Jerry Davich: Delivering newspapers more than ‘just a job
JERRY DAVICH August 29, 2013 10:22PM
Updated: October 1, 2013 6:10AM
Victor Benson hung a pack of clear plastic sleeves on his rearview mirror, as he does every morning long before sunrise.
This way, he can quickly grab one at a time to wrap each fresh newspaper before delivering them to more than 100 homes in Hobart and Lake Station. He does this before most of us wake up. Heck, before most roosters wake up.
The 70-year-old Portage man has been delivering the Post-Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and other newspapers for several years despite numerous health setbacks recently, including knee pain, foot surgery and colon cancer surgery. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
“If I wasn’t delivering these papers, I’d probably be dead from sitting around all day, watching TV and doing nothing,” Benson told me while cruising through his daily route.
Benson could be called a dinosaur of sorts, considering his age, while delivering what could be called a dinosaur of a product — the print version of a daily newspaper. It doesn’t take a paleontologist to know that circulation numbers are dropping off the earth and some newspapers are becoming extinct.
“Most of my customers are older folks, but not all,” Benson said while driving through the Mansard du Lac mobile home park in Lake Station.
“That guy there,” he said, pointing to one reader’s home. “He’s a younger guy who likes his paper on his porch. Most people do, but I rarely talk to them.”
Benson prides himself on delivering newspapers where he would like to find his own paper each morning — on the front porch, close to the door. Of the 140 or so newspapers he delivers in the dark, he must get out of his 2001 Buick Century to do so for most of them.
“This is good exercise for me. Plus I love making our customers happy,” he said while pointing out each customer along Marquette Road in Lake Station.
Like most newspaper carriers, Benson comes and goes each day like the morning dew, hopefully leaving no footprints and only a newspaper or two. He’s usually on the road by 3 a.m. and done by 6 a.m., without a drop of coffee to kick-start his day.
“I don’t drink that stuff. Don’t need it,” he said firmly. “I’ve never had a problem waking up for work. Don’t use an alarm clock either. I get mad at myself if I wake up past 1:30 in the morning.”
Benson, a father of six who’s worked even more jobs through the decades, lives in a mobile home park with his two sisters, Jean and Irene Benson. He doesn’t own a cell phone, so he borrows their “Jitterbug” cell when he’s delivering papers — “just in case,” said Benson, who’s been stuck in snow, chased by dogs and stopped by police through the years.
“But it’s usually very peaceful early in the morning,” said Benson, who enjoys listening to country-western music even though he’s hard of hearing. “Once in a while, there will be some people who are still awake, maybe from partying or something.
Benson began delivering newspapers in 1989 while living with his mother in the Aetna section of Miller in Gary. He always enjoyed the side job, even with a walking newspaper route, and he never minded the unorthodox hours.
“I’ve never been a sound sleeper,” he explained.
Benson said his father died at age 60, so he feels fortunate to be 70 years old and still kicking. He gave up drinking alcohol a few years back, claiming it always got him into trouble. These days he sticks to strawberry or grape soda pop at his favorite watering hole, Thumbs Up, in the Miller section of Gary.
“I don’t stay there too long, though. I can’t take the drunks like I used to,” he said while we cruised toward Hobart.
Benson keeps a large bananas box on the passenger side floor, which he stacks newspapers inside, with inserts plopped on the passenger seat and plastic sleeves hanging on the mirror.
“I roll ’em as I go,” he said proudly, except on Sundays when he has to roll the thicker newspapers at the distribution center on U.S. 6 in Porter County.
Most of his customers live on typical residential routes, but a few “live out in the jungle” he said with a smile.
When I asked for the worst part of his job, he drew a rare blank before finally spitting out, “Well, I go through two tanks of gas a week. I’m always watching the price of gas.”
His job is more than “just a job,” Benson told me as we came to the end of our drive. Being a newspaper carrier gives him daily activity, needed spending money and a sense of purpose.
“I’ve got nowhere to go and all day to get there,” joked Benson, who punctuates his down-home quips with an endearing laugh.
“I like doing this, I really do. And I’ll keep doing it as long as I can.”
Benson didn’t realize it, but he poignantly echoed the feelings of tens of thousands of newspaper industry workers across the country, including this columnist.
Listen to Jerry’s “Casual Fridays” radio show each Friday at noon on WLPR, 89.1-FM, streaming and archived shows at www.lakeshorepublicmedia.org.