I went on my first paper route Thursday  night.  Er…yesterday morning?  I feel like I have a bad case of jetlag; I stayed up all night on Thursday, trekked to Bay Ridge at 2a.m., and met up with Ronnie, one of 250 delivery men for the New York Post.  This process blog will provide a brief commentary of my experience; I feel the need to devote an entire other post to how this trip helped to completely solidify the focus of my project!

Ronnie is a 35-year veteran of the delivery force for the NY Post.  He spent 20 years driving a large truck (the moving-van-size delivery trucks that have the Post logo), and the past 15 with a smaller van to maneuver through more intricate neighborhoods in Staten Island.  He’s a family friend of a good friend of mine, so I was able to meet him for dinner last weekend and discuss newspaper, my project, and New York city over delicious Italian food last week (I actually was almost done writing a process blog about this dinner, but had technical difficulties and it was lost before I was able to post.).  I explained to him that the reason for my excitement about a delivery route was to actually “feel” what it’s like to travel with the newspaper…to experience the physical reaches of the news before it’s seen or read.  He graciously complied, and my route was complete with fantastic information, crazy stories, and a lot of free coffee.

Ronnie and 5 or 6 of his cousins all meet in in Bay Ridge parking lot at 3:15am every morning to wait for the drop-off of newspapers from the plant in the Bronx.  (I learned that the “early edition” of the Post, which is first off the press at 10pm the evening before, is printed without final sports scores or any late-breaking news.  This edition is trucked to airports and delivered to the far reaches – Cayman Islands, other countries, LA, etc.).  The second edition rolls off the press after the WSJ is finished printing – both papers are printed in the Murdoch-owned plant in the Bronx, which only has four presses total.  All that news from FOUR pieces of machinery!  The Post truck finally arrived around 4a.m. – during the wait, Ronnie and his cousins playfully joked around, referring to each other by such nicknames as “Ronnie Bullshit” (because he likes to “shoot the shit” with friends), “Johnny News” (because he’s actually a Daily News delivery man), and “Frankie Nose” (as Ronnie says, “when you see his nose, you’ll know why he’s called that”).    The camaraderie is priceless!

Once the Post truck came, we loaded the vans.  We put almost 2,000 newspaper into Ronnie’s van in less than 20 minutes. (Ronnie explained that a bundle of papers is usually around 35-60 papers, but it differs each day due to how many pages the paper is.  He has a HUGE box of twine in his van, with a special ring that he wears on his pinky finger for on-the-go re-bundling of paper deliveries that require an odd number of papers.  The ring seriously looks like a gangster weapon…he let me try it on…and it didn’t even stay on my thumb.)  Ronnie’s route is to delis, stores, schools, and grocery stores, so each delivery is a considerable amount of papers.  Once the van is loaded, we drive across the bridge to Staten island, where Ronnie’s route begins.

Throughout the route, I got some hilarious/shocking/informative stories.  Since his route is in a questionable area of town, he says that a lot of papers get robbed before store owners get the bundles, so he threw a lot of the bundles onto store roofs, underneath gates, and even in ‘hiding spots’ like the dumpster.  Several stories about encounters with robbers and prostitutes kept things interesting; he told one story about a prostitute who opened the passenger door of Ronnie’s van while he was making a delivery, got in the van, and refused to get out of the van until he gave her 10 dollars.   On another occasion, a man jumped into the driver seat of his van and tried to drive away with the van, making it 4 blocks wile Ronnie hung out the window holding on to the guy’s shirt.  No crimes or crazy stories on my route, but hearing those stories made his job seem a lot more noble…he truly is protecting the news!  After about the 10th stop, we made a visit to Ronnie’s favorite convenient store/deli, where we were welcomed with free breakfast, coffee, and fun conversation with other delivery men (the Wonder Bread man was there, an egg delivery man, and a few other newspaper guys!).

Perhaps the most touching story was at the 2nd last stop of the route, which is at the shoreline directly facing lower Manhattan, Ronnie described 9/11.  His papers were late that day, so his route was just ending when the first tower was hit.  He and the store owner saw the horrific smoke across the water, and sat in the van listening to the radio….they saw the second plane hit, and ten minutes later, the fighter jets fly overhead.  He described it as “one of his darkest days.”

So the New York Post is born in midtown Manhattan, where reporters and editors adhere to a 1op.m. deadline…and the finished product is sent to the Bronx, where it awaits its turn on the presses at Murdoch’s plant.  They are then trucked to key “nodes” in the route, where other teams of vans and trucks spread the paper further across New York City (and beyond).  In my case, the truck arrived in Bay Ridge and the papers were driven to Staten Island, some of which were purchased by commuting workers who read them on the Ferry on their way into Manhattan…straight back to the proximity where it originated.  This track is fascinating to me, and now that I have a better hold on the full-circle journey, I feel like my project has a much better focus.  I guess I just needed to “think like a newspaper” in order to get a grip of my project!

(look for another future post with “fun facts” about my route – and videos/pictures that better capture the essence of Ronnie and his cousins!!)