Before I go, I have something to say

Carrier of the Year

At our house, we get three newspapers. This may seem a bit much, but each fills a niche that cries out to be filled.

There is the local paper. You have to get the local paper. How else do you know about scandals on the county board, salaries at the public library, road work between you and the mall, obituaries of people you didn’t even know were sick, the advice “Ask Amy” is dishing out, and what Frazz is up to on his mountain bike?

After I left home for college, I subscribed to the local paper and, just as my parents did, also to the Des Moines Register. The local one kept me grounded in my city’s news, while the Register gave me a view of the larger world. Then the Register decided to focus more on Des Moines’s local news, so I dropped it, reluctantly.

When I lived in Colorado, there were two Denver papers, different enough that my first husband and I felt we had to get both. They were even laid out differently – the Rocky Mountain News in tabloid style (like the paper you’re holding right now), the Denver Post in the traditional format. Each had writers and stories that complemented each other, by which I mean they filled gaps, not that they said nice things about the other. That would be spelled “complimented.” (Would I cancel a paper that didn’t know the difference? No, but I’d inform the editor. I love writing to editors. I’m sure they love hearing from me.)

While traveling, my second husband and I started picking up USA Today. This was a paper I’d scorned when it was new – too flashy, too lightweight. Then Bob got hooked on the crossword, and I found the business section more understandable than most, so we subscribed.

For a few wonderful years, he was able to get the daily New York Times at the college where he teaches. Even though we rarely finished it, we reveled in its brilliant take on the news, both national and international, the arts, the economy, everything. After a few years, though, the college’s subscribers dwindled, so we had to do without.

Eventually, I found out we could get the (outstanding, phenomenal, gigantic) Sunday New York Times and – get this – it would be delivered to our door. Even better, when I asked nicely, the carrier, who came around midnight, would bring it all the way up our eleven front steps and lay it inside our screened porch.

This was how our TH carriers had been delivering the paper for years. We asked, and even though they didn’t have to, they did. So every morning, I open the front door to find a paper lying on the screened porch. Each Sunday morning, two fat papers are there. If it’s raining or snowing, I can still just step out and get the papers in my bare feet.

I am grateful to our carriers not only because this is going above and beyond the call of service. It means so much more because my daughter, Allison, was a TH carrier herself, starting at the tender age of twelve. Back then, the paper came in the morning only on weekends, and I would help her on Sundays. The papers were so big, and her route so long, I didn’t want her out there alone. I bought a laundry cart to lug the papers around in, and we put each one exactly where the customer wanted it. (She made a list.) The cart also came in handy for the Thanksgiving doorstop edition, the one with extra stuffing.

There were Sunday mornings when our toes froze in minus-twenty temperatures, and we slid on ice we couldn’t see under the night’s new snow. It gave me an appreciation for what these kids and adults do every day, come rain or sleet or hailstorm, that I would not have had otherwise.

This was back when carriers had to collect payment from each customer. Although she hated doing that, she did meet some lovely people. One day she knocked on the open door of an elderly couple, only to hear a voice asking who was there. “Allison!” said the man. “Can you help us move this mirror?” She had shown up just in time. I love that story.

Our carrier does extra things, too. Every time it’s been bitterly cold this winter, after the USA Today carrier tosses the paper at the base of the stairs from the warmth of his car the way he always does, she has brought it up along with the TH, placing them both not only on the porch, but right next to the front door. Wow. Now, it could be that she’s seen us and thinks of us as “those old people who shouldn’t be using the steps,” but that’s okay. We’re grateful.

I wonder sometimes if people in what’s called the Service Industry realize how much an unexpected favor like that means. Or if they understand how they can brighten someone’s day just by providing what should be considered everyday service. Like when the checker and the bagger at the grocery store talk to us, the customers, and not just to each other. Or when a hospital employee doesn’t just give directions to the cafeteria, but takes a visitor there, pretending she was going that way anyway.

Sometimes I wonder if managers still train new employees this way. When the staff seems to be just going through the motions, I really don’t know who’s at fault. All I can do is stand here, waving my hand, saying hey, I notice good service. There ought to be an article in the paper about it.