Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Enterprising Lads

enterprising lads

In Honor of Old Newsboys Everywhere.

 We All Started Somewhere.

We moved to Saranac Lake from Lake Placid in the summer of ’73.  I had just finished 4th grade.

richard monroe in grade 4

My brother Ray (“Raymond” then) & I explored along the river, went fishing, rode bikes, & made neighborhood friends.  There were the Wright brothers, the Dudleys, Foley, Hart, Johnson, one of the Rileys …. quite a Pine Street crew.

We formed our own baseball league.  Two teams-The Cincinnati Reds and The Oakland A’s.  Each team picked six players.

We played on Mrs. Gilpin’s vacant lot across the street from my house, at the base of Carpenter’s Hill. We made Mom’s sun porch our locker room.  We had rosters, kept standings & player stats.  Every kid chose a corresponding major league star’s number & name.

We pulled weeds and mowed, made make shift bases.  We had our own set of ground rules, and never enough players.  Each team had six on the “roster”, but most days we scrounged to have four guys per team.  “Ghost runners” ran bases.  We even sometimes made trades.

The pitcher lobbed the ball overhand, from a flat spot 40 feet away.  No umpire.  No called balls & strikes. No batting helmets. No walks. A player from the batting team stood back behind home plate and “caught”.

We usually had one or two scuffed baseballs, but not always.  Sometimes when they got hit into the woods they got lost.  Frequently, when we lost one, we found another. If that happened and the found ball wasn’t too badly waterlogged, it got wiped on a shirt and put back into service.

When we didn’t have a ball, we used our collective ingenuity and simply made one.   We used whatever was on hand; socks stuffed with other socks and tied in a knot, or a wadded up newspaper, wrapped up tight in black electrical tape pilfered from Dad’s tool box.

Each team would field a 1st baseman, pitcher, shortstop and one outfielder.  Each batter “called his field,” right or left. The other team’s one outfielder adjusted accordingly.  Balls hit to the wrong field were automatic outs.

Our bats were all wooden. Most of them cracked, held together with nails, tape or screws.  We didn’t have expensive baseball gloves. We all had dime store mitts.  No cleats or spikes-we wore canvas sneakers, Converse or KEDS.

Mrs. Gilpin’s woods were behind our outfield. The old abandoned train tracks were uphill beyond that.  Balls hit into the woods were an automatic double.  Any ball that hit the tracks in the air was a home run. Hart, Foley and Johnson were a little older than the rest of us. They hit most of them

One summer Johnson broke my nose with a liner smashed back through the mound.  I got two black eyes in the process.  I was ball shy for over a month after that. Every time someone threw me the ball, I would cringe and pull my glove away. My major league baseball career prospects plummeted.

Every neighborhood in town had a crew.  Most crews had a team.  There were the Moody Pond boys, a team on Helen Hill.  Or, if we were up for a longer road trip, the Ratelle gang had a team that played in the schoolyard on Lake Colby Road.

When someone threw down the gauntlet, and bragging were rights at stake, we’d hop on our bikes and head across town.

But all of those endeavors required one thing in short supply for all of us:

COLD HARD CA$H!!

Baseballs were expensive! They cost 99 cents.  Bats & gloves- forget it!  New ones came on birthdays or Christmas, at best.  Bubble gum was a penny. Baseball cards – ten cents a pack.  Orange Crush or Root Beer came in tall glass bottles & cost fifteen cents.

A nine year old’s income producing options were few.  Raymond & I each got allowances. A quarter a week, minus “Demerits”, deducted each Saturday based on Mom’s demerit chart that hung on the wall.

I never fared well with that chart. Raymond did better, but for a variety of reasons that never seemed just, my allowance was always quite a bit short of a quarter. In fact, to this day- Mom insists I’m actually still deep in the hole! (Which is most likely true- just please don’t tell her that.)

Raymond & I were both still a bit too young to mow lawns for a living.  Besides, Dad would never let us use his gas push mower.  We had an old fashioned, mechanical, grass thrashing mower we were allowed to push across our own yard instead.

Our first real Saranac Lake income opportunity arose when Dad had new shingles put on the house shortly after we moved in.  Raymond & I contracted to pick discarded roof nails from the driveway and yard. Dad paid a penny per nail.  If we worked for an hour or two, between us we could usually scrounge up a dollar.

old house

In August though, we hit employment pay dirt-wild blueberries!  Sold them to all of Mom’s friends for fifty cents a quart.  I was a great berry picker, still am to this day. We would walk down the tracks, find a ripe patch, fill our buckets. I could pick nearly ten quarts on a good day.  My little brother Raymond?  Not so much. He ate most of his as he picked. I would have fired him, but Mom wouldn’t let me.

But that was very short-term, seasonal work. My nearly ten year old lifestyle was badly in need of a more serious, long term, sustainable cash boost.

My parents signed me up for “Matty League” that summer. Saranac Lake’s version of Little League, named after Christy Mathewson, a Hall of Fame pitcher who contracted TB and, unfortunately, died there in town during his year long convalescence.

Raymond & I had played T-ball together in Lake Placid the year before. I played 1st base. Our team won the championship while he sat in the outfield with his glove on his head, picking flowers. I thanked my lucky stars he was too young to play Matty League.

My first Matty League team was the Rotary Club. We wore blue and gold uniforms.  That’s where I met Steve.  Steve was almost three years older than me, a lot bigger, and a whole school grade ahead.

Steve was our best player; a tall, lanky kid. He batted clean-up and pitched.  I played 3rd base.  When we weren’t playing baseball, Steve liked to ride bikes and fish. I did too. He showed me his best hidden trout spots and bait secrets. Most of them illegal, “POSTED”, or both.  We hit it off immediately.

Steve was a full on Adirondack Outlaw long before we ever met. Most of my best Outlaw training started with him.  But he was polite to my parents, and never shy about pitching in to stack firewood or do chores.

My mom took a shine to him from the start.  He loved Mom’s cooking, especially when she baked or made treats.  Her homemade chocolate covered cherries and chocolate chip cookies were his favorites.  Cookies, apples and Kool Aide became our summertime Adirondack Outlaw kid diet staples. Steve quickly became a fixture in our house.

Once school started, I immediately discovered a big advantage to having Steve as my friend.  We had moved a lot before finally settling in Saranac Lake- 11 times in 9 years.  I was the new kid in school every year.  Sometimes twice.

I liked school.  I got good grades.  I was smart. So, I was the new kid AND the smart kid, as well as the youngest, having started kindergarten at age four, and the smallest.  Every time we moved.  A quadruple kid whammy, putting me directly in the cross hairs of the school yard bully every time we move. I dreaded the boy’s bathrooms, school gym locker rooms, cafeterias, and playgrounds. I learned early on, those places were where bullies and beatings most frequently lurked.

My mom’s Sears Catalog school wardrobe selections didn’t help, either.  Bell Bottom dress pants, button down dress shirts, shiny black dress shoes….

But it got even worse…GALOSHES!! Yup!  For real! Black rubber behemoths with 800 buckles. Mom made us wear them, with hooded yellow rain coats, every time that it rained.  I used to ditch mine in the bushes before the bus came every chance I got. No matter.  I still took more than my share of playground beatings every year when we moved.

No longer, I quickly realized. Because now Steve was my friend.

No one messed much with Steve.  He was big, quick on the draw, not afraid to get mean. So, when I was with Steve, no one messed much with me.

But in addition to being big, and an Outlaw who commanded schoolyard respect- Steve had something else.  A legitimate front for his Outlaw lifestyle. Steve had his own paper route.

Steve shared the route with his older brother Dave.  Dave was built similarly to Steve, only with far smoother edges. He was fifteen, but somehow still tolerated his brother’s new ten year old sidekick.  Must have been he took pity on my galoshes.

Mom worked at the Saranac Lake Free Library.  Dad was on the road, travelling between Ray Brook, Warrensburg, and Albany.  So, once Raymond & I got off the bus after school, we were pretty much on our own for a few hours.  I started helping Steve & Dave deliver papers on their route after school.

We met on our bikes at the back entrance of The Adirondack Daily Enterprise office.  Mr. Bishop was in charge of all the paper routes. I was too young for my own route, but Steve & Dave got his permission to teach me the ropes.

72 newspapers!  Their route was no joke. Especially in winter once we could no longer ride bikes.  We’d walk from the Enterprise office all the way out of town towards Lake Colby, canvas newspaper bags on our hips, seventy-two newspapers divvied up between us. Those newspapers were heavy. Advertisement days were the worst.

Dave had his working papers and another job, bagging groceries at the local Grand Union.  So once school started, more and more it was just me & Steve.

The route took us out Old Lake Colby Road, past Doty’s Meat Market.  We were not allowed to just stick Daily Enterprises in mail boxes.  We had to get creative- sticking them in milk boxes, on porch sills, in front door weather stripping seams, or inside storm doors. Along the way, Steve taught me all the important paper boy things, like who were the best tippers, and who had mean dogs.

Further down Lake Colby Road was “Baker’s Dozen” Donut Shop. Steve would dig into the day’s paper route cash for some change.  We could buy fresh jelly or creme filled donuts for a dime or a quarter. Or, on days we were lucky, there’d be left over day olds that we could have for five cents.  We’d buy as many as Steve figured he could afford.

Beyond that, near the intersection with Trudeau Road, there stood a small grocery store where we could get chocolate milk in a carton to wash down our snack.

Our route continued all the way up Trudeau Road, past Mount Pisgah.  The road up to the ski slope was just gravel then.  It had just one house, a small white one on the right, at the crest of the hill.  In the winter, when the wind blew, that was a cold hike.  We somehow forgot to deliver that paper a lot.  We always hoped that guy would just cancel his subscription.  Despite our best efforts, he never did.

Our last paper was the High School Principal’s house.  In the winter we finished delivering our newspapers just before dark.

Once all the papers were delivered, we’d trek to the American Management Association complex.  It was a creepy place. Especially at night. There were glowing blue candles in all the upstairs windows of those buildings. I never knew why.  I always hated those candles. They made the whole place seem like some graveyard horror movie. I was pretty scared of the dark to begin with. Crossing AMA every night nearly scarred me for life. It fueled my worst nightmares for years.

By the time we got to AMA, the gates were always locked.  In the summer we cruised down the hill on our bikes and went home on Route 3, but in the winter- no choice. We’d throw our paper bags over and then scale the stone AMA wall.  We’d cross the dark campus and do it again to make our escape on the far side.  There we dropped down onto Park Avenue to walk home just in time for supper.

But all the effort was worth it.  We earned cold, hard CA$H!

We collected each week on Fridays.  Each paper boy had a small black binder with perforated pre-dated receipts.

Most customers left good tips- a quarter, fifty cents, sometimes even a dollar.  Some were a bit stingier.  We knew who they were. For some reason occasionally their papers accidentally got left out in the rain and got wet.

A few others somehow managed to avoid us altogether for weeks.  But we were persistent. We worked hard. We scouted, pulled non-payer surveillance. We found them.

Sometimes, on weekends, we just rode bikes out “collecting”. Knocking on doors to settle accounts.

In the end, we went home and Steve counted up his cash.  Then we’d go down to the Enterprise office and he’d settle up his account.  The Enterprise paid paper boys a small weekly amount on each customer- but a newspaper delivery boy’s biggest income source was tips.  On a good week, Steve might haul in twenty dollars or more, just in tips. I always got a small share, plus donuts.  It was a pretty sweet gig.

Christmas tips though, those were a hole ‘nother story! Most customers were generous, tipping fives, tens, and twenties. That first Christmas together, Steve raked in nearly $200! He was always generous with me. That year I got paid my first Christmas bonus.

I continued helping Steve on his route through that winter.  We did a lot of stuff together.  He ate dinner frequent at our house. He was a little bit big brother, a lot Outlaw, and good friend.

Over the course of the next year, I was promoted to substitute carrier. I learned to do the whole route on my own.  The weight of seventy-two Adirondack Daily Enterprises over my shoulder, all in one canvas bag.

By the time I turned twelve, Steve was nearly sixteen.  He was eyeballing a car, and ready to move on.  I took over the route.  Walked it 3 more years.

By the time I was finally ready to trade my newspaper bag for a Dagwood’s Pizza apron, I was almost 16 myself.

I believe I was the last Adirondack Daily Enterprise paper carrier to walk that route.  That may be a good thing.  The donut shop is long gone.  So is the grocery where Steve & I bought chocolate milk.

It’s probably best that paper boys no longer have to breach locked AMA gates in the dark on cold winter nights to make their way home.

Most of all, that customer on the road to Mount Pisgah likely stands a much-improved newspaper delivery chances when winter’s winds blow.

I am just thankful that I was able to grow up in a place like Saranac Lake, where I could play vacant lot baseball, eat fresh baked donuts, earn cash delivering newspapers, and have good friends like Steve.

christmas tree

Remember All Your Old Newsboys This Holiday Season!

Please Tip Them Generously!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Richard Monroe

Lifelong NYS resident. Raised in Saranac Lake. Cornell graduate(ROTC). Army veteran, Airborne/Ranger qualified, 10th Mtn Div, stints in Honduras and with JTF VI. 3rd degree Black Belt; 3x cancer survivor; published writer with several featured stories in Adirondack Life Magazine. Residing in Watertown NY with wife Robin & our 3 adult children. Loving Life. Living in the Day I am in. Follow my adventures at https://adirondackoutlaw.com/




8 Responses

  1. Bob Meyer says:

    Richard,
    It still just amazes me, our connection via 1 Stevenson Lane.
    I just love that house.
    I so enjoy your stories and reminiscences and adventures in a place so special as Saranac Lake!
    Thank you!

    • Richard Monroe Richard Monroe says:

      Thank you, Bob. It’s a pretty cool house in a pretty cool place. Apparently occupied at various points in time by some pretty cool guys. When I was in town last week, I stopped by Ampersound to do some Christmas shopping for my musically inclined nephew & in the process bought myself two new pairs of drumsticks. Merry Christmas.

  2. Steve B. says:

    Oh my God, did this trigger memories. I was the worst paper boy on the planet. I inherited my route from my older brothers, took it from about 55 customers to 26, mostly as I took my sweet butts time. I did however, give my route to Dave, the new kid on the block, who worked it back up to the 50’s, and subsequently became my best friend for 54 years now, he also as a kid was an Eagle Scout at Brant Lake and eventually introduced me to hiking, skiing and such, in the Adirondacks. So being a crappy paper boy paid off long term.

    Great story as always Richard.

    • Richard Monroe Richard Monroe says:

      Thank you, Steve, I’m glad you enjoyed it. Newspaper routes were a great training tool. I learned a lot from trudging mine all those years, that’s for sure. I wonder, do they even have old school paper routes anymore? I also cringe at the thought of what response one might get if anyone asked Mr. Bishop to rate my performance! Merry Christmas.

  3. Barbara Smithson says:

    Enjoyed this article so much. My husband had a paper route in our hometown in the 50s and he regaled me with his many experiences numerous times over the years. This brought alive many laughs and fond memories, like nice customers, a few mean customers, sore arms and backs lugging papers, trying to make a buck or two to buy some treasures (donuts or soda or save for a treat or a gift etc.) Thank you for a great time reminiscing.

  4. Eric Hancoc says:

    Thanks for this.

  5. Robert Stetzenmeyer says:

    Richard, I just wish to express my gratitude for all your stories. The years of delivering newspapers was an easy experience to relate to. More significant though is the world of Middle Saranac. My annual summer camping at site #77 on Halfway Island for nearly 20 years brought you right up into my realm. The chances of any more 2/4 week sojourns there have diminished considerably thus my enjoyment of vicariously reminiscing through your journals. Best to you and family! Bob

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