Saturday, May 31, 2008

Baby's First Severance Check

In the past our son has had behavioral issues that we suspected were derived from a very mild form of a common neuro disorder. Although he's been getting much better with age it helped that four years ago Mrs. Sandmich got him a job a the age of ten delivering the local paper once a week.

When he started delivering the paper his poor attitude changed quite rapidly. I'm sure it felt good to be bringing in cash so that he could be somewhat independent of the parents he resented because he felt them too domineering (whatever). Although he has a fair portion saved up, I'm always quick to point out that the Nintendo DS and Wii that he has are his, he bought them with his own money.

Even though she was the one who signed him up, over the years Mrs. Sandmich had a string of part time jobs that tied her down on delivery night and a fair portion of the time it was left to just myself to help him get the papers delivered. Since I'm so easily distracted, and Kid Sandmich isn't in to team efforts that are normally kid-parent time, paper delivery night was the one reliable moment over the years for father-son time. For instance, it makes me teary eyed to remember walking around with my ten year old who couldn't get the right houses to save his life while aching under the weight of a giant paper bag.

Of course now he's fourteen and has most facets of his job down (apart from the financials which were handled by his mother). More than ever I have concentrated on getting the right driving pattern down in order to ensure a speedy end to the task. That might sound selfish until you realize that what started out as a mild 35 minute annoyance turned into a two hour slog as he acquired more routes and thus pay.

But no more. The parent company that owns the chain of local papers (the nefarious Plain Dealer) has decided to scrap the kid carriers in favor of letting the Plain Dealer carriers deliver the papers. In the process the company will save something like two cents a paper. It's sad to see an early employment opportunity for kids go by the wayside and it's even sadder to see how it was handled.


Kid Sandmich delivers the last of his papers.


Before the Plain Dealer broke the news to the kids, the company began gutting the content of the paper leaving the kid carriers, the paper's on-site sales force, left with having to justify a suddenly shoddier product to their irate customers. As a second blow the company brought all billing in house, eliminating the 'carrier collect' model that brought in the tips that actually made the job worthwhile (the per paper pay rate wasn't even worth getting in the car for). Another jab was delivered a couple weeks later when low and behold the 'carrier collect' customers didn't like the office pay model and the Plain Dealer elites forced their already strained sales staff kid carriers to act as collectors for what the customers owed. After duly collecting all the cash, it was only then when the paper let it be known that the kid's services were no longer needed.

I was and am still upset about this. As a sign of their generosity the paper let it be known that carriers who stayed their full term would receive an additional month worth of pay as a severance package. However, given the experience we'd had with the company over the course of the preceding month, I was sure that this was very grudging on their part and probably driven not by some altruistic feeling on their part, but by the fact that a major corporation firing a bunch of kids on the spot wouldn't be the best publicity. It's really a half severance package as it is because as I said, the tips are what really made the job worthwhile.

I must confess though that I, along with everyone else associated with the operation, had a real love-hate feeling for it. There was almost nothing worse than walking around delivering 100 papers in two feet of snow while it's twenty degrees out, especially since no one in the Cleveland area shovels their sidewalks due to the quantity of snow. Although most of Kid Sandmich's carrier collect customers were the generous types, loading the bills up into the papers in the cold or rain could be painful, and getting some customers to pay (during the same conditions) made us wish we could dump customers at will.

As well, one of the worst features of the job was that it was every Wednesday night. Day before Thanksgiving? Better to work off that turkey preemptively. Christmas Eve? Sorry about your luck. Two week vacation? Time to comb for a substitute carrier who doesn't care to deliver his own route, let alone someone else's. All this and more left me walking around on the routes repeatedly asking myself why newspaper companies cannot find a better distribution method.

I guess I should have been careful what I asked for. For all that I hated it, I know I'll miss it as well, especially when the bad points of the job have long since dulled due to reminiscing. I know I'll miss my son joking around trying to push me into snow drifts, only to land in them himself (which I've long suspected was the point of the whole exercise). I'll also miss him suckering me into delivering a few of his papers so that we could get done faster, or stopping for the occasional treat, or spending time talking about video games or other nonsense. No one thing to be sure, but lots of little things that grew to be larger than the sum of their parts.

Without team sports or some other external activity the paper route was the sole family activity that has consistently delivered through the years. I know that I'll be hard pressed to come with something homegrown that delivers the same overall results; in fact it's probably pointless to try. Shame on the Plain Dealer for closing down the kid carriers, but at the same time thanks for the opportunity. It was fun while it lasted.

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