Last week I wrote about the ice cream trucks of our youth and received quite a response. One of my readers reminded me of other things that used to be sold door-to-door. The change in the economy driven by the price of gasoline has made it where it just isn’t feasible to sell door-to-door anymore. Another driving factor is that in many households, there is no one around during the day to answer the door. You must have a customer if you are going to sell. The day of the door-to-door salesperson is definitely back in our past. Do you remember them?
The Encyclopedia salesmen; they went around door to door selling subscriptions that were set up so that you got a new book every month. I remember when Mom decided that we needed an encyclopedia in the house. When that monthly installment arrived, I would grab it and look at each and every page from cover to cover. Well, at least at first, I did that. Eventually the novelty wore off, somewhere near the "O" or "P" volume. As high school students, the encyclopedia got lots of use as the four of us kids wrote the obligatory term papers. It was a little strange to see the complete set when I would be back home later in life and notice that the books that contained the latter part of the alphabet looked less used than those for the earlier letters.
The Insurance Salesmen; these road warriors were assigned districts that were called debits. For several years, my father sold insurance door-to-door. When he first started, his debit was in one of the poorer parts of town and it was difficult for him to sell, but he met some interesting people. I remember him telling us that he just sold a policy to Hank Aaron’s mother, who still lived in the house where she raised the baseball star. But overall it was a difficult sell in those neighborhoods. As he gained experience, they moved his debit to a more affluent neighborhood and he began to make some real money. I don’t think I could ever be a door-to-door salesman. I remember trying to sell raffle tickets door-to-door for church and for me it was a totally demoralizing experience. I learned early in life that door-to-door salesmen had a rough row to plow.
The Fuller Brush Salesman; this intrepid salesman lugged a suitcase full of personal care and household cleaning brushes. If he called when I was at home, I would always enjoy seeing his assortment of brushes and products. During the time that I was at home, the company was aggressively marketing its domestic line that was being revamped because during WWII the company cut its normal civilian output drastically to make brushes for the cleaning of guns. The company’s male force of brush salesmen were augmented by the “Fullerettes” selling Daggett & Ramsdell, Inc.'s Debutante Cosmetics house-to-house. A few of the Fullerettes called in my day, Mom enjoyed them more than I did.
The milkman; these guys ran routes and sold and delivered milk much the same way that newspapers are delivered today. They would rise early in the morning and deliver fresh milk in glass bottles to the doorstep before dawn every morning. During the day, they would roam the neighborhood selling their service to new customers and collecting payments for the milk delivered the previous week. I guess that part of their jobs is what created all those old milk man jokes. I can remember that the milk of the day was pasteurized but not homogenized the way today’s milk is. The cream rose to the top of the milk and formed a two to three inch layer that could be easily seen through the glass of the bottle. I remember forgetting the shake the milk bottle one time before pouring a glass. I can tell you that drinking pure cream when expecting milk was not a pleasant experience.
One of those old door-to-door delivery mechanisms has survived the changes to the economy, the paper route! Back in the day, there were two kinds of paper boys, those who were street side vendors and those who ran routes. During my school years, I had three routes; one for the afternoon paper that I ran after school and two for the morning paper. I remember waiting on the sidewalk outside Mr. Griffin’s Barber Shop on San Juan with the other paperboys and my friend Chuck Datres who was a street side vendor on the corner of San Juan and Blanding. While waiting, I would always check in with Mr. Griffin who lived across the street from us and was our barber. Did I mention that his daughter, Linda was really cute? That fact and the fact that I was a red-blooded American boy meant that I always wanted to stay on his good side. When the papers were delivered by the route manager, we would quickly fold the papers and secure them with rubber bands then hurry off to our routes. My route was between the drop point and my house so it was all a one way trip.
When I was a bit older, I switched to the more lucrative morning route for a few months before giving the route up to work for Mr. Roberts who ran one of the first motor routes. These motor routes typically had 500 to 1000 customers as opposed to the bicycle routes that had 100 to 150 customers max. I loved the solitude of the early morning deliveries in the quiet darkness with no hustle and bustle and no traffic except for the occasional encounter with the cop driving his beat or the milkman carrying his bottles to the doorstep in his wire basket. I can still hear the tiny clink-clink of the bottles. There was no other sound quite like that, and I don’t think there ever will be again. Oh MY!