|1958 Joe Cottonwood, paper boy|
Twice I had a paper route when I was growing up in the D.C. suburbs. This was in the late 1950s. First I had a morning route delivering the Washington Post, and later I had an afternoon route delivering the Washington Star.
It gives you perspective, tossing papers to a front porch in the dark of morning on a snowy day. It gives you perspective, seeing the senator from Minnesota come out in his bathrobe to pick it up.
They're just people. Politicians, yes, but still they were people and they knew, most of them, how to get along with other people. The best tipper was a lobbyist. The worst was a member of the President's cabinet. The scariest was a general.
Snowy days, sometimes my best friend and I would knock on doors, offering to shovel sidewalks for a buck or two. It was probably the hardest I ever worked, but the money came fast. One man invited us inside for a cup of hot cider, and then he wanted us to watch his model trains, but the vibe was creepy and we got the hell out of there.
Fifty years ago I saw a congressman painting his own garage. I saw a member of the President's cabinet wearing plaid shorts and a T shirt in his yard raking leaves, and when he bent over I saw his butt crack.
Never, in those days, would a member of Congress have shouted at a President, "You lie!" I had an extremely low opinion of President Eisenhower (much higher in retrospect), but I would never have shown any disrespect in his presence. You just didn't do that. The White House wasn't on my paper route, but some big white houses were. People lived there. They had dogs and kids and smelly garbage cans. Just like the rest of the world.
Barack Obama could not have lived on my paper route back then. No black people could. It just wasn't allowed. My parents, and a few others, would have welcomed a black family, but we were in the minority.
In some ways, the world is better now. In other ways, meaner. Today I'm voting for Barack Obama. Again. Welcome to the neighborhood.