tuesday, we were exhausted after sleeping in 3-hour shifts and arrived at the dock ‘late’ around 3:00 am.  It was raining, the papers were getting soaked, and my hands were frozen and sore.  We were so close to quitting. There was far too much crap involved then we ever expected.  Then they called us on our cell phone while we were in route to tell us we didn't bundle our returns from the previous day correctly, can we meet back at the station to learn the proper way.  We arrived at the station with the return papers.   A woman whose breath reeked of alcohol far too much for 6:00 am showed us the ‘right’ way to tie newspapers.  That was it.  We quit right after the bundling and stacking lesson.

They tried to get us to finish out the week but we declined.  So they sent out a guy to come recover the change we pulled out of the racks.  We told them to bill us for the three days and we'd pay it.  But I guess we couldn't be trusted.  An hour later a guy showed up and said he had to count the change.  It was already counted we told him.  Look here’s $500.00 in a nice bank approved burlap sack.  The rest was all counted and sorted in zip lock bags.  Sorry, this is for your protection.  So he spent the next hour and 15 minutes counting some $660 worth on change on our pool table.

If you added up all the time required with delivering, collecting, recovering, bundling returns, counting $2,400 a week worth of change, making multiple trips to the bank, subtracting for theft, it worked out to be pretty much a minimum wage job.  It was suppose to pay around $360 a week.  But that varied based on how honest people were in paying for the papers and the fickle buying habits of suburbia.  Not to mention there were machines that went down from vandalism that they were suppose to fix but never did.

They said they'd sent us a check for our 'profit' next week.  I figure we'd be lucky to see $50 bucks.  But at this point we didn't care if we ever saw a dime.