Derek Johnson Muses

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How Much Irrelevance Do You Need? Distributing Phone Books.

Yup. I’m responsible.

In the two and a half years between my college graduation and my starting work for my dad, I work a number of temp jobs to get by. Of all those jobs, distributing phone books was one of the most interesting ones. Even though the jobs never lasted long and were tedious and physically draining, I somehow kept doing it. Maybe I am crazy.

I have done about seven or eight distributions, for all of the major companies like Windstream and Yellowbook. They all worked the same-you showed up to a warehouse in northern industrial Lincoln, sat through a boring orientation video, filled out the paperwork, and loaded your car with books. The routes were all based on postal routes. The workers was supposed to be able to walk a route in a single day, but they would always give us three to accommodate for the work of bagging the phone books. Plus, we had to go into businesses and them how many phone books they needed, so that took extra time.

That was the most taxing and somewhat embarrassing part of the whole job, walking into a business and in essence saying, “How many of these irrelevant books are you willing to take off my hands. At times it would be great, because you could dump twenty in a single office building. I once passed off six at a a pizza delivery place (multiple lines for people to call in). At other times, it wasn’t as great, and you’d get pushed out by the receptionist, which you couldn’t blame her for. I was, after all, giving them several pounds of information they could just as easily find online.

It was best to go about the distributing in the morning after eight, when people were at work and couldn’t say no and traffic in the neighborhoods was light. There was one instance where I was in north Lincoln, and it was before eight, and I was working my way down the block toward this one house where a woman was puttering around her car, getting ready to leave for work. I mentally prepared myself for approaching her, knowing that there was a chance she could say no to the phone book. I walked up and handed her the book. She made some remark about just getting another book, and I said I didn’t know anything about it. I started walking away and was to the end of the lane when the woman said, “You know, I really don’t need this.” So close.

The rate was five cents per book, twelve cents per stop (a single house counted as a stop). I received a raise of one cent per stop for every route I completed. Yes, it was a bit petty to be mad at that woman who didn’t want her book, but you don’t think about that at the time. You just know the more book I dump, the more I get paid.

That said, there were some people, none I knew personally, who would put two books in a bag and deliver them to the same house, using more book and getting paid more. This was a bad idea for both them and the other distributors like me who did it the right way. First, the extra five cents they made was used up in the time in effort to bag the books and carry the heavier bags. Second, because of this, I had people coming up to me and screaming, “Please don’t leave more than one phone book!”

I got it, though. The internet has more or less made phone books irrelevant. (Also the reason some of the distributors cut the size of their books in half.) But I still did the work because it was work and I needed the work.

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