The Joy of Being a Paperboy

Los Angeles' lost newspaper was my family's economic support

By Ronnie Zepeda
Published on LatinoLA: August 3, 2012

The Joy of Being a Paperboy

Beautiful sunny southern California is the perfect place to drive a convertible car. My favorite part of driving is with the top down, the wind blowing in my face. This special feeling reminds me of when I was young boy riding my bike downhill as fast as I could, tossing newspapers onto the neighborhood porches.

When someone thinks of a Los Angeles newspaper the first one that comes to mind is the L A Times. Well, many years ago there was another major newspaper in the city, the Herald Examiner. This newspaper was one of the many daily papers owned by the millionaire Randolph Hearst. Today most people remember his legacy as the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, but for me it's the vast network of young boys riding bikes every afternoon delivering the daily paper.

My brothers and I had our own little newspaper dynasty in the Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles. It all began when my older brother, Tony, was in the sixth grade and needed to earn money. A grammar school friend was a Herald paperboy and always had money in his pocket. All the other kids envied him.

He introduced my brother to the Herald Examiner area manager. I only remember the man's first name, Joe. Joe came to our house and explained to my brother, as well as my parents, how the paperboy business operated. The basic concept was that a daily subscription cost $2.50 a month. If the Sunday paper was included it increased to $3.25. If a route had fifty or more customers the average monthly income was the unbelievable amount of $30.00.

What Joe emphasized was the additional benefit and the biggest incentive to having a paper route - tips. He explained that if you performed on time service and put the paper exactly on the porch were customers wanted they would show their appreciation with a gigantic tip. We all imagined having an abundance of money to spend on our heart's desires. The reality was that less than 50% of customers actually tipped no matter where the paper landed, and when they did it was a measly twenty-five cents a month.

So my brother began his career as a paperboy. Within the first few months my other older brother, Alex, realized being a paperboy was a really good way to make some money. I also think he was coaxed by my father, who saw potential income for the family.

Either way he soon would also join the paperboy corps.

Somehow they recruited my twin Larry and I to assist them in the pre-delivery process which including folding the papers and placing a rubber band around to hold the paper together. This folding process was critical not only to pack the papers in the canvas delivery bags that hung from the bike handle bars but also for the skillful tossing while riding full speed down a residential street.

Our customers wanted the Sunday newspaper on the porch before they poured their morning coffee. The Sunday delivery as you can imagine was the hardest of all ... we were never able to sleep in late on a Sunday morning.

The Sunday newspaper actually started on Saturday when all the advertising portions of the paper would be dropped off in large bundles the late breaking news such as the front page and sports sections would arrive at our house about 5:30 am on Sunday.

The first step was the combining of the two sections followed by folding, rubber banding and eventual stuffing into the canvas handle bar bags. The Sunday paper was so large that the normal route took two trips to complete.

The ironic thing about Sunday morning was that once we thought we were done with our work my mother would make us go to Sunday mass. Her logic was that were already awake and when we returned she would have breakfast made for us.

As a child this seemed really unfair. Not only did we have to sacrifice our Sunday morning so customers could awake up and have a cup of coffee while reading the newspaper but we would have to go to a cold church and listen to the liturgy while we were tired and hungry. The only benefit was that the Franciscan nuns, who taught at our grammar school, would always see us at the early mass and this created a very positive opinion of the Zepeda boys.

Every month we would stop at each house we delivered the newspaper and collect the cost of the monthly subscription. This collection process taught us how to be both businessman as well as politicians.

For our dedicated service, we had the possibility of receiving a twenty five cent tip.

This may not sound like much but in 1968 a bag of McDonald's French Fries was twenty five cents.The money we earned also helped our parents pay our Catholic School tuition, so the tips were the only real pay we boys ever received and spend as we wished.

When my brother Tony graduated from grammar school, I took over his route at the same time my twin brother Larry got another paper route in the streets surrounding our Opal Street home. So by this time we had three paper routes covering a four square mile radius.

The paper routes would be passed on to a younger brother when the older brother was about to begin High School. My younger brothers Robert, Ricky and Rudy would also have the opportunity to demonstrate the skill for riding and tossing papers.

My brothers and I delivered the Herald Examiner from 1966 to 1973.

To this day I can remember the wind blowing in my face as I rode downhill and the sight of the newspaper gliding, curving and landing softly on a front porch.

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