Off to Work — a message from the old ages

Messenger boy.

That was the title of my first job when I was 15 years old. Somebody from the old neighborhood got me hired in downtown Philadelphia and I took the bus to get to work on weekends and after school days.

I made the minimum wage back then, and am so happy at my age to finally tap into those social security “savings.” I never gave a thought to it until now while appreciating the benefits from a lifetime of working.

The PTC bus took me to work. PTC stood for Philadelphia Transit Company and it was the forerunner of SEPTA, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority.  I used the buses quite often on the job delivering advertisement proofs that the company – Typo – prepared for their clients out of their offices at 11th and Arch streets. We’d walk to many of the locations nearby but got tokens to take public transit whenever the client firm was beyond six to eight blocks away. We would pocket the tokens and walk the distance. I viewed the tokens as an added benefit.

messenger boy.jpg

Messenger boys learned how to really deliver!

I had never been a train before I started working the messenger job. You had to take the train in order to deliver proofs to one of our most famous clients – TV Guide – located at St. David’s on Philadelphia’s Mainline. It was fun riding the train. None were air-conditioned back then and you’d raised the windows when it was hot outside. You could also smoke on the trains, something I wish I hadn’t started when I was only 12-years-old.

I learned quickly about people who would try to con you in the big city. There was the elderly, white-haired man who spoke with an accent – possibly Italian – who I first saw near a bus stop when he asked me for help to pay his fare. I felt sorry for him. He wore one of those old-fashioned 1930-type hats and he smiled a lot and bowed to me when I handed over the change to help him out.

I realized that he was a “flim-flam” artist the next time I saw him on either Broad Street or Market Street. I’d shake my head and wanted to tell others about him, but kept quiet about his scam. I guess felt sorrier for him than the persons he’d hit up for the money.

When did I actually begin to work as a messenger boy? It had to have been the mid-1960s because I remember hearing a song by the Rolling Stones for the first time. “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” blared out of the small transistor radio. They were cool but not as cool as the Beatles, I thought.

Chinatown wasn’t far away from my workstation although I never ate there as a kid. Nor did I ever check out the old Troc, the burlesque place where women would strip while appearing on the stage. The Troc, also known as the Trocadero Theatre, was converted to a music venue in more recent times, but we old-timers will always remember it as a place naughty women would appear to a bunch of lecherous old guys.

I’m glad I worked as a messenger boy. I learned a lot and was able to experience a nice slice of life while growing up.


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