By MATTHEW NASH
When I was growing up I heard stories of how my father and his older brother would sell newspapers on street corners. He worked the corner of State and Main and sold his papers for 10 cents. He got to keep 3 cents for each one he sold. He later moved to the corner of Pearl and Market where he was able to sell up to 300 papers a day. Over the years between 1944 and 1953 the price went up to 15 and then on to 20 cents and he got a raise all the way up to a nickel.
When I was in sixth grade I got my first taste of employment delivering newspapers for The Tribune after school. I didn’t mind delivering the paper, but I wasn’t very excited about going out and collecting the payment each week. Some people were hard to find at home, some just didn’t have the money right then and asked me to come back later. Looking back I realize how easy it would have been to turn away a 12- to 14-year-old collecting money.
I had to collect enough money each week to pay my bill for the papers I delivered, everything left I got to keep. I blew much of that money at the arcade they put in at the New Albany Plaza, and buying Chek Colas at the Winn-Dixie on hot days. If I collected everything on Friday night my dad would take it down to The Tribune building and pay my bill on his way to work, if I was short I would go out and collect the rest on Saturday morning and ride my bike downtown to pay before the office closed at noon.
After delivering The Tribune for a couple of years I went on to deliver to deliver the Courier Journal. That was a huge commitment for an eighth-grader because it was every morning, a couple hours before everyone else got up for school. It was every weekend and holidays no matter if it rained or snowed. My father helped me deliver the Sunday paper because of the size — looking back I don’t think I showed enough appreciation for this, all he got out of it was a free subscription.
I handed off my paper route a few months before I turned 16. I had been delivering newspapers for about four years and it was starting to wear on me. My brother assumed my route and I helped him out sometimes. Looking back I should have kept it for a few months until I got my first real job. I hadn’t taken into account how much it cost to be a teenager in the 1980s.
My first real job came in the summer of 1986. My friends and I were assisting the summer theater workshop at New Albany High School and on a break we started talking about getting jobs. That afternoon several of us went and filled out applications at several locations, mostly in Clarksville. A couple of my friends got hired on at Kroger and I got a call from Ponderosa.
The Ponderosa steakhouse was doing a major remodel when I went in for my first real interview. They were hiring a few new faces to work when they reopened. My first night of working there was crazy busy, I had never seen so many people in my life. The line was to the door for hours — I didn’t think it would ever let up.
I worked as a bus boy a dishwasher and a server for the first few months. I went on to be a grill cook for a couple of years. I still run into people that I worked with in that first job over 25 years ago and we reminisce about the glory days. I still see the manager that hired me on occasion; he shops at the place I work now.
Earlier this week I got a message from my ex-wife. My 16-year-old had a job interview at the Mickey’s T-Mart, a grocery store a few blocks away from their house. Later that night I was informed that he would be starting work the next day.
Ethan is a pretty shy, reserved young man but from reports he was giddy about starting his first day of work. I texted him congratulations and support for his new endeavor and he wrote back saying how excited he was.
After his first day his excitement grew even more when he discovered that he was allowed to accept tips. He also asked me some advice on what type of shoes would be the best to wear if you are going to be on your feet all day. He and I will go shopping for some comfortable shoes this weekend.
Bagging groceries at the supermarket doesn’t seem like a very important job. Selling or delivering newspapers isn’t that exciting either. To a teenager just starting out it is one of the biggest steps they take on a journey that will last a long time. The memories you make and the experiences will last you for many years to come.
To Ethan I say this, have fun and be the best grocery bagger you can be. Arrive on time and be ready to go when you get there. Smile and be the most excited person to be at work. In a couple of weeks, when you get your first paycheck, buy yourself something you always wanted. After that save as much as you can — your father hasn’t saved enough for you and your siblings to all go to college.
— Matthew Nash can be reached at email@example.com