Friday, November 26, 2010

From Ed Garten: AUTOBIOGRAPHY -- A NEWSPAPER BOY DEVELOPS A PASSION FOR CARS

Hi folks -- Ed Garten is a good friend of mine who has often contributed to this blog. Below is his story of how he first came to love the cars that he enjoys so much to see at car shows and on the road. It is also a tale that conveys the powerful effect of sense of place on our lives.
After reading the story below, click open the U-Tube video link at the bottom.
"Hey, Mrs. Jones, how's the Willys runnin' these days?" "How's that old Hudson performing for ya Mr. Jackson? Ever think of taking it to the racetrack over in Virginia?" "How you doin' this afternoon, Miss. Lowe, ever think about gettin' rid of that Henry J of yours? The new Fords are really pretty you know." "Seems to be some oil leakin' out of the rear end of your Studebaker Mr. Ross, just noticed it when I parked my bike beside it to bring your paper up to the house."
Come along on a ride as we begin at the old bridge crossing the Greenbrier River at the intersection of West Virginia Routes 3 and 12 and head up Tunnel Hill into Hilldale (the rural southern West Virginia community where I grew up in the 1950s and early 1960s). This was very poor community then as now. Then continue on to the end of Hilldale and down the mountain into and through the next village of Talcott (famous for the C & O Railway, the Big Bend Tunnel, and the American folk legend John Henry). Yours truly graduated from Talcott High School in 1965 with a huge graduating class of seventeen young people.
But, from the top of the hill entering the village of Hilldale until one decends the mountain on the other end headed toward Talcott, that was my newspaper route delivering the Hinton Daily News from the age of 13 until I gave up the paper route a week or so before high school graduation. Essentially a two mile long paper route. Can you imagine delivering to approximately 60 customers on this long and hilly route in the middle of winter and in a deep snow? The Hinton Daily News sold for 5 cents an issue, six days a week. I would collect from my customers on Saturday -- 30 cents for the week. I made 2 cents profit and the newspaper company got 3 cents. If everyone paid in a given week I would "collect" approximately 18 bucks and made a cool $7.20 a week for my labors (or a buck twenty a day if you look at it that way). But some of my customers each week would always claim they couldn't pay because their welfare check hadn't arrived yet or (as I sometimes suspected, they had left some cash behind at the liquor store). In those cases the common Appalachian phrase would be to me: "Can ya carry me?" Meaning: "Can you collect next week when I might have some money on me?"
To think that, today, I sometimes spend a buck twenty for a parking meter, a very small bag of chips, or a can of Coke. We learn lots of lessons relative to how, at an early age, we handle and view money don't we? And that period in life as a paper boy taught me many lessons about the value of money, not to mention valuable lessons related to self-discipliness, promptness, and courtesy. What lessons have you learned about "money and life" over the years? Moreover, for those of us who had jobs as young people, what might we have learned about other folks at an early age? As a paper boy I learned that everyone is different. I learned to interact with diverse personalities and, sadly, I sometimes saw a dark side of life: Fathers that severely beat their children, alcoholic mothers and fathers who came to the screen door to get their newspaper but who could barely stand up. I also had generous and giving folks on my paper route including wonderful men and women who every day, without fail, would inquire of my health or ask how school was going. Many of these folks would give me a little Christmas present as the holidays approached. A warm pair of socks, a bag of candy, a dollar bill in an envelope with my name on it, all gifts that spoke to my heart and showed their appreciation of my service as their paper boy (well, the candy spoke to my stomach).
Tellingly, my love of automobiles probably developed during those years delivering the newspaper -- literally I knew the make, model, and year of every single car in our rural community and if I saw one of my customers I'd typically ask the person: "How's the Willys running Mrs. Smith?" or "How's that old Hudson doing for you Mr. Jackson, ever think of taking it to the racetrack over in Virginia?" or perhaps to the elderly spinster in our village: "Excuse me Miss Houchins but when I parked my bike to bring your paper up I noticed that one of your recap tires is peeling off. Might be good to think about some better tires for winter, just for safety's sake?" And the old bachelor who looked like his car: "Mr. Jones, ever think about gettin' rid of that Henry J of yours?" For some reason as a young boy, memorizing every detail of every car found along my paper route was important to me. Perhaps I was the only kid in the community who knew everything about everyone's car! A walking automotive encyclopedia! Of course a few of the cars I admired were, as they said down in the hills, "up on blocks" and likely would never see the highway again (but there was always hope). The first "foreign cars" as we called them that I ever saw as a newspaper boy were owned by customers. A elderly couple's son had just returned from an Army tour in Europe and there sitting beside his house was a red Alfa. Wow! The first Italian car I'd ever seen. And then another customer, considered to be an eccentric in the community, bought and parked in front of his house a used Simca. A year later he bought an old Hillman to give the Simca company. No mechanic around would touch either car and within a year both were "up on blocks" never to be driven again!
And there were some sad times delivering papers. For example, I recall picking up my load of papers the afternoon after John F. Kennedy had been killed. PRESIDENT KENNEDY DEAD: NATION MOURNS said the front page of the newspaper. I was only 13 years old but I tied a little American flag on the carrier of my bicycle -- even arranged it so that it was flying half staff. I recall walking onto the porches of all of my customers, knocking on their doors, and then the man or woman of the house appeared, saying with tears in my eyes: "Isn't it so sad, so sad......."
The money earned from my paper route was not to be sneezed at and I had my priorities for how it was to be spent. First priority was to keep my bicycles (I had two) in good mechanical shape so that "the news would always go through." Of course expenditures on a few frills also took a few dollars every once in a while: An extra reflector (for safety?), a new carrier rack, streamers for the handlebars, a new electric horn perhaps. And, yes, every week I might spurge on an RC and a Moon Pie (what for us hillbilly boys would have been known as "health food.) But the bulk of my meager earnings from that paper route went directly into a savings account at the National Bank of Summers in Hinton, West Virginia -- to be saved for first year expenses at college and for textbooks. As a freshman my first novels by J. D. Salenger, Albert Camus, Hemingway, and others were bought with "savings" from that paper route! Does deferred gratification pay off in the long run? Perhaps......but, when was the last time I read Camus? (smile).
But, hey, check out my "paper route" from 1961 through 1965.

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