COMMENTARY: A newspaper boy’s elegy, as an ink-stained era closes

Who knows, one day Bruce Haulman’s always interesting article, “It’s Your History” will tell the story about the last paper carriers on Vashon.

Editor’s Note: This witty, poignant and timely commentary augments our coverage of The Beachcomber’s upcoming shift to mail delivery (see the article, page 13). We hope it will also serve as a reminder to our subscribers to tip their delivery people, and tip them well, in advance of the end of their employment at the paper. We deeply admire and applaud our drivers’ dedicated work and service to the community and the newspaper and we will miss them greatly.

Like buggy whips, pet rocks, and lightning-fast dialup modems, the staid and stalwart paper carriers of the island have been relegated to the dustbin of history. Beginning next month, The Beachcomber will be sent through the U.S. mail to all its loyal subscribers.

I’ve had a long and winding road with The Beachcomber. In December of 2010, I was at the end of an 18-month cross-country bicycle tour, when my cousin called and said he was taking his family overseas. He needed a house-sitter for at least a year and I was his favorite ne’er-do-well bicycle bum. So, on January 1, 2011, I arrived on Vashon to a dark house and an angry cat.

Not knowing a soul I had to entertain myself. It didn’t take long before I had enough of cheating at solitaire and playing with cat toys (the cat ignored them but I found them fun). That’s when I saw an ad to deliver The Beachcomber. I thought it might be a chance to meet some folks and keep the legs in shape. Soon thereafter I was buzzing around town on my bicycle throwing papers on roofs, bushes, and sometimes even front porches.

Not long after, I was asked to be the circulation manager in the office and for the next four years, that’s just what I did. Then the opportunity arose to become a paper carrier. I jumped at the chance. You see, the circulation manager tries to solve problems and the paper carrier causes said problems, I prefer the latter.

So, once a week for the next six years, I saddled up my Toyota Camry and sallied forth with 450 plus papers. For most of those years, I delivered late into the night. Traffic was lighter, the island was quiet and I would hum along to the songs of my youth. Going from tube to tube along my route became rhythmic, start, fold, stop, deliver, repeat. It wasn’t always a joy. I won’t miss the wet and frozen arm on cold, rainy nights or the amateur Columbos who stop and interrogate me to see if I’m stealing mail.

Lately, my car, a vehicle born during the Clinton Administration, has been acting like a passive-aggressive spouse. It’s still working but the honeymoon is long over and I fear a blow-up is just around the corner, literally.

Preferring a long walk home when it’s light out, I recently began delivering around mid-day. It was a different animal altogether. People are out walking dogs, riding bikes or gardening. They give me a quizzical look as I slow down at their house but always a smile when I show them The Beachcomber I’m delivering. If I’m lucky, I get a short conversation with a subscriber. They can finally put an ink smudged face to go with their paper and I get to meet one of the people I serve.

I’ll miss my association with The Beachcomber. I saw many editors and reporters come and go. I admired their integrity to journalistic ideals and undeniable work ethic. No matter what they wrote, someone was soon poking a finger in their face and telling them how wrong they were. You couldn’t pay me enough to do that job.

Over the last decade, I’ve seen three constants; the weekly deadline and two unfailing employees. Daralyn Anderson, the publisher, and Patsy Seaman, the office manager, have slogged through every type of calamity during sick times, healthy times, and every situation in-between. They are the unsung heroes of our islands’ paper.

Perhaps a paper made of paper has become a moribund source of information due to the silent, relentless digitization of everything. I guess that’s progress. I’m sure back in the day there was probably a grumpy cuss just like me lamenting the fact that clay tablets were losing ground to the new-fangled papyrus. Who knows, one day Bruce Haulman’s always interesting article, “It’s Your History” will tell the story about the last paper carriers on Vashon.

Chris Austin is a Voice of Vashon radio host and writer, and a stalwart volunteer at Vashon Heritage Museum. Over the years, he has authored many commentaries for The Beachcomber — a writing practice we, here at the paper, dearly hope will continue.