From Chicago, With Love
By Marvin J. Wolf
condensed from Chicago Tribune Magazine
as printed in Readers Digest December 1995
was nine, I needed to earn money, so I asked Mr. Miceli, the
Herald-American’s man in my Chicago neighborhood, about an after-school paper
route. He said if I had a bicycle, he’d give me a route.
My dad was working four jobs then. He built neon signs in a
sheet-metal shop during the day, delivered flowers until eight in the
evening, drove a cab till midnight, and on weekends sold insurance
door-to-door. He bought me a used bike, but right after that he was
hospitalized with pneumonia and couldn’t teach me how to ride. He merely
asked to see the bike. So I walked it down to his garage, showed it to him
and got the job.
At first, I slung my delivery sack filled with rolled papers over the
handlebars and walked my bike down the sidewalks. But pushing a bike with
a load of papers was awkward. After a few days I left the bike at home and
borrowed Mom’s two-wheeled steel-mesh shopping cart.
Delivering papers from a bike is tricky. You get one chance to throw
each paper, and if it misses a porch or stoop, too bad. But I left Mom’s
cart at the sidewalk and carried each paper to its proper destination. If
that was a second-floor porch, and I missed the first throw, I retrieved
the paper and threw again. On Sundays, when the papers were big and heavy,
I carried each one up the stairs. If it was raining, I put my papers
inside the screen doors or, at apartment buildings, in the entrance halls.
In rain or snow I put Dad’s old raincoat over the cart to keep the papers
It took me longer to make my deliveries by cart than if I were on a
bike, but I didn’t mind, I got to meet everyone in the neighborhood –
working-class people of Italian, German or Polish descent who were
invariably kind to me. If I saw something interesting while walking my
route, such as a dog with puppies or a rainbow of oil on wet asphalt, I
could stop to watch for a while.
When Dad returned from the hospital, he resumed his day job, but he
was too weak to work the others and had to give them up. Now we needed
every dime we cold raise to pay bills, so we sold my bike. Since I still
didn’t know how to ride it, I didn’t object.
Mr. Miceli must have known I wasn’t using a bike, but he said nothing
about it to me. In fact, he rarely spoke to any of us boys, unless it was
to give us hell for missing a customer or leaving a paper in a puddle.
In eight months I built my rout from 36 subscribers to 59, mostly
because customers sent me to their neighbors, who said they wanted to take
the paper. Sometimes people stopped me on the street to tell me to add
them to my list.
I earned a penny a paper, Monday through Saturday, and a nickel a
paper on Sundays. I collected every Thursday evening, and since most
customers gave a nickel or a dime extra, soon I was making almost as much
in tips as I got in pay from Mr. Miceli. That was good, because Dad still
couldn’t work much and I had to give most of my wages to Mom.
On the Thursday evening before Christmas 1951, I rang my first
customer’s doorbell. Even though the lights were on, nobody answered the
door, so I went on to the next house. No answer. The same thing happened
at the next family’s house and the one after that. Soon I had knocked and
rung at most of my subscriber’s doors, but not one person appeared to be
I was very worried; I had to pay for my papers every Friday. And
while it was almost Christmas, I’d never thought everyone would be
So I was very happy when, going up the walkway to the Gordon’s house,
I heard music and voices. I rang the bell. Instantly the door was flung
open, and Mr. Gordon all but dragged me inside.
Jammed into his living room were almost all my 59 subscribers! In the
middle of the room was a brand-new Schwinn bicycle. It was candy-apple
red, and it had a generator –powered headlight and a bell. A canvas bag
bulging with colorful envelopes hung from the handlebars.
“This is for you,” Mrs. Gordon said, “We all chipped in.”
The envelopes held Christmas cards, along with the weekly
subscription fees. Most also included a generous tip. I was dumbstruck. I
didn’t know what to say. Finally, one of the women called for quiet and
gently led me to the center of the room. “You are the best paperboy we’ve
ever had,” she said. “There’s never been a day when a paper was missing or
late, never a day when it got wet. We’ve all seen you out there in the
rain and snow with that little shopping cart. And so we thought you ought
to have a bicycle.”
All I could say was “Thank you.” I said it over and over.
When I got home, I counted more than $100 in tips – a windfall that
made me a family hero and brought our household a wonderful holiday
My subscribers must have called Mr. Miceli, because when I got to
his garage the next day to pick up my papers, he was waiting outside.
“Bring your bike tomorrow at ten, and I’ll teach you how to ride,” he
said, and I did.
When I had begun to feel comfortable on the bike, Mr. Miceli asked me
to deliver a second route, 42 papers. Delivering both routes from my new
bike went faster than delivering one from the shopping cart.
But when it rained, I got off my bike to carry every paper to a dry
haven. And if I missed a throw to a high porch, I stopped, put down the
kickstand and threw again.
I joined the Army after high school and gave away my Schwinn to my
younger brother Ted. I can’t recall what became of it. But my subscribers
gave me another gift – a shining lesson about taking pride in even the
humblest work, a Christmas present I try to use as often as I remember the
kind Chicagoans who gave it to me.