Published on January 19th, 2016 | by Hanna Broback8
I turn the radio to 90.1 The Sound. Driving down Sprague from 6th to 19th, the beats and words like punches propel me into the night. An opossum skitters across the street like a creature from another planet, sending a chill through my wrists and precipitating my nocturnal senses. I turn left on 19th, left on Trafton, past the News Tribune plant, and into the distribution center. As I part the plastic strips and step into the warehouse, fluorescent lights buzz into my brain like caffeine. I walk through the warehouse, observing tomorrow’s headlines and a supervisor with curly black hair pushing a metal cart full of paper comics and ads along rows of long tables. “Good morning,” he greets me.
It can’t be morning. This reality brutally lacks a sense of time; the throbbing suspension illuminates and distorts every abused surface and tired worker. My head pulses with sleep deprivation and the constant shock of this stark portrait of low-income America. A pit bull bounds through the grey warehouse clutching a rolled paper in its jaws as a few little kids sitting on tables coax it to play. A woman in a dirty pink sweatshirt, hair tied back tightly, drags along her elderly mother and two little girls to help speed up the delivery process. Some of the kids who come along work diligently, while others sit on tables playing with zip-ties and with the dog named Buddy. A few couples and young women work together as teams, but most of the older workers organize their papers alone in battered running shoes and big sweatshirts.
The News Tribune Coordinator is on and off the phone for hours after everyone has arrived, trying to get an update on the printing process. I grind my teeth and lean against a table, knowing that the longer the wait for the Tribunes, the longer into the morning I’ll be delivering. After six, customers will start calling the center to complain, and each complaint costs a delivery person three to five dollars (compared to the meager ten to fifteen cents the deliverer receives per paper). Finally, thousands of Tribunes arrive in a semi-truck, and the workers in the next room sort, stack, and zip-tie them into piles of ten. I peek in and the enormity swallows me: ceilings rise up into an immense dirty grey, and only a dim light illuminates workers hunched over stacks of grey papers. They drop them onto metal carts and tables, sending echoes throughout the room.
I take the top-sheet under zip code 98405. After collecting three New York Times, ten Seattle Times, two Korea Times, and 150 News Tribunes, I load the layers of thin paper on a metal cart and find route 45163 taped to the end of a table in the warehouse. The inserts come all askew: comics wrapped around a few unevenly folded advertisements, plastic zip ties cutting through gaudy colors; the messiness annoys me and my annoyance makes me angry that I care about the appearance of something so menial. I straighten them as quickly as I can, embarrassed for taking the precious time, and then slip them followed by the Sunday insert into the middle of each News Tribune, counting. The factory flow fills my arms, my fingers, my eyes shifting, and I feel encouraged by my speed. After a couple of hours, I lift the stacks, put them on a cart, and wheel them out to my car, where I stack them two- and a half-feet high on all the passenger seats and in the trunk. The few New York, Seattle, and Korea Times go on the dashboard where they won’t get lost in the sea of News Tribunes swelling and surging throughout the whole car. Before leaving, I go back for some bags and rubber bands (which will be deducted from my paycheck) and then start the delivery.
Sometimes the night still inspires me, but tonight even upbeat music can’t fill the crater this job has dredged in my youthfulness. I am 24 years old, and since finishing college have continuously searched for part-time jobs that offer a unique experience and broaden my perspective on work and class where I live. After quitting my first Americorps job at a drop-in center, I scanned Craigslist for something adventurous. I called a newspaper delivery posting and accepted the position at 2am the following morning.
I turn out onto 19th and take a quick left on State. At the beginning of my route, I feel like I’m running through thick air. Night sounds and shadows creep on my back and I start running faster until the momentum possesses me. This is my 27th day working route 45163, and I know each house now without thinking too hard about it. I know the most efficient place to park to reach the most houses in one stretch, how to open the various gates, and which houses I can reach by tossing the paper from the sidewalk or even out the car window.
Pulling into a small cul-de-sac on South 7th where Cedar curves into Alder, I visualize the four houses and begin rolling thick Sunday papers and pushing them through rubber bands or into plastic newspaper bags. I stuff them under my arms and run to the houses, enjoying the garden of the big yellow house with the long porch. In early June, voluptuous tulips tower over crocuses, heather and narcissus. At the porch I swing the plastic newspaper bag and it glides on the wet wood to the door mat.
Near the end of my route is South 10th, and I round the corner widely, almost hitting an old couple in a truck. My heart beats wildly as I swerve away. I remember my surprise when the man who trained me demonstrated this style of wide turning to reach a house on the opposite side of the street; now I realize how easily I have picked up the risky techniques. I feel humiliated as I wonder if the couple in the truck live in that tiny brick house with quaint flowers and lace doilies visible through the window. Every morning I have noticed a tiny snail on the top of their blue News Tribune box.
After quickly delivering to the houses leading up to the brick house, I pass an old pickup truck enveloped in silver exhaust, ethereal in the cold morning light. As I drive past, the truck starts to come up behind me and then alongside. An old man speaks up: “Do you deliver our paper? You missed our house!” In shame, I grab a Tribune from the back seat and hand it to him. “Sorry,” I say.
As the truck drives away, I tremble, feeling like an unwanted visitor from another planet. I deliver to the last three houses in relief before realizing that I have an extra paper. Shit. Is it worth trying to figure out whose it is, or should I just pay the complaint fine and let a supervisor deliver the paper when the customer calls? I go through the printout of all my customers and try to visualize each delivery that morning, but all the mornings of the past month swim together in my mind. I drive up a few streets, and when I finally find a house without a paper on the stoop, I jog up the path and toss the paper. As it bangs on the screen door frame, I run back to the car. When I pull out of the neighborhood and onto South 12th, I notice the early summer sunrise expanding to embrace me.