Image by oschene
A thank-you note from our paper carrier, that is, the young man who delivers our newspaper. (I understand from missus oschene that when we pay our bill, we are given the opportunity to tip the carrier. Some of our carriers have been pretty poor at it and I have usually viewed this tip as just so much protection money. But we find this carrier conscientious and well-deserving of a tip.)
He had a nice write-up in the paper, this weekend.
After years of work struggles, autistic man finds meaning in a job well done
By Suzanne Wilson
NORTHAMPTON – In his light blue winter parka, jeans, white Nikes, and brown knit cap, Jonathan Weinmann moves quickly from house to house in the pre-dawn darkness along Fort Street in Northampton. A big bag, packed with newspapers, is slung across his chest.
Weinmann, who lives on nearby South Street, has an excellent memory for keeping track of who gets the paper and exactly where and how they like to have it delivered. Inside the porch door. Outside on the top step. Rolled up. Not rolled up. In a plastic sleeve. Not in a sleeve.
"Everyone is totally different," he says.
Six days a week, he delivers about 230 papers. The exact number varies. "Maybe they’re away visiting relatives or taking a nice long trip to another country," he explains as skips a customer’s house on this Monday morning.
Every morning, Weinmann gets a printout of any changes on his route.
"I look at it once or twice and that’s it," he said. "I don’t forget much."
Numbers and facts
It’s actually a bit more than not forgetting.
Jonathan Weinmann, 39, was diagnosed with autism when he was 2. From an early age, he’s had a thing about numbers and facts.
One day at around age 3, before he’d even said mama, he was sitting at the dinner table with family and relatives. He suddenly started counting backwards, from 20 to 1. "All of us went dead silent," his mother recalled. "And then he never talked again for two years."
When he was about 7, he watched an episode of "Hollywood Squares" one night on TV. After it was over, he recited the entire show from memory, commercials and all. In the grocery store, he’d watch his mother toss items into the cart and keep a running tab in his head. At the register, he’d announce the pre-tax total, to the penny.
Music was, and is, a passion. At 12, he got a subscription to Billboard magazine, which he still gets every week. Thanks to Billboard, he is a student of pop music history and can give you the details of any song’s progress up and down the charts.
How about "Baby Love," he was asked. It was No. 1 in 1964, he said, spent 12 weeks on the charts, four weeks at the top.
Michael Jackson’s "Billie Jean:" No. 1 for seven week in 1983, he said.
How about Whitney Houston’s "How Will I Know?" Two weeks at No. 1 in 1986, he said. "It was definitely February."
Ten years and counting
On April 1, Jonathan Weinmann will mark his 10-year anniversary delivering the Daily Hampshire Gazette.
Before he got the job, he’d tried others that hadn’t worked out. He’d been a dishwasher at Amherst College, but he had difficulty with the commotion and noise and distractions.
"It was a tough job and I just couldn’t handle it," he said.
In March 2002, Weinmann got a phone call from Kate Cook Scott, a customer service representative at the Gazette who wanted to talk to him about the job application he’d filled out several months earlier.
Would he be interested in delivering the paper on Fort Hill Terrace?
"I said, ‘Yes I would,’ " he recalled recently.
She was very nice, he said, and together they went over to Fort Hill to scope things out. They walked the route and Cook showed him which houses on the street got the paper.
"I got the job," he said. His first day was April 1, 2002, he said, and on that day he delivered 23 papers.
"I liked it," he said. "It was something to do and it was nice to get out of the house. I also thought it was nice to get paid for doing a job." His first paycheck, he said, was for a little over .
Ten years on, Weinmann’s routes have expanded to include neighborhoods and side streets all along South Street. In all that time, he has rarely missed a day. He has never overslept. He knows his streets inside and out, having learned where there are cracks and bumps in the pavement that can trip him up. Snow and ice are occupational hazards.
On the Monday morning after last Halloween’s freak storm had torn through the area, Weinmann was out delivering the paper, making his way through the pitch dark. With the streetlights out, he carried a flashlight, threading his way over and around fallen trees and broken branches and downed wires.
"It was one of the toughest days of my life," he said.
His record for falling on slippery pavement is seven times in one day. One time after he fell his ankle swelled up when he got home. He put ice on it and rested.
"I returned the next day," he said.
Weinmann likes routine, but has had to make some difficult adjustments over the years.
In 2006, when the Gazette became a morning paper, he had to switch from his afternoon schedule to before dawn.
"I was a little surprised and somewhat disappointed, but I thought, I’m not going to give up this job because they’ve changed the time. I was afraid I might not get another job, so I accepted it."
His old routine meant that he often saw people out with their kids, or watering their lawns. "I loved it a lot," he said. "I would deliver the paper to them in person and say, have a nice day, or if it was a holiday, Merry Christmas or Happy New Year. I kind of knew some of them well."
An even bigger change came in 2009, when the Gazette outsourced its delivery service to an outside company. The company wanted carriers with drivers licenses so that they could come to the Gazette to pick up their bundles. The previous practice had been to drop the bundles at locations in each neighborhood, where carriers picked them up.
Weinmann doesn’t drive. Realizing her son’s job was at stake, his mother, Ellen Weinmann, quit her job at Weight Watchers International to be her son’s driver.
"I quit a job I loved for a person I love," she said.
Ellen Weinmann pilots her 10-year-old blue Saturn, stopping at points along the way where Jonathan gets out and proceeds on foot.
While he’s delivering the papers, she sits parked and rolls up the next batch. When he comes back to the car, she hands the papers out to him one by one, through the window, and he restocks his bag. Then he climbs back in and they move on.
They both say that Jonathan would prefer to do the route on his own. His mother sometimes reminds him of things he already knows – "Don’t forget, the people at No. 43 are away" – and that, he admits, can be very annoying.
Their route covers about eight miles, and at that hour they share the terrain with plenty of animals. Weinmann has been sprayed by a skunk once, and has seen plenty of possums, raccoons, rabbits and cats. They’ve come upon browsing deer, one bear, and last Saturday, a fox.
Weinmann lives on the second floor of his parents’ home. Monday through Friday he’s up by 3:30 a.m., before his alarm goes off. Saturdays, it’s 4. He gets up and dresses and then checks the Weather Channel for an update on the temperature and conditions he’ll encounter out there.
Weekdays, mother and son are out the door by 3:45 and on their way to the loading dock, where Jonathan stacks the bundles in the back seat. They generally finish around 6:30.
Back home, Weinmann has something to eat – an orange, some yogurt, an English muffin and hot chocolate are staples – and checks out the Today show and channel surfs among the other morning news shows. He tracks the Dow, follows politics closely, and votes in every election.
Last week, Weinmann said he thought Mitt Romney would eke out a victory by a few points in Michigan, which he did.
He’ll also see what’s up on "Mike and Mike in the Morning" on ESPN. An avid Red Sox fan, Weinmann follows the hometown team’s fortunes. Right now, he said, he’s not feeling optimistic about the coming season.
"I wouldn’t be surprised if the team finished in fourth place in their division," he said.
At 8 a.m., he goes to bed and sleeps till 1 to 1:30 p.m. He showers, spends some time on the computer, and goes out for a walk, heading to Packards, Friendly’s or the Toasted Owl for a bite to eat. At night, just before going to bed around midnight, he’ll watch the Weather Channel to get a sense of what morning will bring.
On Saturdays, he goes to the Bluebonnet Diner for dinner, then walks to the Stop & Shop on King Street. "I do my own grocery shopping," he said. "Every week."
Weinmann was diagnosed with autism in 1974. At that time, his mother said he didn’t interact at all with her or with anyone else. He didn’t want to be touched. He made no eye contact. He uttered only gutteral sounds.
"He was there but he wasn’t there," his mother said.
Specialists in Boston suggested that Jonathan shouldn’t be kept at home. The pressures of having an autistic child, they said, might harm Ellen and Charlie Weinmann’s marriage and be disruptive for Christopher, Jonathan’s older brother.
That never happened. "Christopher has always been a tremendous brother," Ellen Weinmann said, and the two visit regularly.
The Weinmanns, unwilling to place their son in a hospital-based residential program in eastern Massachusetts that was recommended to them, opted to keep Jonathan at home. They sought advice from specialists in Boston and help from speech and behavior modification therapists in western Massachusetts.
"We were determined to give Jonathan the best life he could have," his mother said. "And we were able to get key people along the way to take an interest in him."
Later, in school, Jonathan was enrolled in special education classes and worked with an aide.
Social relationships, first in Westfield and later in Northampton, where the Weinmanns moved in 1989, were always fraught.
On and off throughout his school years, her son was teased and bullied by other kids, his mother said.
When he graduated from Northampton High School in 1994, Jonathan said he was glad to be finished, though sad to leave his aide, Minda Goss, behind.
Ellen Weinmann said she’s sometimes asked why Jonathan, with his obvious smarts, "only" delivers newspapers. She has a different view, she said: "We can’t believe how far he’s come."
He can ride the bus to Amherst and back, order something to eat in a restaurant, do his laundry – and hold down a job. True, there are still things he needs help with, like tying his shoes, or handling money, or navigating social interactions.
Ellen is 63; her husband, 70. They talk a lot these days about where Jonathan will live in the future. A supervised apartment might be ideal, though years ago the Weinmanns said they were told their son wasn’t eligible for any subsidized residential programs because of his high IQ. They’re going to look into that again, she said.
Another possibility, she said, is that at some point Jonathan could live with his brother in Auburndale outside Boston.
For now, he’ll keep on delivering the paper, even if he admits it’s not his "dream job." That would be to work in a record store, he said, where he could be around music all day long.
Even if he won the lottery, Weinmann said he wouldn’t stop working.
"It took me years to find a job," he said, "and I want to keep it. The best thing for me is to keep doing the same job that I do now and get better at it."
His customers, though, don’t see room for improvement. Among the many notes he’s gotten that his mother has kept is this one: "Thank you for keeping my paper safe and secure every day of the year."