A Short Story | “The Paperboy” by Chris Honore’ (Colombia) 

Chris Honoré (Colombia 1967-69)


My elementary school was called Allendale, a name I never gave much thought to. It was a massive, pale green, two-story Victorian building on a quiet neighborhood street.

I wanted to be a paperboy

Two years before I headed off to Jr. High School, I suggested to my folks that being a paperboy would build character, or wobbly words to that effect, and solve my financial situation — I was always short of pocket change for, say, a Superman comic or baseball cards wrapped in waxy paper along with a square of pink bubble gum. To sweeten my argument, I pointed out that the “newspaper shack,” where a cohort of boys gathered each afternoon, waiting for the hot off the presses bundles of newspapers to arrive, was less than a block away from Allendale.

“Fine,” my parents said, with some reluctance. “Let’s see how it goes.”

And I was

And so I spoke with Al, the manager of the “paper shack” where the daily stacks of papers were delivered. He was a swarthy guy with a stub of cigar always tucked securely in the corner of his mouth, heavy black glasses halfway down his nose, his white short-sleeved shirts peppered with small burns from the cigar. “Okay, kid,” he said, “Let’s give it a try, see if you can handle it.”

And so I got my first paper route: a list of addresses, street names, plus a heavy, bifurcated canvas bag for the papers, some 60 of them. I learned how to fold and tuck each paper, ready to be tossed onto front porches, stoops or walkways. The filled bag hung from the handlebars of my Schwinn bike, balanced, and within easy reach.

There was a lot to learn, but I soon memorized the houses that took the paper — it was the Oakland Tribune. There were usually four sections to the daily. Sunday’s edition was a monster, impossible to fold and so I walked my route, the bag resting on my shoulders.

I soon learned that I was most accurate when riding my bike and throwing cross-arm, right to left, and with practice I usually hit my target. When I didn’t, I’d stop and then approach the house, listening for a bark or a growl, find the paper on the lawn or in a flowerbed bed, walk to the bottom step of the porch and give it an underhand throw, aiming for the doormat.

And I loved it

I loved being a paperboy, delivering a paper that some people waited for. Often, I noticed a curtain pushed back or blinds pulled back when the thwack of the paper hit the porch.

And, of course, I met the people who lived behind the doors and windows. Once a month I’d walk my route to collect payment for the paper. I’d ring my customers’ door bells or knocked on a closed screen door. If there was a generic image of this individual lodged in my memory, it’s of a man, his white T-shirt stained yellow under his arms, his face covered in stubble, his squint creviced. I’d smile and say, “Collecting for the Tribune.” On occasion he might say something like, “Look, kid, catch me next month will ya?” It really wasn’t a question and I’d look at him and nod and mark him down as unpaid for that month. All in all, though, people were pretty nice.

I usually collected on Sundays, when I knew my subscribers were home. There were some who would answer the door, women, mostly, look at me intently, and turn and call over a shoulder, “Come on in, kid” and I’d step into a living room that looked and smelled so very different from my own. Sometimes I kept an eye on a baby while the mom went into the kitchen for her purse. Or I’d stand very still as a dog gave me a good sniff, poking its nose into my crotch. If I smelled cookies, I’d leave with dollar bills tucked in my carpenter’s apron and a couple of homemades in my hand.

And my route

I loved my route. I loved newspapers before I ever read one or really knew what they were. That would come later.

There are threads that appear and reappear in our lives. Some we recognize and some may even give us pause. For me, newspapers have always been such a thread.

I was a paperboy during the early 1950s, and as I reflect on those days I realize that my route took me out of my narrow world of school and friends to a world beyond the familiar, a neighborhood of large and small bungalows, most with one-car garages, listing wooden fences and squares of patchy lawns.

And the people

As I mentioned, I knew the people on my route, meaning those who subscribed. As for those who didn’t, after finishing my Sunday delivery, I’d work up the courage to knock on their doors or pushed their doorbell. If they answered, well, we’d stand there, peering at one another through a scrim of wire mesh, and I’d ask if they might want to take the paper. Had they asked me, I would have been hard pressed to explain why they should subscribe. What I knew about the Oakland Tribune was that it consisted of sheets of white paper, blocked headlines, columns of words, the inside peppered with small and large ads for appliances, clothes and cars. As for all the stories above the fold and below, I never read a word.

The paper was a huge part of my life and yet it wasn’t. I often rode my bike through Brookdale Park and I’d see older men sitting on benches, newspapers held open in front of them, reading intently, seeming lost to the world.

I recall not long after I became a paperboy, walking downtown and passing by what must have been a union hall. Men, dressed in rough clothes, most wearing caps or fedoras, were seated on wooden benches, not unlike church pews, waiting for what I assume now was work. What caught my attention as I gazed through the window was that almost to a man they were reading newspapers, held like white sails, all lost in that day’s news, a haze of smoke drifting above them.

I looked at their faces, partly obscured by the papers, wondering who they were and I felt a momentary connection to them. Perhaps two or three were reading a paper I had delivered the day before. I glanced down at my hands and saw the familiar ink embedded in the crevices of my palms, a reminder of the 60 papers I folded earlier that day.

As years passed, the memories of my route and those newspapers dimmed. I knew that those dailies were referred to as “the press.” But I had no idea what that really meant: massive rolls of newsprint, drums of ink, linotype machines, men and women in newsrooms, all of it resulting in the papers that sat upright on racks or on the counters of corner kiosks. Their bold headlines marked moments, some greater than others.

The black words

I will always remember the blocked black words “PRESIDENT KENNEDY KILLED IN DALLAS,” seeming so breathtakingly final, conveying the wrenching grief that rippled across our country. It was the same with MLK and Bobby.

Then a shift

I still recall when my awareness of newspapers shifted. I was in the Peace Corps, stationed in Cartagena, Colombia. For reasons that escape me I was in Bogota’. It was late in the summer of 1968. Pope Paul VI was visiting Colombia, part of a Latin America tour, and the city vibrated with anticipation. I was having breakfast in a hotel dining room, seated at a table covered in white cloth. Colombia was a very Catholic country and I knew this was momentous.

Looking around the large room, I noticed men and women seated at tables, leafing though notebooks and talking animatedly. At their feet were portable typewriters in black cases. They were clearly journalists there to write about the man from Rome. I realized in that moment that I wanted to be them, to cover this story, to be part of that headline that would soon emerge. I wanted to write stories, help keep the nation’s record. I wanted to be out in the all of it.



Chris Honore’ 

Chris Honore’ (Colombia 1967-69) was born in occupied Denmark, during WWII. After the war, he immigrated to America. He went to public schools and then attended San Jose State University and the University of California, at Berkeley, where he earned a teaching credential, an M.A. and a Ph.D. After teaching high school English for two years, he joined the Peace Corps. He’s a freelance journalist based in Ashland, Oregon. His wife owns a bookstore on Main Street. His son is a cinematographer, living in Southern California.


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  • Dear Chris,

    You sent me down memory lane.

    Often times, I think about what my life would have been if I had not joined the Peace Corps after my junior year of college.
    That, of course, is a question without an answer. But, in retrospect, the more enduring shaper of my life was probably my five
    years I spent as a paperboy. It was a morning route and it meant I had to get up earlier than others all seven days of the week.
    After completing my route, is was a matter of getting myself ready for school like everyone else. Then, if I was on a
    sports team, there would be practice for a couple of hours before reaching home in time for dinner.

    Add to this that it was in Buffalo N.Y. and winter came with a vengeance that gave the city its well-earned reputation of
    being a town that was never stopped by ice storms,wind, rain or five foot snow drifts. My motivation was that I wanted to
    go to high school that would set me on a positive road in life. To make it possible to attend the Jesuit high school, tuition
    would be required. Hence the need for my paper route, as I knew my parents could not afford to pay my tuition

    Then, as now, I do not recall it being an arduous task and I never considered it a burden. But it did constitute a never-
    ending responsibility. Even now, I say to myself that having a job seven days of the week taught me many things. The
    paramount lesson was when someone makes choices for themselves, they have to be prepared to accept their responsibility, without moaning or acting like the kid that kills his mother and father, and then begs for mercy because he is an orphan.

    In writing this, I am suddenly remembering two things: how much fun my paper route was, and that I might never have
    even thought about joining the Peace Corps without the experience.

    Thanks, Chris. Can you lead us to some other writings you will share.

  • Though never a paper boy, this story rung a bell from my past. I used to hang out with friends who were paper boys carrying the evening paper. They would pick up their newspapers from a neighborhood garage after school. A single mom or widow supplemented her income running that site. There was a vacant lot next to the garage, and we played touch football while waiting for the delivery truck to arrive with the Dayton Daily News. I had no idea when or where the morning carriers made their pick ups for the Dayton Journal Herald. It’s not to say I didn’t work eventually. I started caddying when I was 12 and did that for four years, probably covering as much ground and carrying a never diminishing load of golf clubs. The money was better than hustling papers. The site was Moraine Country Club in Kettering, OH where the PGA championship had been taken by Byron Nelson in 1945. He won 4 & 3 over Sam Byrd in the final. Byrd was a former major league baseball player. The pay for a ‘loop’ (one bag), eighteen holes, $2.50 and a fifty cent tip if you didn’t mess up. Two bags when you got stronger and you doubled your wages. Six days a week in the summer, $36. Not bad when Dad was barley making $100 each week. We had to be at the course by 8:00AM and couldn’t go home until 4:00PM in case there were some late arrivals for 9 holes before dark. Tuesdays was Ladies’ Day, but they didn’t tip as well as their husbands. Mondays the caddies were allowed to play for free. On workdays if you left early or were late, you were fired. Our diligence was rewarded each year with an excursion to see the Cincinnati Reds play a home game.

  • Chris, loved your paperboy story made me recall my route as the largest route in Carmel, Ca, about the same years as yours Especially the reflections on collecting the monthly subscriptions door to door. Interacting with the vast differences of personalities at each door. Some joyous in paying and tipping, others mean and with excuses for not paying.
    Think that door to door experience made me unafraid to wonder by poor barrio in Medellin, Colombia. Going door to door, as Peace Corps Community Development Training had taught us, “to listen to the felt needs of your barrio”.The only way to learn to be and effective community developer.
    From a young paperboy in Carmel, to a PCV barrio in Colombia, to being a Member of the United States Congress, knocking on doors to collect information is the best way to be effective. The only way to sustain success is to keep listening to the felt needs of the host county’s people. Too bad we don’t have walkable paper routes anymore to learn to be good listener’s. .

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