Minutes of Separation|
Out in Austin
and Thinking Inside the Box
Newspaper Rack Stories "When
you see an empty newspaper rack – someone is not doing their job."
By Luke Warm
noon in a small Texas town. I can’t mention the name but it rhymes with “La Grange.”
man goes to the Austin Statesman rack in front of his grocery. The rack is empty.
“Wow, the man thinks to himself, they sold out already!”
The next day
he does to the rack at 10 a.m. once again it is empty. “I had no idea there were
so many people in this town who wanted the Austin
paper,” he mused.
The next day he arrived at 8:30 and again they were sold
think that if the Statesman was doing this well with every rack it has, it would
be in great financial shape. Ad men could boast of their sold-out stands, enticing
|I mentioned this story
to a friend who said that he had once filled newspaper racks in Austin
in the early 1980s. He said that he was once told by his boss: “If you come to
refill a rack and it is empty - you aren’t doing your job. It means at least one
customer went away without a paper - probably many more.”|
After he described
his boss as a youngish farmer in his mid 30s who took the job to supplement his
income, he then finished the story with the boss’ explanation: “The ideal situation
is to come to a rack with one paper left. That is how you determine how many papers
to place in each rack. You’ll learn that the one at the HEB is a 40-paper rack
and the one at the convenience store is an 18-paper rack. It becomes a game and
you’ll enjoy seeing how close you can come.”
My friend turned out quite
well (thanks for asking) but I can’t help but be curious about the farmer / paper
route manager. Did his astute reasoning pay off in other ways on his farm?
probably never know. But now you know that when you see an empty newspaper rack
– someone is not doing their job.
Rack and (Potential)
Ruin Who knew there
were so many newspaper rack stories?
This story took place in the 1970s
in rural Texas long before cell phones. Back before
people needed to know “what are you eating now?” No, these calls were more urgent
– more of the “Yeah, honey, I know, but just come pick me up…” variety.
It happened in a one-store town between San
Antonio and Houston. Slightly closer
to Houston, if you must know. The store
was one of those once-common hybrid bar/ store/ pool hall / gas station / petting
zoo / Mexican import stores – the kind you only see in movies today.
proprietor of this business was notoriously cheap. He was honest-as-the-day-is-long
– just cheap. Any service he provided came at a cost. He was thrilled the day
that someone invented the coin-operated compressed air hose. Restroom use was
free – but you could see that that “Bill” was working on that.
company had recently decided that the pay phone out in front of Bill’s store wasn’t
generating enough income to justify the expense of sending a collector, so they
removed it. One day it was there – the next day it was gone.
had a private phone behind the bar and everyone knew it. Deprived of the pay phone,
they started asking Bill if they could use his phone. It irked Bill to no end
that suddenly everyone’s phone use became urgent.
Each request required
him to lift the phone from under the bar and replace it after the call was completed.
He got a lot of thanks and “much obliged” – but in Bill’s mercenary mind a phone
call was worth a quarter and he wasn’t getting it.
After a few weeks of
placing the phone on the bar to his patron’s increasingly-sweet requests, the
pool sharks started noticing the phone was being placed on the bar with such force
that the needle on the jukebox would sometimes become un-grooved.
slow morning when there wasn’t a customer in sight, the newspaper man came to
fill his lone rack. A light bulb went off over Bill’s head that would’ve made
any cartoonist proud to have drawn it. It was a 75-watter.
the newspaper man a free cold drink - something he had never done before. If someone
had been observing the two – they would’ve seen Bill pull a few moth-eaten bills
from his billfold and hand it to the newspaper vendor, followed by a firm handshake.
The next evening at 6:30, one of the regulars asked Bill if he could use his phone.
The pool sharks instinctively reached out to hold the billiard balls in place,
but instead of reaching under the bar – Bill smiled and stretched his neck in
the direction of the end of the bar where stood a (slightly dented and paint-chipped)
newspaper rack – with Bill’s well-used phone inside.
Minutes of Separation"
September 8, 2010 column
© John Troesser