Is there anything that knocks the world off its axis any more than when the newspaper is not where it’s supposed to be every morning? It can mess up your day. Make you grumpy. Cause the coffee to taste bitter and the birds to sing off-key.
Paul Fechhelm, an independent distributor responsible for 5,200 papers in parts of West Ashley, employs 16 carriers and says there is only one objective: service. No matter the unruly animals, pouring rain, a flat tire or a gas tank hovering on “E” ... there are no days off and the customer is always right.
Who are these carriers? When you look at Paul’s roster, only one of the 16 doesn’t have another job and 13 are women.
The carriers start their day around 2:30 a.m. The goal is to have every paper delivered between 5:30 and 6 a.m.
Do you even know who delivers your paper? I don’t. What’s worse? Getting a paper that’s too wet to read or not getting a paper at all? As the distributor, an unhappy customer becomes Paul’s problem and then the carrier’s.
If a re-delivery is necessary, Paul is often the person who performs that unenviable task. Rather than just throwing another paper into the yard, though, he knocks on the door and hand delivers with a smile and an apology.
We’re all creatures of habit and some of us creatures have peculiar requests. One customer must have his paper placed near his garage, standing up. Another prefers that it be left standing up in a milk crate that’s hanging on the house. While one must have it on the porch, somebody down the street prefers it in the tube, not on the grass.
The carrier tries his/her best to accommodate those wishes, sometimes while driving with both windows down and throwing papers with either hand out of both sides of the vehicle.
Denise Smith, 56, a divorced mom, delivers 330 papers every morning. She works this crazy shift so that she can take care of her mother, who battles Alzheimer’s. Denise tries to steal a power nap during the day, but manages on 4 hours sleep most nights.
Margarita Douglas, 51 has been delivering papers for 19 years. When she’s finished with her 390 deliveries each morning, the next stop is at 7:30 for her other job with Dorchester County School District II. Douglas remembers putting a then-7-year-old, a 3-year-old and an infant in the van with their blankets and pillows as she would “throw and go” along her route. On occasion, those same children who are now 22, 18 and 15 help their mom with the Sunday deliveries.
Most of us don’t care about any problem a carrier might have experienced on any given day, we just want the paper where it’s supposed to be, when it’s supposed to be there.
As for paying for that service, most of that’s done by mail or automatic withdrawal, but rarely with any personal contact. That comes at a price, though. Very few of us even know who is responsible for making that delivery 7 days of the week. We’re identified by zip codes, street numbers and delivery zones.
These folks work pretty hard with no paid holidays or benefits. During Christmas, subscribers are most apt to share the spirit of giving by including a tip. Some even add a tip to the monthly bill.
Their jobs are done before most of us hear the alarm clock. Some are teachers, cafeteria workers or nursing students. Others are retired military or single moms from all walks of life.
To all the invisible carriers around the Lowcountry, here’s a heartfelt thank you. One morning, I might even try to get to my driveway before you do. Now that would make for a huge headline!
Reach Warren Peper at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-5577.