By 2:30 a.m. last Monday, North Chattanooga was buried in 6 inches of snow. I know because I was playing in it.
I thought there was no way my newspaper carrier was going to pitch my paper on the driveway at the usual witching hour of 5 - not that I'm ever awake then. I was almost right. He told me later it was closer to 5:30 a.m. But when I headed to the car for the slushy drive to the office, there was my newspaper - a yellow-bagged beacon glistening from a snowy blanket.
Man, I'm glad I tipped my carrier at Christmas.
Greg Troglin is a 47-year-old Chattanooga native who works as an independent contractor for this newspaper before heading to his real job, in maintenance at Chattanooga Restaurant Supply. He's thrown newspapers for 11 years.
Troglin took his burgundy 2010 Ford Focus and plowed through a half-foot of snow on his route from Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute to downtown, the North Shore and North Chattanooga where Barton Avenue becomes Hixson Pike.
"The hardest part Monday morning was getting the papers to the car," he said. "There was so much snow in the parking lot. We roll them out with buggies. With the snow, that was a chore."
As snow packed in around his four tires, Troglin would get stuck on the roads and have to rock back and forth to free his ride.
Nearly all of his almost 200 customers got their newspapers on time or close to it.
Carriers are the unsung heroes of newspapers. They are contractors and not employees. They must work seven mornings a week regardless of what Mother Nature throws at them. And oftentimes, carriers are the public face of this newspaper -- the only people whom readers actually see.
Carroll Duckworth, our circulation director and one of the few in the country who is growing print circulation at any newspaper, has fielded many calls and e-mails from readers grateful at getting their newspapers during the biggest snowstorm since 1993.
"Carroll, I just wanted to tell you how IMPRESSED I was this morning, when I trudged out through the snow and found that, while our garbage pickup company didn't make it this morning, our Times Free Press WAS in our driveway," one e-mail stated. "It was safe and sound, and easy to spot in the snow because our delivery person put it in a red plastic bag. Kudos and thank you to whoever handles South Cleveland/Blue Springs Road deliveries! Now, if I can just get them to put a Sudoku puzzle in the Sunday paper, my addiction will be complete ... ."
Another reader e-mailed: "Just a few minutes ago I watched as a snow plow attempted to clear the road up the hill immediately above my house, but to no avail. Shortly thereafter, I was surprised to see that the TFP was at the bottom of my driveway. I was even more amazed to see someone who was walking through my neighborhood delivering papers! I live at 301 Oakmont Lane on Signal Mountain and would greatly like to acknowledge the incredible diligence exhibited by this individual. I do not know how long he had to walk but know that any trek in this cold weather is a long one. Also, please let me know how I can go about tipping this carrier."
Newspapers have to walk that fine line of ensuring you get your daily paper but not endangering the lives of contractors charged with that task.
Carriers must dodge deer and possums, navigate foul weather and encounter early-morning oddities: Troglin has seen two men sleeping in the middle of the road next to their bicycles and a trio of streakers wearing nothing but smiles.
Those of you lucky enough to have a reliable carrier should extend some form of a kindness. No matter how well this newsroom creates journalism, it is meaningless without the men and women who distribute it.
Thanks, you carriers everywhere.
If you've checked your mailbox this past week, many of you have found it empty. The post office's slogan is: "Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor hail shall keep the postmen from their appointed rounds." Six inches of snow did keep postmen at bay, but not most of our newspaper carriers.
J. Todd Foster is executive editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6472.