From 1986 to 1988, northwest Oklahoma City had me to thank for finding an Oklahoma Gazette on area racks "¦ not that it ever did. Yes, before I was managing editor of this very publication, I was one of its delivery drivers!
It was my first paycheck job, and I received it through neighborly nepotism, having lived across the street from Gazette's then-editor, Randy Splaingard (and next door to Jane O'Neal, then a typesetter). I was not quite 16 at the time, but armed with a learner's permit, so for the first couple of weeks, my dad had to ride along. That worked out well, because he taught me a lot about navigating metro streets, and it allowed him more time to criticize me for floating through stop signs.
Back then, Gazettes were delivered on nights, instead of mornings as it is today. Each afternoon prior, immediately following the final bell at Putnam City High School, I would drive to the Gazette's old offices, located in the Maney House, 1200 N. Shartel, and pick up my delivery book.
In those low-tech days, that amounted to a red, three-ring binder, into which sheets for each delivery stop were inserted. Each sheet had a grid of boxes, one per week. Each box was bisected by a diagonal line. In the top triangle, then-circulation manager Debra Coleman wrote the number of papers to be dropped off that time; in the bottom triangle, I would write how many leftover papers I would pick up.
The following day after school, I'd drive my used, white 1967 Volkswagen Beetle to the printer's warehouse, somewhere near N.W. 36th and Santa Fe. Bundled papers were loaded into my VW as tightly as humanly possible, because if I had to come back for a second load, I could kiss an hour goodbye.
Luckily, I could make it in one trip, with rare exception (I'm looking at you, oh, cursed annual "Best of OKC" issue). Ever put thousands of Gazettes in a VW? I have! And let me tell you, it causes the car to swerve as if it were a DUI in progress.
The first stop on my route was the late, great Golden Palace Chinese Restaurant, 5201 N. Shartel, back when I didn't even eat Chinese food. From there, I'd hit a bunch of places on Western Avenue, then head west on N.W. 63rd to take care of Pennsylvania Avenue, followed by May Avenue. Then it was up Northwest Expressway all the way to Rockwell, and back down again.
QUICK WITH THE SCISSORS
Some stops were easy, and could be done in seconds. I became rather quick with the scissors to remove the plastic binding from the bundles. I learned to count unwanted issues from the previous week just by looking at them.
Other stops were laborious, in which I earned every bit of my minimum wage. I grew to hate going to Baptist Medical Center, because I had to park in a garage far away from the cafeteria, and it required more bundles than I could carry in even a couple of trips.
My final stop was close to my house: Pancho's Liquortown, 6801 N. Meridian. Being underage, I couldn't even step inside. I had to knock on the door and hand the papers to whomever was kind enough to answer.
With dozens upon dozens of stops " 50ish, if I recall correctly " the entire ordeal would take me five to six hours " more in inclement weather, less if I conned a friend into helping. I looked forward to my post-delivery shower, where I could wash the sweat from my brow and the newsprint from my fingertips to forearms. Getting the ink smell out of my car, however, was impossible. This may explain my lack of dates (but only in part, sadly).
The worst week ever was when I was asked to fill in one summer day on the Norman route. At the time, I had never driven around Norman, much less knew which highway exit to take. One consolation: I was allowed to take the Gazette truck, but it was a gas guzzler, and being without cash, an ATM card or the nerve to ask strangers for money, I ran out of fuel halfway home on Interstate 35. With my only quarter, I called Debra for help, and she came to my rescue. (Thanks, Debra!)
I have no idea how the deliveries are done nowadays, nor do I care, because it was tough, thankless work. To this day, I still have stressful dreams about it, in which I suddenly realize that " to my utter horror " I have neglected to deliver papers for the past two decades.
But I'll never forget my delivery days during the Gazette's first decade "¦ even if you won't find it on my résumé. "Rod Lott