Saturday, April 2, 2011

It's Not the Same - Somethings are not the way they used to be

On occasion I have written about Duang's impressions on living in America as opposed to living back in Isaan.

The main focus of this blog, "Allen's World", until I returned to the United States two months ago was to share experiences and observations of an America expat living in foreign cultures.

Today I am writing about one of my impressions of  living back in my childhood home.

Last week, Mom pulled out a bag where she keeps the household loose change.  I immediately recognized the bag - it is the old canvas bank bag from Hartford National Bank and Trust Company, that I used when I was a newspaper boy for the "New London Day" newspaper.

Back in the late 1950s and up to mid 1960s, I was a newspaper carrier for the local newspaper.  The newspaper is still in existence and my parents still have it delivered to the house.  But so much has changed.

When I delivered the newspaper, customers paid $0.30 a week from which I received $0.08 a customer per week.  Most people gave me $0.05 a week in addition as a tip.  A couple people, my favorite customers, gave me $0.50 a week - a $0.20 tip; more than enough to buy a comic book!

Shortly after returning home from school, a small vehicle similar to a milk home delivery truck would stop at our house and throw out a bundle of newspapers.  I would collect the papers, count them to ensure that I had enough for my customers, and put them into my newspaper canvas shoulder bag.  I would then set off to deliver the papers around my neighborhood.  The afternoon newspaper was distributed throughout the area through a network of newspaper boys and girls.  I actually purchased my route from a family of girls who had lost interest.

Once a month, on a Saturday morning, the representative of the newspaper would come to my parent's home.  He would check my records and collect the money that was due the company.  Newspaper carriers had small ledger books where we listed our customers and kept track of their payments.  We did not track how much that they paid.  We merely filled in the box associated with their name and appropriate Friday date to indicate that they had paid.  The company representative was also a source of information about other routes that were available to be purchased.  I bought some routes and expanded my customer base over the years.  The representative, an honest broker, was able to put buyers and sellers together.  A few times a year the representative informed us of special events for the newspaper carriers - free "Newspaper Boy Picnic" at Ocean Beach Park, free tickets to a swim show at Waterford Speedway, and free tickets to some body's "Hurricane Hellcat Stunt Driving Show".  If necessary the representative would also review and discuss any complaints that the company had received regarding our service to our customers.  We were expected to keep our customers satisfied and we were held accountable for their satisfaction.

We were expected to deliver all of our newspapers by 4:30 P.M.  There were many days that I delivered newspapers in the rain and the coldest that I remember delivering papers was -3F (-16C).  Three weeks ago, I answered a call from the newspaper explaining that the paper would be delivered late because of "distribution problems due to the weather."  The night before had produced abot 1/4" of ice and snow on the roads.  But this blog is not about "reminisces by an "old" man of walking 3 miles to school in the snow when I was your age"  This blog is about change and some of what we have lost today.

I have written a few times about lessons that I have learned from my parents with the biggest lessons learned being "I could have anything that I wanted ... as long as I had the money to pay for it" and "If you want something bad enough, you will work for it and if you don't want to work for it, you don't need it".  These were great lessons to learn.  These were lessons that could be learned and most importantly, APPRECIATED, because I earned money as a paperboy.

What made me think about being a paperboy, or I guess today's more politically correct term "newspaper carrier", besides seeing my old money bag was receiving a phone call the other day from the newspaper.  No, they were not trying to get me back to deliver the newspapers for them.  It was an automated notice to subscribers that the cost of an eight week subscription was going up $0.64 due to increased fuel costs.

My parents like all other subscribers no longer pay weekly to a newspaper carrier.  They no longer pay for the newspapers that they had received.  Today people receive a bill in the mail for the newspapers that they will be receiving.  My parents send a check by mail to the newspaper and neither speak or even know who delivers their newspaper.

Today the newspaper is placed in a special plastic receptacle on the front steps of a home rather than placed between the storm door and door of the house.

Today most newspapers are delivered by someone who drives a car.

Today there are not 4th or 5th grade school children, that I am aware of, starting out in business by walking their neighborhoods delivering papers.

I view this as a great loss - a loss for the children as well as a loss for our society.

Back in the "old days" a child's first business experience typically came as a "newspaper carrier".  We learned the necessity of being organized and disciplined.  We learned the world would hold us accountable and responsible for our actions.  We started to develop the required skills to deal with people in an environment outside of our immediate family - the real world.  At an early age, newspaper carriers learned the value of maintaining accurate records, the importance of budgeting, the value of good manners, and the need to maintain good customer relations.

I learned all the above as a young paperboy long ago.  These were lessons that have served me all my life and I value up to this day.  Besides the invaluable lessons that I learned, being a newspaper boy allowed my to be more independent and to exercise my independence.   With the money that I earned and saved from my paper route, I was free to buy the things that I wanted.

To this day one of my fondest memories is saving up my earnings, going to Sears and Roebuck Store and buying an umbrella tent for $17.95.  There was a strong sense of pride and accomplishment in setting a goal, working towards the goal, and accomplishing the goal.  It was MINE.  I had EARNED it.

When I was unable to deliver newspapers, I made arrangements with my sister to deliver the papers for me.  I paid her for her time but being a young capitalist, I did not pay her 100% of my prorated profits for the day. I recognized that it was my and my responsibility alone to ensure that my customers got their newspaper despite my problems, issues, or choices for that day.  In the end it was good for her and good for me.  In the end it was negogiated between us.

Today I see very few children outside.  I do not see any children learning life and business lessons by delivering newspapers.

Today I perceive that there is a great deal of fear and concerns especially related to children.  Imagine having children today walking in the rain, walking in the snow, walking in the cold to deliver newspapers to houses and inside of apartment buildings.  Imagine of all the possibilities of what could happen to them. I suspect that too many people are imagining too many things.  In one of my favorite Ian Tyson songs he sings "Wishing don't make it so"  To paraphrase I say and may be after a couple of beers I wiould sing "Imagining doesn't make it true".  Today in my home town, I see parents picking up children at bus stops to drive them four or less blocks to their home.  Today there seems to be a great deal of fear for the safety of children.

Fear can be a cruel prison that we are often too willing confine ourselves to.  Fear can take away our freedom to grow, to experience, and to be happy.  Yes, there are issues related to children's safety, but the facts indicate that these are more concerns than they need to be fears.

In the days when we carried newspapers, we had fears - we were afraid that Russian planes would fly over us and drop atomic bombs.  But we were prepared - we practised ducking underneath our school desks when the air raid sirens went off.  I also knew that if an atomic bomb went off while I was outside that I should jump into and lay flat in a ditch.  It is all so funny now to think back at our "safety plans" for atomic attacks, but these plans allowed us to move on with our lives.  Moving on with our life is very important.  We only have a few years on this earth and much less time to prepare to fully experience and enjoy our time.

As children we were made aware that there were "bad" people who did "bad" things to people.  However we were also taught what to look out for and how we could avoid the "bad" people and situations where we could be hurt. While we were made aware of the concerns we were also empowered and given a sense of control for our well being when our parents or police were not around.  As we became older we recognized and accepted our responsibility to watch over the younger children that attended our school and walked home along our route; just as the older kids had done for us.

Today my perception is that children here are held back from developing into responsible, accountable, and content individuals - a sort of arrested development.  They are not expected, allowed or even given the tools or skills to solve their interpersonal problems.  They are not expected to entertain themselves.  They are held less accountable and responsible for their actions.  Many adults are too involved in the minor trials and tribulations of growing up.  The children are often shielded from the realities of life that they will undoubtedly encounter some day.  They will face the realities and challenges less prepared than they could be.

Sadly they have less opportunities to learn at an early age the lessons of owning and operating their own business albeit just a paper route.  They are denied the opportunity to take the first steps of financial independence and self reliance.

It's not the same - somethings are not the way they used to be; not in far away Isaan but here in my home town, my home state, and my home country.  Perhaps it may not seem to matter, but children in other countries, our competitors in the world market and power stage, are not growing up this way.  It is with these people that our children, as adults in their world, will have to compete and deal with.

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