Delivery Adventures: Fascinating Things Happen When You Deliver a Free Paper

A friend of mine told me the other day that she saw somebody go into King Kullen in Bridgehampton, grab a stack of Dan’s Papers, put them on a bench, take a bunch of stickers out of her bag and one at a time, stick them on the front cover of all the copies in the bundle. Then she put them back in the rack. She was advertising her massage service.

“I know you charge for that,” my friend said. “A sticker on the front cover. That’s big-time advertising.”

“That’s true,” I said. “Who was it?”

“I have no idea.”

“Did you pick up a copy?”

“I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction.” [expand]

That was the end of this conversation, but it did remind me of another delivery story. I was in midtown Manhattan and there was someone making out real well with my paper. He was a shabbily dressed man, with a stack of Dan’s Papers under his arm, hawking them for $2 each on Sixth Avenue. The paper is free.

“Two dollars, two dollars,” he said. “All the latest news in Dan’s Papers.”

I approached him and asked him about this.

“Two dollars,” he said. “A great read.”

“I wrote much of it,” I said.

He stared at me blankly. “Two dollars,” he said. So I gave him the two dollars.

We’ve had all sorts of interesting adventures delivering the paper over the years. The paper gets trucked from a printing company to the Dan’s Papers office, then delivered to all the stores. There’s all sorts of things that can go wrong.

One time, in the early years, I was in my car, driving on the Napeague Strip toward Montauk. I had two other people in the car, both friends from college who had come out to my East Hampton home for the weekend. So I was giving them a tour going all the way out to the lighthouse.

I pointed out the Walking Dunes. I got to the place where the road splits, and I told them we’d go to the left, onto the Montauk Parkway, which Robert Moses had built with a long-ago Montauk developer named Carl Fisher.

“We also might run into a Dan’s Papers delivery truck,” I said. “I’ve got two guys out in one of them. Today’s the day they deliver to Montauk.”

I was proud of our delivery. I thought they might like to see it in action.

It was about 11 in the morning. I was pretty sure, knowing the route, that we might see a truck pulling into a motel parking lot or something. The trucks were red in those days, with white lettering.

We turned left to go up the Parkway, and as we went up the hill, I saw a Dan’s Papers truck heading the other way toward me. This was a truck that had just left the office an hour earlier. They should have been going the other way. And there was only one person in it.

What the…?

As it came by me, I did a full U-turn and gave chase. It took awhile for me to get him to pull over because he had no idea whatsoever who was in the car behind him honking and flashing his lights. But finally, he did. I got out and, cop-like, swaggered over to him. In my car, my friends stared wide-eyed.

“Explain this,” I said. The back of the truck was full of papers. “And where’s George?”

“Oh,” he said. “We had a fight,” he said.

“Tell me.”

“Well we started the delivery route at Lunch (a k a The Lobster Roll) and then the White Sands Motel, and then he said he wanted to go for a swim. We went to the second motel, The Driftwood. He got in the back of the van and changed into a bathing suit, then took a stack of papers, got out and said he’d be back in 10 minutes. This was going to slow us down. It made me mad. So I just drove off.”

“Drove off?”

“Yeah.”

“You left him there?”

“Yeah.”

I don’t recall the rest of the story, but this guy was not long for this job. As for George, it turned out he hitchhiked back to the office in a damp bathing suit, I found out later.

Then there was the time one of the delivery boys wound up in the hospital. I was not in the office at the time of the incident. It was handled by our office manager, very well as it turned out.

The kid’s name was Oscar. He’d been working as a bagger at the Quogue Market checkout line, and thought he’d like to work outdoors in the sun. Took the job.

He was pretty good at it. That day, he was asked to “break in” a new kid. The kid would drive. Oscar would jump out with papers along the route, deliver them to a store, then return to the truck and do it again.

I’d gotten a call from the office manager that afternoon that Oscar was in the hospital. He’d fallen out of the truck while it was moving and he was pretty banged up but otherwise okay. I didn’t even ask if the papers finished getting delivered. I just headed straight for the hospital.

I found Oscar in bed in a room, where they were holding him for observation. He was all scratched up. He was very apologetic.

“I’m so sorry,” he said. “If you want, I’ll go back out and finish the job. I just had THIS happen.”

“The delivery will be taken care of,” I said. “Not to worry. What happened?”

“The new kid’s name is Billy. I told him I had this way of doing the delivery really fast, cowboy fashion. I’d teach it to him.”

Cowboy fashion?”

“It worked like this. He’d drive slowly along, flashers on. I’d reach in the back and get a bunch of papers. Then I’d leap out of the car, deliver them, and then I’d catch up to him and just slide back into the passenger’s seat. Then I’d do it again.”

“So how did you fall out of the truck?”

“Well, the key to this is not to close the passenger door all the way. I’d hop back in, grab more papers with my left hand, but hold the passenger door open a few inches with my right hand. That way, you don’t have to keep closing and opening the door. You just leap out and leap back.”

He paused, but I didn’t say anything. Then he had this to say.

“So it worked fine. I’d done this before. But then there was something I didn’t figure.”

“What?”

“Well, he was picking up speed, and I was sitting there next to him and he just made this left turn onto Main Street sort of fast-like and the door flew open and I just came flying out.”

More silence.

“Oh, and he stopped the truck then. I’d rolled over and over and over in the gravel. But I’m FINE. I’m really FINE. Please don’t fire me.”

I hadn’t even asked him about the seat belt. I already knew the answer to that one.

“So the police came and an ambulance came. I’m just really sorry. He said he’d finish the route. I’m sure he did. Even without me. He’s just fine.”

I told him to get well soon, and I’d have his job waiting for him. He worked for us the rest of the summer and the next one two. He did have a learning curve. There was no more cowboy delivery. He assured me of that.

The last delivery story I want to tell is probably the best one. The paper was printed in New Jersey during the night at that time. The big moving van filled with 30 tons of newspapers would be coming out around 5 a.m. I went to sleep around 11 p.m. The delivery manager and the drivers would be at the office to meet it.

At 4 a.m. the phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Mr. Rattiner? This is the Suffolk County Police Department. There’s been an accident on the LIE. Can you get down here? With a truck?”

“What?”

“At Exit 70, Manorville exit. Your newspaper bundles are scattered all over the road.”

“What happened?”

“The driver, from your printer, didn’t make the off-ramp.”

“He’s okay?”

“Everybody’s okay. It just fell over on its side as he was coming off the Expressway and slid for about a quarter mile. Your bundles are all over the road.”

I could drive to the office in Bridgehampton, pick up one of our delivery trucks and head out there. But it would be a much smaller truck. I told the officer that.

“Just come on out and help.”

“Roger.”

And so I did. An hour later, as dawn was rising, I walked around amidst all our newspaper bundles, more than a thousand of them, by the side of the road where everybody had put them so they wouldn’t delay the flow of traffic. The truck was still there. The driver was not. He’d gone off to phone the printing company and have them send out another truck.

I hauled bundles into my van. Every front page, all along the LIE, had a lead story I had written. Soon the sun would rise and it would be light enough to be able to read them.

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