June 27, 2007
Most people in East Hampton don't realize it was me who delivered their Newsday every day 30 years ago, but a lot remember my yellow Super Beetle.
I left Wall Street in 1974 to become a Time Study Engineer at the Bulova Watchcase Factory in Sag Harbor. My Wall Street career, which I prepared for by studying corporate finance in college for four years, lasted all of nine months. That June I received a phone call from one of my cohorts informing me we had entered a team in the Sag Harbor softball league and I was expected to play. I came out for the weekend and ended up throwing my wing tip Florsheim shoes off of Long Wharf, the symbolic abortion of my career as a stockbroker.
Pete and Skip Doran's mom, Irene, was the personnel director at Bulova, which at the time was a bustling factory with 200 employees. She arranged an interview for me with Elizabeth Hall, the steel-willed production manager who was known to be quite the hard ass. Not only did she hire me, but she kept her lip buttoned while I read the newspaper, ate egg sandwiches from Eddie Ryder's luncheonette, and blabbed to the guys about sports, activities all frowned upon by this stern taskmaster. I didn't even know what a Time Study Engineer was, but I was one.
As it turned out, young Miss Hall was sent down to Sag Harbor by Bulova from Providence, RI. She was accompanied by her invalid mother, who was sequestered in a tiny apartment at the Flower Hill House on Howard Street (it's still there) right near our family house. My grandfather, newly widowed, would visit her each day and bring her fruit and produce from his garden. Miss Hall repaid the favor by giving me a job. She never said a word – I found out years later.
When Bulova announced plans to curtail its Sag Harbor operations I saw the ad in the paper about delivering Newsday. Be your own boss! Cash business! Sounded good to me.
The Super Beetle cost $2860. My aunt Lucy had given me the down payment. It was yellow with a black racing strip around the body. The car payment was $98 per month.
For the better part of the next three years, I loaded over 500 newspapers into that thing every single day. Pete McArdle, who had a repair shop around the corner from my house, kept it on the road.
I had a crazy route. It began on Hunting Crossway in Bridgehampton, went down the Sag Harbor Turnpike, and then I had a long stretch where I didn't deliver a newspaper until I hit Barcelona Point in Northwest Woods. I found out later they had dumped the first run on me because they were in black neighborhoods.
As it turned out, the Bridgehampton customers were my best tippers, and years later many of their offspring grew up to become Bridgehampton Killer Bees, winners of three straight state basketball championships in the '90s. I was on hand for all three, covering the first two for The East Hampton Star and the 1998 title for The Independent. By then I was writing for the newspaper, not delivering it.
Newsday dumped the Barcelona Point stop on me because it was a grueling winter run, up and down steep hills three miles out of the way to deliver a single newspaper – to the forest ranger there. When it was snowing or icy, the trip up the hill was truly a case of life and death, and oftentimes I didn't think the VW would make it – but it always did.
From Barcelona, I meandered through Northwest Woods, emerging onto Three Mile Harbor Road via Soakhides Path. I headed north, through each community down there, like Lionheads and Isle of Wight, Clearwater, and Kings Point. Miss Hall, who was the first female on Long Island ever to serve as a mayor (in Sag Harbor somewhere around 1948) lived back there with Edie Carey. She lived to be almost 100. She was one of my best tippers.
I'd head up Springs Fireplace Road, out to Gerard Drive, up and down Gardiners, Woodbine and Cedar Point, hitting every cross street in between. From there, I went up Old Stone Highway, down Louse Path, up and down Neck Path, all the way to Marty's Deli. There, I'd have a buttered roll and sit in the back with Muriel while Marty tended the counter. Muriel, it turned out, was a master chef, and used to make these huge cakes for weddings and affairs at the Maidstone Club.
The Bug took a horrible pounding, overloaded, bald tires, shocks and springs nearly breaking from the load. Most of the money went to car repairs; the brakes and tires constantly needed replacement.
I remember some of the customers vividly. Hugh King Sr. would come out and chat. There was a little old lady on Three Mile Harbor Road who would dutifully pin my "pay" envelope to the back door once a week – but never on the same day. So I would walk to the back of the house every day and leave the paper inside the screen door. Maybe she wasn't the least bit forgetful, which is what I thought at the time.
There was a dog they warned me about in the Mobile Home Park behind Damark's Deli. He bit my wife a couple times, but he liked me. So I'd get out and pet him, and after awhile he'd wait, everyday, his tail wagging as he heard the car putter up the road, a mile before I actually got there.
I delivered to Damark's even though they carried Newsday. The girls and mom and I would sit around and talk every once in a while over coffee when it was cold – the heater never really did work very well in the Bug. One of my last stops was on Lilla's Path. I learned later it was named after Lilla, who had a couple extra rooms in the big corner house. Years later I lived there, and it was a happy, comfortable place. Lilla was like family.
I branched out, eventually buying a Jeep and then a Subaru. Neither took the load very well.
I ended up moving on to another job. I kept the Beetle sitting around in the yard. Jimmy Spooner and Sheila had just had a baby and Spoon was looking for a second car. I told him it needed a lot of work – it had no reverse gear, for example, so you had to be sure never to park where someone could park in front of you. Spoon was pretty handy, so I had no doubt he could get the thing running again. He gave me $200.
Sheila drove it around for years. I asked Jimmy what kind of repairs he had made. "None," he said.
I ended up covering Spoon's sons, both of whom played for the Killer Bees. We'd go to all the games together. When Bridgehampton played East Hampton I'd recognize lots of the people in the stands because I used to go to their houses every single day. I had a giant Afro haircut back then, so I don't think many of them realized who I was. But yes, that was me.
Driving around isn't such a bad job, even if there is no reverse.