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Posted: January 5, 2009 5:00 a.m.

Wild weather dampens papers, spirits

I know we need the rain and everyone is grateful for the recent heavy rains including me, but the cold I'm not so sure of.

I can't help remembering my old circulation days and the havoc that rain caused the carriers.

There were many times when papers were served when the sun was out or the stars were as clear as a sparkling brook, and as soon as they were delivered, bam, horrific black storm clouds would appear and pour out their contents on everyone's evening or morning paper. Of course to our subscribers, God had nothing to with that; it was always the carriers' fault.

Once, in California after my carriers had delivered 30,000 weekly newspapers without bags, a torrential rain storm hit, which caused me to have to print 30,000 more papers and deliver them the next day. Some of the calls I got were in the typical California laid back fashion. One lady was upset because she had nothing to put in her bird cage, another told me that he was concerned because his puppy had no place to relieve himself. Another told me she was glad to get a break from my tirades. One lady said she hung hers on the clothesline. They came in all day in similar fashion. From that point on, never did I have papers delivered without bags. I told my carriers that if even people were sunbathing beside the road to still put bags on the papers. Thinking about those days brought to mind a particularly bad weather occasion in, of all places, North Carolina. I hope you enjoy.

I spent 18 years of my long, illustrious newspaper career in circulation. During that period of time, I hated any weather except weather featuring sunny, clear days and starry nights.

In the South, there's never a guarantee of good circulation weather because at 1 p.m. you could be looking at bright blue skies, 80-degree temperatures and white fluffy clouds, and at 3 p.m. there could be a rain storm dropping 2 inches of rain in 15 minutes.

Then after the storm, it would be clear skies and 80 degrees with humidity so high you could swim home.
In the meantime, half the afternoon distribution would be completely wet.

It wasn't the carriers' fault, or ours, and surely I don't want to blame God.

I would receive some of the nastiest calls during those times, especially from some of our "mature" folks telling me how rotten the carrier was, how stupid I was and that the paper itself wasn't worth squat. I always took that in stride because at least it proved that folks needed and depended on their daily paper.

I remember one time in Elizabeth City, N.C., it snowed more than 40 inches in two days. Since it rarely ever snowed in northeastern North Carolina, there was only one snow plow in the area and it had to cover nine counties; it took about a week to make roads passable.

We actually printed the paper every day, and to this day I still don't know why, but I tried with my trusty crew of one to at least serve papers in the city, with no hope to deliver papers to the rural areas.

We loaded up the company truck with newspaper rolls for weight, and each day we served a little more of the papers around the city.

To tell you the truth, I was quite proud of myself, because the U.S. mail did not deliver for about six days.
About the fourth day of my great effort I received a phone call at the office. I answered with great enthusiasm, "T. Pat Cavanaugh, circulation manager. I hope you are having a great day."

There was a pause and an elderly lady said, "Hell no, I am not having a good day, and I don't appreciate you trying to make me have one. Do you have that straight?"
As my bubble burst, I answered meekly, "Yes, ma'am."
"Now, are you the little fat boy I see in the paper who is always doing something with the Jaycees?"

"Yes ma'am, I am," I said. "But I'm not quite that fat. You know how pictures make you look a little chunkier."

"Well," she said, "maybe if you spent less time with the Jaycees and more time doing your job, you would not only be not so ‘chunky,' but I would have a paper right now."

Humility is a hard pill to swallow. But, she had a point.

I actually had to walk about five blocks through snowdrifts to find her house; I asked her why if she hadn't got her mail or gotten out of the house herself that she thought she was entitled to get her paper. She told me that the paper had been her rock for 50 years and when she couldn't get it, it was like not being able to see a child. Wow, all of a sudden, I remembered why I also loved the newspaper business. Because a newspaper, to me, was always like a living, breathing person. I actually had a little tear.

Later, she actually became a good friend who always gave me good advice, and boy could she fix the best collards and ham. I made sure she got a paper every day from that point on, rain or shine, and it was never wet because it was delivered directly to her kitchen.

T. Pat Cavanaugh is the general manager of The Covington News. He may be reached at pcavanaugh@covnews.com.


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