Opinion

A salute to newspaper carriers past and present

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Since the first day readers met Kim Nichols, e-mails and personal comments have flowed. He?s The Examiner hawker earning the title of Mayor of President and Fayette streets.

Every morning at 5:30, he gives newspapers to 900 to 1,000 readers. Many relish his cheerfulness and hustle as he wends his way through the stopped traffic. The Examiner pays him, but he also earns tips for his eager, smiling service.

Kim hails from the Fairfield neighborhood of Cherry Hill.

He went to Southwestern High School, where he played basketball. A west-side resident, he walks to work each morning from Grantley Street. His daughter, Denetra, works at Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. He lost a son to a gun-wielding assailant.

Talking with him the other day reminded me of another hustling newspaper hawker from another era. He shared Kim?s work ethic and cheerful outlook in the face of adversity. It?s appropriate to honor both of them and their hard-working peers this week set aside to recognize newspaper carriers by the Newspaper Association of America.

That other hustling hawker was Ed Taylor. He was my grandfather. He chewed Beechnut Scrap tobacco from a pouch during the day, from a can in the evening. He read Zane Grey and listened to cowboy music on his phonograph with Buddy, his Dalmatian, lying nearby. He loved spaghetti and meatballs and took my grandmother and sometimes me to drive-in movies in his Desoto with tobacco cans welded to the steering wheel and extensions to the push button automatic transmission.

His best-selling newspaper day was July 4, 1919, when Jack Dempsey knocked out Jess Willard, winning the heavyweight crown. Ed sold 1,000 newspapers before leaving the lobby, only to hustle back to the pressroom for more.

"You can always make a living if you?re willing to hustle," Ed told me.

Ed, whose career peddling newspapers spanned 1916 to 1957, hustled harder and faster than the rest of us because of something he?d never call a handicap. His dimpled stubs of arms extended only to the elbows, the result of a sawmill accident at 17. He lived with his parents, both deaf mutes. He learned to talk with them using the ends of his arms, improvising on the signing he learned before the accident. They took care of his personal needs until he married my grandmother.

He met and courted Helen Wood Phelps in the late 1930s. She worked the overnight switchboard shift at a venerable downtown hotel, where Ed would check the lobby for sales, warm up a bit and woo her at the same time. They married in 1939. When I made an appearance in 1945, he became my grandfather.

He sold papers from big cities and his home town along with The Racing Form and magazines. He walked, almost jogged, throughout the early morning and day, a canvas newspaper bag and leather purse crisscrossed around his neck. Buyers made their own change and Ed, ruddy-cheeked with a smile and thank-you for all, believed customers seldom stiffed him.

Ed worked his corner so hard for so long and came to know so many of the night and day people of the city?s streets he became "The Mayor of Seventh and Wabash," there in Terre Haute, Ind. Ed?s two proteges, my dad and uncle, both newsboys, became, respectively, a professor who founded a campus of Miami University in Ohio and a successful shoe store owner and operator.

As a youth, I learned to hustle delivering local and city newspapers, hawking football game extra editions, later choosing journalism, becoming a reporter and, much later, a publisher.

Ed pointed me and countless others in the right direction before he died in 1966.

Still does.

Michael Phelps is publisher of The Baltimore Examiner. He can be reached at mphelps@baltimoreexaminer.com.

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