Just throw your airfare under the car.


This is me looking down on my old high school–literally, not figuratively–where as a freshman, I had a neighborhood paper route.

It’s significant for me now to look down on my old paper route there–the Sacramento Bee, daily and Sunday, over a hundred customers–because in those days I looked up from my bike as I tossed newspapers, wistfully watching the airliners climbing toward the Sierras. I have the better of the two views now.

But I also relate to a “customer service” lesson I learned on the paper route that’s just as valid from my present perspective a few miles above my old paper route and and two hundred times faster than bike speed.

The biggest pain every month had to be collecting from customers. And the worst of that was at the house of a junior high school principal who lived on the route.

Ring the bell. Wait. He comes to the door and points to his driveway.

“Your money’s under the car–where I normally find my paper.” Crawl under the car; at least he usually had exact change. Every month.

Which didn’t seem fair, because his paper wasn’t under his car every day. Just now and then, because I had about 137 papers to throw from my moving bike, often with a dog or two chasing me, and a lot of days in the rain.

I think of that percentage as we top the Sierras (that’s Lake Tahoe in the middle)  because we’re running about forty minutes late.

Of the one hundred and forty people on board, I’m sure that one or two are steaming like my old customer, wanting to see me crawl under the car because this is what “always happens.” No dogs chasing me this time, but yes, weather slowing things down and a traffic-jammed Air Traffic Control system.

For that guy, and those of his ilk, there’s no explaining what goes on and why–they’re really not listening anyway and just want to tell their neighbors about how the paperboy has to crawl under the car to get his measly $3.50 a month.

But for the majority of reasonable folks on board, here’s a behind the scenes explanation for the common frustration experienced by all but seemingly insurmountable for the “under the car” minority.

Why doesn’t the pilot tell us what’s going on? Well, because  . . . it is going on: two nights ago, we were taxiing in the aluminum conga line to the runway, watching on radar as a ring of storms converged on the airport.

There’s no time to spare. I’m recalculating fuel burn for a new route, listening to and answering ground control giving instructions on one radio, monitoring the other radio that my first officer is on negotiating a new route from Clearance Delivery and steering the jet with my feet on the rudder pedals. And that’s not all that’s “going on;” it’s taking shape as the minutes tick by and the ring of towering cumulus closes in on the airport. I don’t have time to step out of the task mix and say “here’s what’s happening” because it’s changing by the minute.

Seriously?

It’s difficult enough when one of the Flight Attendants call up and ask “What’s the delay?” The answer would be, “I’m doing five things at once; don’t call me back unless we’re on fire.” Most Flight Attendants realize that and don’t call. If they do, I realize they’re taking heat from the hundreds of eyeballs boring into theirs as they sit on their emergency exit jumpseats. Any wonder why some of them may be a little defensive?

So–I know this is not what you want to hear, but–if I’m not saying anything on the P.A., it’s because there’s nothing for me to say and no time to say it anyway. And even what information there is changes by the minute. Even if you wanted to be part of the chaos, I don’t have the time to narrate what’s going on and still keep up with it and stay on top of our flight priority in the mix. Can you just get started on your crossword puzzle and trust that we’re doing our jobs as efficiently and safely as we can?

Once we do get into the air, we have another 4 hours of flight.  So make it the New York Times crossword: it’s in the “Entertainment” section, on the driveway. Under your car.

Meanwhile, lighten up on the paperboy, okay? He’s doing the best he can.

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22 Responses to “Just throw your airfare under the car.”

  1. Great post, Chris. Love the comparison.

    I was recently remarking to my wife about the bygone era of paper delivery via bicycle. Now everybody who still does deliver this “paper” thing you speak of just whizzes by in their SUV and maaaybe hits your driveway.

    • It’s weird, isn’t it how the “paperboy” nowadays is an adult with so many customers the route has to be done by car, and somebody’s doing it for a living rather than some kid for spending money. It was good cash though for a kid–paid for all of my gas-powered planes . . .

  2. Jaclyn J Says:

    New follower in LOVE with your blog! Found you by chance when working on my firm’s blog, at the most opportune time – straight off a flight from a cruise.

    I could read your entries all day – keep it up!

  3. With a tip under the car, that house might get a paper through the window… oops!

    • Lots of good passive-aggressive options. They usually woke up on Sunday mornings to the loudest thud I could conjure by throwing their five pound Sunday paper at the front door from close range.

  4. SkyChazz Says:

    Excellent, as always…well, nearly always. ;-)

    Please keep sharing.

  5. SkyChazz Says:

    I love the blog, Chris, and a 99% agreement rating is pretty high for me!

    Keep up the great work in all fields.

    From another ex-paperboy…

  6. Bra-vo!!! Very well said. As I often say to passengers- when you find out, I’LL find out. I hate annoying the guys with needless phone calls. As you said, if we catch fire or something falls off, then I’ll call. Til then, we sit tight. I once had a guy so insistent I call the pilots hat I explained at that moment they were probably nearing the end of re-calculating the takeoff data, loadsheet etc, that if I called right then they’d lose their place and we’d have to start over for another 20 minutes. He didn’t ask me to call again!

    • I know it’s difficult to be kept in the dark. But the more I say on the P.A., then those things don’t happen because things change, then suddenly the passengers have a question about our credibility. It’s a lose-lose; best to just stay on-task.

  7. that was really funny…can totaly relate..it seems that the pasengers make the flights unbearable rather than the crew……

    ivonne

  8. I’ve never experienced the newspaper delivery driveby method. I’ve only seen it in films set in American suburbia. But it always puzzled me. Why would anyone pay to have a newspaper dumped outside their house? Doesn’t it ever rain? (Though if it does, you were doing that bloke a favour by leaving his copy under his car to keep it dry.) Or get windy?
    This side of the Atlantic people usually get the paper stuck through their letterbox. Would that seem an unwelcome invasion of privacy in your part of the world?

    • Nowadays our paper is in a plastic bag. Would’ve taken me too long to do that.

      • SkyChazz Says:

        Actually, it’s faster to do the plastic bags than the rubber bands. The bags hang (or used to, back in my day) from a dispenser attached to the belt buckle. Assemble and fold your papers, slip ’em into the bag dangling in front and—shoop—off to the next one. The rubber bands were a lot slower…

  9. Dave S. Says:

    Hi,
    Love the blog. It’s great to hear the reality behind the corporate image. Like you, I had a Sacbee paper route (I’m old enough to remember the Sacramento Union being delivered in the morning as well). Anyway, I’m trying to place the high school next to your old paper route. I thought I knew my Sactown from the air pretty well but I’m stumped. Thanks for the entertaining read.

  10. Dave S. Says:

    OMG this is worse than I thought. I graduated from Del Campo! That’s Will Rogers Jr. High across the street. I guess from the picture it looked to me like Will Rogers was part of the same campus. DC had that weird location for the track in the front with the school way in the back from the street. Thanks again for all the entertainment.

    • That’s it. I can’t tell you how many laps I ran around that verdammte track and in track meets, our DC coach couldn’t even remember my first name–I was “Cougar Manno” in my events as a result. Guess I didn’t impress him. What was his name? I forget . . .

      • Dave S. Says:

        Cougar Mano,

        It might have been coach Summerhayes who didn’t impress you enough to remember his name.

      • Yeah I remember him, and Coach Takata. It was Mr. Smith who was coaching us distance runners–he was also my Geometry teacher every day but STILL couldn’t remember my first name. Wasn’t Summerhayes “linked” with the labomba girl’s PE coach?

  11. Dave S. Says:

    I remember Takata and I think maybe a Mr. Kenyon in the p.e. dept. I had Mr. Smith for Geometry too. He wouldn’t have had any chance of remembering my name back in the day since I wasn’t a distance runner and he obviously needed 3 frames of reference to know who a student was. Yes, ‘linked’ is a good way of putting it. Too funny.

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