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The Paper Route Empire

By Denis Wood

In 1956, when I was living on Overlook Road in Cleveland Heights, the Plain Dealer’s District 9 manager offered me and my brother Chris a paper route. I think it was Route 11, but I was to have a lot of routes over the years. In any case it was just one building, 2489 Overlook, across the street from us and four buildings to the south.

After a while Chris got another route and I took over 2489 by myself. The building had just shy of 60 units and more than half of them took the paper. So, though it was a decent size route, I could deliver it in no time, and when my manager offered me a second route, I took it. And when he offered me a third, I took that too. Pretty soon I had a paper route empire. And if, like most empires, its borders shifted with time and circumstances, for a good many years–through my second year at Western Reserve University–I had well over 200 customers.

WHERE WE ARE, PUBLISHED BY VISUAL EDITIONS 2013 — draft, confidential 92

From Where We Are, published by Visual Editions, 2013.

In 1967 I started graduate school in geography. New worlds of thinking opened up for me then, one of which I started playing around in by thinking about the neighborhood I’d just left behind in Cleveland Heights. What set me off was J. K. Wright’s idea of geosophy: “the study of geographical knowledge from any and all points of view.” “It covers,” Wright wrote, “the geographical ideas, both true and false, of all manner of people–not only geographers, but farmers and fishermen, business executives and poets, novelists and painters, Bedouins and Hottentots–and for this reason it necessarily has to do in large degree with subjective conceptions. Indeed, even those parts of it that deal with scientific geography must reckon with human desires, motives, and prejudices.”

map2Sitting there in Clark’s geography workroom, I made a bunch of maps of my paper routes. Really they were maps of memories. The first three were attempts to map the memories of my earliest impressions: the apartment building, its driveway, the garage and backyard, the walk to the sidewalk and street, the facades of the apartment buildings we could see, a playground.

And then I made a map to update the map of my first impressions. I called this “Second State Overlook” because, of course, Overlook was the name of the road our apartment was on, though I guess it was the name of the neighborhood too. This map tried to discriminate places where I felt really at ease from those where I didn’t, either because we could be hassled by janitors or because I was plain intimidated. I was mapping a bigger area now. I made a lot of maps.

 

*****

WHERE WE ARE, PUBLISHED BY VISUAL EDITIONS 2013 — draft, confidential 93

From Where We Are, Visual Editions, 2013

In 1974, I started teaching in the landscape architecture program at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, and in 1976, casting around for a project to sink my teeth into, the sketchbook popped into my head. I took a look at the maps I’d made in 1967 and found them less interesting than I’d remembered. I sketched another map. It was about my paper route empire, too, and, when I started it, all I intended was to sort of reproduce one of the maps I’d made in 1967.

map4Here is how to read it. From left to right: number I, a bunch of apartments–more than shown here–that my brother Peter had carried for a little while and that later Chris Bellamy did; II, double hatched with a star, 2489, to which for a while Lewis Manor was added (to lessen the burden on the kid handling the rest of the route north of it); III, a really strange route that looks sensible on the map but less so on the ground that my friend Stuart Schaffner had carried; IV, my second route, which for some reason I drew smaller than it was (it actually went all the way to Hampshire). Finally, east of Overlook, there was V, Stuart’s core route, one he had for years with adoring customers who took a while to warm to me. I left out one I had for a short time. It made my empire too hard to deliver and, frankly, I never cared for the buildings or the people who lived in them. (Though Robert Crumb may have lived in one for a while during the years I had the route. Or maybe he lived around the corner on Hampshire where Harvey Pekar lived.)

WHERE WE ARE, PUBLISHED BY VISUAL EDITIONS 2013 — draft, confidential 94

  From Where We Are, Visual Editions, 2013.

If the maps I’d drawn back in 1967 had been about how the Cleveland Heights I knew was growing larger and larger, this 1976 map of my routes was more about how it was getting deeper and deeper. I didn’t just know where these buildings were, I knew in my feet the number of steps in each flight of stairs, the handholds, where I’d have to stand to toss the paper onto a door mat without leaving the stair, the smells of the hallways, how to get a locked lobby door to open by yanking hard on the outer door and getting across the lobby fast enough to grab the inner door before it clicked shut again after it popped.

But history too, not only of the buildings, but of the routes, the carriers. For example Chris Bellamy – and his brother John carried the route for a while too –, it wasn’t just that his father wrote for the very paper we delivered but that his grandfather had edited it for 26 years. I mean …

And when I understood that that grandfather was the son of the Edward Bellamy who’d written Looking Backward–that utopian socialist novel!–it just picked the whole paper route thing up and whirled it into, I don’t know, into world history.

*****

I loved delivering the paper, the city with no people, the dawn, getting it done efficiently, the intimacy of the knowledge. But this historical dimension, it put a patina on the shine.

And with a little of the freshness rubbed off, it was suddenly obvious that every bit of it was caught up in world history, in the history of the world: the newspapers to begin with, and child labor, newsboys, routes, the asphalt, the bricks in the walls and the idea of apartment buildings, central heat, streetcar suburbs. The road was called Overlook because from it you could look out of the Heights to the lake, to downtown Cleveland; and you could stand there when you’d finished your route on a driveway that was cantilevered out along the side of the northernmost building of route No. I and watch the rising sun light up the Terminal Tower six miles away. The spreading light connected everything, not just in space but in time.

And then you’d go home and have breakfast.

*****

I wrote all this up and sent a copy along with the 1976 map to my brother Chris, and John Bellamy, and Mouse, who used to sub for me when I was out of town. A couple of days later Chris sent me an email:

“Memory is a funny thing. For example, I remember riding in the back of the moving van, but I don’t remember the dusting of snow or any details of how we actually moved our stuff into the apartment. Then you say “after a while Chris got another route and I took over 2489 by myself.” That’s completely crazy. I remember delivering Lewis Manor only a few times and have no memory of ever collecting it. I know I did 2489 without you. I remember the whole routine, picking up the bundle and carrying it to the side door, entering through the basement, sitting on the back stairs reading the comics and sports before delivering, running the stairs, and tossing the papers. You are nowhere in those memories. And I remember the misery of collecting by myself on a summer evening when the playground and courts were full of activity. What I don’t remember is how you collected all those routes for all those years. And did you have keys to those apartments on Overlook or did you deliver on the fire escapes? When Susan and I had the route on Euclid Heights Boulevard many years later, we had keys to all the apartments and delivered to the front doors. What amazes me is how little I know about what you and Peter [our younger brother] did during those years on Meadowbrook [where we’d moved after three years on Overlook]. We were close in age but we went our separate ways. We each had friends and particular interests which absorbed us. And then you had those paper routes.”

I was sort of stunned by this. Mostly it was the way the certainty, the sharp clarity of my past was questioned–denied is how it felt–but it was also Chris’ interposition of memory as, I’m not quite sure what, an important term in the equation?

*****

My response to Chris’ email was more definitive than I now feel I had a right to be. “Wonderful!” I wrote. “But I think you’re right and I think I know what happened. We originally carried the route together (we were too young to have a route alone?), but soon enough it was obvious that that was ridiculous. So you kept 2489 while I went on to the route Duncan lived on [No. IV on my 1976 map]. Then when you gave 2489 up, I carried both routes. You did carry 2489 by yourself, no question.”

I went on: “I had no keys. You could get into all the buildings without them. For example, 2489, you went down the driveway, raised the garage door (it wasn’t keyed in those days) and went down into the garage and so up. You opened the door outside of which you’d left your bundle. Or from the courtyard you could pop the inner lobby door by jerking on the outer lobby door. It would pop the lock. Later you could do that on the front door. But many apartments I did deliver on the fire escapes. Besides, everything wasn’t locked up then like it is now. It took me five hours Monday night, three on Tuesday, and some mop-up time on Wednesday to collect. Yeah, we didn’t do a lot together on Meadowbrook. I sent Mouse a copy of this too. He had a Press route so it was wholly different, but he subbed for me often enough. He remembered rushing through his route to get to the basketball games at the Courts. I’ve asked him to think about making a map. John Bellamy too. Maybe you’d like to. It could be interesting.”

An example of the definitiveness to which I had no right is my, “You could get into all the buildings without them,” referring to keys. It’s true that some of the apartments locked today weren’t then, but every route I ever carried had buildings whose outer doors were locked. You not only left the papers at the kitchen door, that’s where you collected.

Now, Mouse had a Cleveland Press route. Growing up I understood the Press to be more liberal than the Plain Dealer–one of my uncles, Julian Krawcheck, wrote a column for it–but the real difference was that the Press (and the Cleveland News) came out weekday afternoons, while the Plain Dealer came out every day in the morning. That every day included Sunday, which was a huge paper you had to assemble (I got the parts for it on Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays). Sunday accounted for two-fifths of my income. Not only did the Sunday paper make you $.06 a copy as opposed to $.02 for the daily paper, but more people took it. I’d guess a fifth of my customers were Sunday, or Saturday and Sunday only. So the thing was, since Mouse delivered his own route in the afternoon, he could sub for me in the mornings when I was sick or out of town:

“When I subbed on your route, I recall only the Lewis Manor. My map of the Overlook neighborhood would be a bit different, of course. My Cleveland Press route covered much of the same territory, extending further west where side-by-side duplexes overlooked the city below and as far as the confluence of Overlook with Edgehill and Murray Hill. I would include the “wire tree” where I tossed the paper-bundle binding-wires from the driveway overhanging Little Italy. And instead of going home to breakfast, I would hurry to finish so I could get to the basketball courts.”

Like me, Mouse went on to get a doctorate in geography, but he’s a GIS Professional (and the Director of the Northern Ohio Data and Information Service at Cleveland State University) and so the map he’s made of his route is a little different from mine. As Chris raised memory as a term, Mouse raised the map as another. So did John Bellamy, John Stark Bellamy II, that is. John, who lives in Vermont these days, has been called “Cleveland’s literary dean of all things calamitous and macabre” thanks to the many books he’s written about Cleveland disasters. John wrote me:

“I’m not a map maker but, as I recall, my first paper route, which I inherited from my brother Stephen, was on the north side of Euclid Heights Boulevard, from where the tot lot is at the corner of Euclid Heights and Hampshire (the adjoining apartment building is where Harvey Pekar lived for some time) up to about halfway up the block, which is where my brother’s subsequent route ran up to Lancashire. I later had a route which included Edgehill from Euclid Heights thru Kenilworth to Overlook, down Derbyshire and Kenilworth Lane and then back down Kenilworth to Edgehill, plus Euclid Heights from Edgehill to Derbyshire. Chris’s route on Overlook ran from somewhere across from the playground and took in Overlook all the way down to the top of Cedar Hill and then back up Euclid Heights to Derbyshire. It also included Carleton, at least until CWRU demolished it in the mid-60s. I could walk these routes in my sleep and probably did.”

The Chris here is John’s brother Chris, not mine; while CWRU is Case-Western Reserve University, mostly down the hill in Cleveland. At the time it was two separate universities and I was attending the latter.

I said that John’s maps raise maps as a term, but in fact they raise maps as a problem./em> The problem is the base map.

The base map is from 1903, and a projection of a future that Patrick Calhoun, the subdivision’s developer, hoped to bring about, so it’s of potential lots, of a dream, not of an actual city. In 1903, few of the lots had been occupied and few of the roads improved. Many were no more than intentions. As built, Surrey Road is barely in the vicinity of that given on the map, and as John’s caption points out, Kenilworth is shown slicing across William Lowe Rice’s Lowe Ridge estate, but Lowe Ridge had been completed six years earlier in 1897. And Carleton Road is not on the map not just because it’s in Cleveland, but because in 1903 it had yet to exist.

In case you needed reminding, the map ain’t the territory.

*****

Shortly after these exchanges we made a long-planned trip to Cleveland to visit my brother and his family, a trip that turned out to coincide with a trip John was making back to Cleveland for a book signing, and we were able to meet one morning and walk his routes. John might not be a map maker, but he has a prodigious memory, especially on site.

First we walked his first route, east on Euclid Heights Boulevard along the backs of the apartment buildings where the back stairs–the fire escapes—were, and then, on the other side of the street, back west from the front of one house after another. This amounted to a third version of John’s route. And then we walked his last route, north on Edgehill from Euclid Heights to Derbyshire and so up Derbyshire and Kenilworth Lane to return back down Kenilworth to Edgehill.

As we walked, John not only named the girls who lived in each house, but narrated one local horror story after another, especially murders; for example, the 1910 murder on Euclid Heights Boulevard of William Lowe Rice whose mansion, stables, and gardens–Lowe Ridge–lay between John’s route and his brother Chris’s. Lowe Ridge had been an estate whose ruins tantalized me and my brothers when we first stumbled onto them shortly after we moved to Overlook. This is me in 1967 recalling a walk we took in 1956:

“We didn’t know it was the Rice Estate at the time. It was a Saturday. Most serious exploring does take place on Saturdays, it seems, and, as a matter of fact, we were out exploring. It was fall and we were collecting buckeyes and in our quest we wandered down Kenilworth Lane. At the end of the lane, there was an old rusted wrought-iron gateway but minus a lot of the fence for which it had once been the gate. With some difficulty (and much heated discussion) we made out a rather ornate R above the gate. Beyond it lay an impenetrable gloom of trees. By this time all thought of buckeyes had vanished, replaced and chased away by the lure of exploring. The woods were filled with marvelous things like flights of stone steps that stopped in the air, like ornate garden plots, like lone pillars, like fallen capitals. For a brief second we entertained thoughts that we were the first to have discovered ruins of great antiquity, but we were too sophisticated to be able to believe that for long. Then we saw, in the middle of a woods on a gray fall day, a ruined gothic chapel with blood red floor tiles and fallen gargoyles and a sunken green leading away from it, terminating in a slight wall topped with a line of pillars standing out above the trees and then, down a gravel walk, the foundations of the old house, huge, and still further the old stables with real cock weathervanes turning with the wind.”

I recalled this experience to John as we stood in front of what had once been the gate. He’d had a similar experience, even to the chapel. But though it did have stables, Lowe Ridge had boasted no chapel. Elaborate gardens had surrounded the mansion. Period photographs suggest that what we’d stumbled on had been a sweeping pergola.

John recounted Rice’s murder–he writes about it in They Died Crawling and Other Tales of Cleveland Woe–as we walked past Waldorf Towers and then passed the architect Philip Johnson’s boyhood home and then passed … but the reality was that in 1910 this hadn’t been Overlook Road but “The Overlook.” It was lined with the mansions of Cleveland’s gilded millionaires, a number of the old mansions still stand, I’d known them–without really knowing them – most of my youth, and in his youth John had actually delivered paper–to a number of them. The apartment buildings of my Overlook came after the collapse of Patrick Calhoun’s fortunes and the transformation of Calhoun’s vision of a new “millionaires row” into one of lesser ambition, homes rather than mansions, and following World War I, ranks of apartment buildings.

Layers on top of layers…

*****

The paper routes got entangled in our lives, in the emotional lives of who were, after all, almost invariably teenage boys, teenage boys growing up in the 1960s, if that matters. I think it does–it must–but how much of any of this can I squeeze onto a map?

Mouse and his wife were to join us for dinner, four former carriers at table–for Susan had helped Chris deliver later what years before had been John’s first route–and the brief time we spent talking about our routes was all about Lewis Manor.

Lewis Manor? The thing is, it wasn’t clear what we were using the name to refer to. It’s on my 1976 map, Chris mentions it as a building he delivered only a few times (but why does he say that?), and for Mouse it’s the only thing of mine he remembers delivering at all. I think Mouse is confusing it with 2489 and I think Chris delivered it subbing for our brother Peter. I mean, it was on one of my routes at the end, and the building is joined to 2489 at the back of a courtyard the two form.

But you can’t get from the one to the other without going outside, and the fact that they’re currently managed by the same company is neither here nor there. But if a detail this small can be sliced so many ways, how many maps will it take to do all our routes?

Denis Wood’s essay is an extract from Where You Are: A Book of Maps (Visual Editions, http://www.visual-editions.com/). The free, interactive digital book is available at where-you-are.com . A documentary (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Denis-Wood-Documentary/1426943070864775) about map-maker Denis Wood is forthcoming.

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3 Comment responses

  1. Avatar
    November 11, 2013

    Yes, Denis, the older I get, the more examples I find of my memory being a crude approximation of the truth. And recent behavioral science studies also show that memory is not simply a “retrieval” function…but that we recreate the past for ourselves based on current needs, perceptions, & feelings. Hard to imagine that our CONCRETE RECOLLECTIONS are simply made up….but it seems to be the case. Great article!

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  2. Avatar
    November 13, 2013

    My memory might be a bit fuzzy, but I think I recall reading in American Splendor that Robert Crumb lived near Harvey Pekar in the early 60s around Euclid/E. 107th (the former Doan’s Corners neighborhood), not in Cleveland Heights.

    http://ech.case.edu/cgi/article.pl?id=DC2

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  3. Avatar
    November 14, 2013

    I read your article with my own far off memories of Lewis Manor-in the 60′s and 70′s. My grandmother lived there and I got bundled up and delivered there every Saturday. I remember that playground across the street-wonderful sandbox for a 4 year old! My memories connected Lewis Manor moved eastward towards Little Italy-which was, in my mind as a child, always blue skied and sunny (of course-you only took your grandchild out for a walk on good weather days!) Thank you for sharing your memories and maps. Your mapping is a wonderful way of bringing yourself back in time!

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