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Tom Barton: Irma pitch: Too many houses lack visible numbers

If there are any neighborhoods in Savannah that are darker at 1 a.m. than near East 32nd and Plant streets or further east of the railroad tracks on East Bolton street, I hope I don’t have the occasion to experience it anytime soon, especially as a newspaper carrier deliverying a Savannah Morning News route.


But moreso than the beleaguered U.S. Postal Service, the Morning News must go through to its subscribers, come wind, rain, water, hurricane or dark of night. It’s a pride thing.

So last Tuesday, a day after Hurricane Irma decimated the ranks of the Morning News carrier staff, it was all hands on deck among those of us desk jockeys to help deliver last Wednesday’s paper, as well as Monday’s and Tuesday’s editions, in a three-paper packet. I took a route. So did Publisher Michael Traynor, Vice President of Sales Chris Corey and Vice President of Production Robert Todd.

The task of delivering 119 newspapers to individual subscribers on a 20-mile-long route through the inner city reminded me of how easy I’ve got it, compared to carriers who deliver newspapers in the wee hours of the morning while most of the civilized world is sleeping.

But to get serious for a moment: The task also revealed something troublesome — too many houses in the city lack visible address numbers. Some were harder to find than chihuahuas at a weinerdog round-up. I would estimate that one out of every 10 houses where I tried to toss a newspaper had missing numbers, or numbers that were painted over or were stuck in hard to find places. I confess — I may have missed one or two deliveries, or pitched a free paper to a non-subscriber, because of poor night vision and because some residents apparently put little or no thought into posting numbers on their houses.

And the problem wasn’t just limited to houses in poorer neighborhoods. Some addresses on expensively restored townhouses in the high-rent district were tougher to find than a great Dane at a weiner dog round-up. Hint: those brass numbers afixed to dark red bricks, look cool in daylight, as do those gold decals that go on the glass above the doorway. But in pitch black darkness, the lack of contrast makes those numbers almost invisible. For inexperienced blind carrier bats like me, it was as if some residents had their homes done in Braille.

While missing the Morning News or the occasional hot pepperoni pizza by delivery may not be tragic, think of a guy who’s sufffering a heart attack or a stroke, where every second counts, and is waiting on an ambulance that has just been called. Pity the poor victim and the hard-working emergency Medical service techs who are busting their buns to save a life and just can’t seem to find 321 EYZ St. Police officers who are responding to crimes in progress and are struggling to find the address can suffer similar frustrations.

And a word to the wise: Having a house number properly displayed isn’t an option, like having real hurricane shutters. It’s required by Savannah’s city code. Failure to do so could land a homeowner in hot water with the city. But judging from the large number of infractions I saw, it’s apparently not something that’s regularly enforced, probably because inspectors have more important things to do with their time.

Still, while on my paper route, I was most appreciative to see visible, large address numbers above or near the front door. It meant I could do my job and go on my merry way a bit more quickly.

And let me apologize here to any subscriber I may have frightened or annoyed by shining my flashlight at the front of their homes last Tuesday night. That wasn’t a peeping Tom. I was trying to be diligent and thorough.

On the other hand, paying super-close attention to tthe buildings around me yielded some delightful surprises. Had I not delivered this newspaper route I never would have spotted two delightful, colorful church windows at the white jewelbox-like Growing in Christ Outreach Ministries Church at 760 E. Bolton St. The scenes of leafless trees against backdrops of blue skies and puffy white clouds were appear to be hand-painted labors of love are among the prettiest in town. It proves that beauty and grace can be found anywhere in Savannah if you just keep your eyes open.

Farther to the west on a different street, I got a chuckle out of one enterprising resident who repurposed several wooden pallets as window shutters to protect his home from Irma. I’m not sure how effective these pounded-on pallets, which I would call Redneck shutters as a term of endearment, would be in a big blow.

But they probably would be better than nothing, and I salute the installer for his survivalist ingenuity. While not knowing the owner’s heritage and upbringing,what I saw reminded me of a classic Hank Williams Jr. song, “A Country Boy Can Survive.”

And you know, the house appeared unscathed.

Not so the intrepid carrier crew. I was whipped when I finished my route at around 2:30 a.m., and proud of the fact that I made just two delivery mistakes (for the record, the big boss made five, while the sales guy and production chief only made one apiece, showoffs). But fear not eastside subscribers, I won’t be quitting my day job anytime soon so I can pitch papers. I’ll leave it to the pros.

I’ve always respected the thankless yet vital jobs that newspapers carriers do daily. My scribblings on the opinion pages count for little if the people who pay for this newspaper can’t read them. Indeed, I feel even more privileged to be an invited guest into so many homes, knowing the effort it takes to get the newspaper delivered.

Finally, to a subscriber who lives in a house behind a chain-link fence near Blowin’ Smoke on Habersham St. I’m sorry your paper may have arrived slightly soaked. I tried to pitch it onto the porch only to have it splash-land in a one of those large orange Home Depot buckets filled with water.

Give me 100 newspapers and I couldn’t duplicate that same throw a second time. If there is a second time, and I hope not, as least not during this hurricane season.

But just in case, check those house numbers and make sure they are visible from the street. Too many houses lack these necessary identifiers. That’s my takeaway as a post-Irma newspaper pitchman. But don’t do it for fill-in delivery sad sacks like me, do it for your local EMS crews. Someday, your life may depend on it.


Tom Barton is the editorial page editor of the Savannah Morning News. tom.barton@savannahnow.


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