Smells Like My Paper Route

“After more than a century of rolling newspapers off the presses in Allentown, The Morning Call will move its printing operations to Jersey City, N.J., early next year.”  Reading that opening line of Andrew Wagaman’s story in the December 1, 2017 edition of The Morning Call brought back lots of memories about my personal relationship with The Morning Call and related publications that were written and printed at Sixth and Linden Streets in Allentown. I was a “paperboy” for both the Morning Call and the Evening Chronicle for five years from 1962 until 1967. Some of my fondest memories were those of my days as a news carrier, particularly for the Morning Call.  It’s interesting, but many of those memories revolve around the “smells” I remember that accompanied my various experiences from pickup, to delivery, to collections and finally to payment for my papers.

As an 11-year-old “business person” I was responsible for picking up my papers daily, usually before dawn, and getting them delivered to my customers, many days in the rain and snow, many days not feeling well, and many days when it was too hot or too cold, with no interruption in service.  I then had to go door-to-door to collect payment for my deliveries and then pay for my papers at the business office of the newspaper, weekly. The good news for an 11-year-old boy, who would rather be sleeping at 5 a.m., was that my pick-up spot was near Egypt Star Bakery on Front Street and more often than not a warm cookie was waiting for me if I poked my head in the bakery to say good morning to the owner. And hence the first smell, the aroma of fresh baked bread and pastries wafting from that always warm bakery on Front Street.

That being said, the next smell was that of fresh ink, from the bundled newspapers that I picked up and tucked into my canvas carrier’s bag, bright green and emblazoned with the newspaper’s name and logo, or my grocery cart – for Sunday delivery, since the paper size was too large to carry in my bag or bags. That ink, rich, black and oily would cling to my small hands as I folded the papers to be delivered to the many doorsteps on my route. I delivered my papers from “bridge to bridge” on Tilghman Street, and depending upon the time of day, would make stops in the bars and restaurants along the way to sell “extra papers” to the morning crowd of folks heading to work and having breakfast or some morning “fortification” before moving on to Lehigh Structural Steel, Arbogast and Bastian Meats, Neuweiler Brewery, or any of a number of other businesses in the neighborhood. I still remember those smells, freshly brewing coffee and eggs frying on grills at the restaurants or the smell of beer and whiskey being poured and consumed at 7 AM!

After completing my deliveries, I would wearily head home for breakfast which my mother always had ready, despite her proclivity to want to sleep in herself. And that was the next smell, coffee for my mom and dad, and sometimes me – bad habits start young – along with the smell of eggs and toast in our own kitchen. Weekends might find my mother making a pancake, no typo there, my mother didn’t know about “silver dollar pancakes, she made them to fit into the full size of a frying pan. You got a very “short-stack” of one pancake that had a 10 to 12-inch diameter. Many days I would find my mother baking Syrian bread or making homemade yogurt in the early morning hours and they had their own wonderful smells in my memory.

And then it was time to collect payment from my customers, my least favorite part of the job. Until people started to send payments by mail to the newspaper office, carriers collected door to door weekly and then paid for their newspapers at the Call-Chronicle Newspapers offices at Sixth and Linden Streets. Each customer had a card and it was punched for each week paid. Many of my customers paid for more than one week, so I had to discipline myself to not spend that money and be left short when I paid for the week’s deliveries. Going door to door gave me the chance to get to know my customers, and like the neighborhood I grew up in, it was an amalgam of various ethnic groups from Germany, Russia, the Ukraine, Poland, Ireland, Italy, Syria, Hungary, and I could go on. If there was an ethnic church or synagogue in the Sixth Ward, one of their members was on my route. The smells of dinner cooking or just having been eaten was both pleasant and at times pungent while collecting.

Finally, on Saturday morning, I would take my bill for my papers along with my collections, usually in cash, and walk from our home near Ridge Avenue and Tilghman Street to the Call-Chronicle Newspaper offices at Sixth and Linden Streets. Usually, my route to Sixth and Linden Streets included Gordon Street and one of my favorite stops for lunch, Marco’s Hot Dogs. Carmen Abruzzese, the owner always knew my order – two chili dogs everything and a small chocolate milk – but beyond the familiarity of the owner and his pencil thin mustache and gum-chewing Italian friendliness, it was the “smells” that I remember. Chili sauce, grilling hot dogs, steaming buns, mustard and onions, all indelibly etched in my mind and my memory.

Beyond memories of the walk and Marco’s, I remember the newspapers’ offices and their own “smell,” the smell of ink, that despite the press-room being far removed from where the cashier’s office was, overwhelmed the air in the building. It was the same ink that I smelled daily when my bundled newspapers were dropped and delivered to me on Front Street. But it was a smell, like all of the others in that time in my life, that was both familiar and comfortable and one that I will never forget. Maybe that’s why I was so sad to read the news that the Morning Call won’t be printed at Sixth and Linden Streets any longer, and like so many other memories, lost to progress and a better bottom line.

-Tony Hanna

Proud Former “Newsboy” and Current Newspaper Junky

Tony Hanna is the Executive Director of the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Bethlehem (RDA).