Day two in the life of a newspaper truck driver

Editor’s Note: Last week we chronicled a day in the life of a newspaper truck driver delivering The Lakeville Journal and The Millerton News, focused on Wednesdays. In this installment, we learn about the Thursday deliveries.

On Thursday morning, with much less preparatory work, Brian Murphy and I are quick out of the blocks. By 10 a.m. we are usually at the West Cornwall Post Office exchanging a few minutes of banter with Mariah and her colleague, nicknamed “the Swede” because of his Scandinavian roots. Mariah is the jokester, the Swede her foil. She’s always saying goofy things, making funny faces and tittering “tee hee hee”; he’s more restrained.

Driving south on Route 7 from West Cornwall to Cornwall Bridge along the winding Housatonic is always a scenic joy. But on a sunny day and after a heavy rainfall, when the river is swollen and moving swiftly and light dances exuberantly on its wavelets, it is almost heavenly. All it takes is the sighting of a fly fisherman casting his line to seal the deal.

From Cornwall Bridge we continue south to South Kent without stopping. There we deliver a small bundle of Lakeville Journals to the Bulls Bridge Country Store, a small family-run grocery that caters to hikers from the Appalachian Trail. Aku, the proprietor, originally from Gujarat, India, always greets us enthusiastically. When we first met her she was reserved and reticent, but now words pour forth from her to us in a torrent. I like to poke fun at her but she gives as good as she gets.

Ordinarily, we advance along our circuit path without backtracking. However, the stretch between Cornwall Bridge and South Kent is an exception to this rule. We drive it in both directions. So, after finishing with Bulls Bridge Market we do a U-turn and drive north to Kent.

In Kent our first stop is at Kent Convenience, a filling station/convenience store situated at the major intersection in the middle of town, across from the monument to the Civil War. Lately, I’ve been invited to a couple of free coffees by Romial, one of two Sri Lankans who work there, and this time is no different. It’s a nice gesture, of course, but I don’t want him to think it’s necessary. “I appreciate your generosity,” I say to him, “but please don’t let me become an imposition.”

“No worries,” he smiles. But as he does, Arvind, the other Sri Lankan and manager, sticks in his head and interjects in deadpan: “You became an imposition long ago!” I roll my eyes. Ever since I bet him one penny that Argentina would win the World Cup and won, he looks for every opportunity to get even with a good-natured dig.

North of Kent, in the small town of Cornwall, we stop at the post office staffed by a solitary postal worker. She and I have developed a greeting ritual. As I pass through the vestibule, I call out her name — Vic-to-ria-aaaa!!!! — and as I come into her area she calls out mine — Geo-ffreeey!!!! It’s silly but we both get a kick out of it. It started when we wanted to remember each other’s name. And then it took on a life of its own. The funny thing is, now that I know her better, I know that she’d rather be called Tory.

Names are interesting. You can’t say enough about the value of learning someone’s name. Arguably, learning a person’s name is the first step to building any kind of a relationship.

Speaking of names, I have to say a word about Kumal, one of the cashiers at the Shell station/convenience store in Winsted, Connecticut, where we stop much later in our Thursday run.

Hailing from Hyderabad in northwestern India, Kumal is a hulking and intimidating man the size of an NFL offensive lineman. I remember the first time I met him. I was counting newspaper returns and he calls to me from across the store in heavily accented English: “Business is good!?”

I didn’t know what he meant, as we’d only sold a few papers that week and he must have known that — but I dared not challenge him. As I walked to the counter to submit my invoice, he repeated himself, “Business is good!?” I smiled and shrugged my shoulders and gave him the invoice to sign and pay. Now that I know him a little better, I know that this is just one of his stock, tongue-in-cheek questions, designed to keep me on my toes and get a reaction.

Because we travel across such a broad expanse of rural geography, past farmland and woodland, there can be a long drive between stops.

On Wednesday the average distance between stops is 2.5 miles; on Thursday it is 6 miles. The three of us as drivers — Adam Williams, Brian and I — have become quite adept at filling in the time during those intervals, Usually with a podcast or a playlist and sometimes with a bite to eat. All of us try to bring if not a packed lunch then snacks that we can nibble on throughout the day.

In the two years that I’ve been driving there have been no major mishaps.

No accidents, no flat tires, no getting locked out of the van with the engine running, but there have been a few close calls. The greatest danger seems to be vehicles that pull out in front of you at the last moment, often without looking. This seems to happen with increasing frequency.

You’d think that spending 6 to 8 hours in a small van with a fellow driver week after week would be a challenging experience. And I’d be lying to say that we haven’t had our moments. But all in all, despite differences in age, background and personality, we enjoy each other’s company and end each workday tired but in good humor. What matters most, I think, is that we appreciate our job, relish the opportunity to drive across such lovely countryside, and look for ways to keep it interesting. And it doesn’t hurt that we are open, flexible and easy going. Or that each of us likes to share stories, learn about new things and try to solve the problems of the world.

On Thursday, the day ends — as does the week — with a stop at Farmer’s Wife, a cozy country restaurant and specialty deli with only a few tables, in Ancramdale. It’s always tricky getting there before the restaurant’s 3 p.m. closing. But even when we’re a little late, Lisa and her team are often still there, cleaning up or preparing food for a catered event. Lisa has a buoyant personality and, no matter how hard her day, always remains upbeat. I can expect a warm greeting from her when I arrive. I can also expect a little ribbing: “I hope you have change today!” she’ll joke, as she reaches into her cash register drawer to pay me, knowing that I hardly ever carry change. Truth is, apart from an instance or two, I never need it.

So, as you can see, the life of a driver, lived every Wednesday and Thursday, is richer than you probably imagined. Yes, our primary function, our reason for being, is to deliver each week’s newspapers to post offices and retail account locations quickly and efficiently. And yes, much of what we do is load and unload, stop and go, say hello and say goodbye. But would you have guessed how much fun we had in the process? How many interesting places and beautiful faces we came across? How we were able to make a potentially mindless job into an intellectually stimulating and socially rewarding one?

It’s another Wednesday morning. The truck from the printer pulls into the driveway at The Lakeville Journal and Millerton News offices in Falls Village, with Lenny at the wheel, and I rush to open the storage garage door for him.

When he’s backed up to within feet of it he stops and emerges from the cab. No matter what the temperature, hot or cold, Lenny is always dressed in shorts, sneakers and sunglasses, and today is no exception.

Lenny lowers the truck’s lift gate and unfolds its platform extension so that it almost touches the edge of the garage floor. “You sure that’s going to do it?” I ask, just to get a rise out of him. Lenny then presses a button that drops the platform flush to the floor, chuckling as he does. As I maneuver a skid jack into place to receive the first newspapers, I think to myself, I’ll miss that big hair and full-faced beard big time when he transfers to the night shift.

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