The summer of 1969 was an auspicious one for the news business.
When young Paul Flynn was delivering copies of the Syracuse Herald American to his Geneva customers, he would glance at the headlines. Little did he realize he was witnessing, in his own way, some of the 20th century’s most memorable events, from the Woodstock music festival to man landing on the moon.
Flynn, 61, now lives in his native Canada, but late last week was back in the Finger Lakes taking a literal ride down memory lane. On Friday, the 50th anniversary to the day of when he started delivering newspapers as an 11-year-old, Flynn hopped on a restored Schwinn bicycle similar to the one he owned as a youngster and pedaled along the streets of his old route. He started at the alley at the corner of Castle and Elm streets, where he used to pick up his papers.
His delivery route started on High Street and went from Pulteney to Pre-Emption Road and included most side streets between High and William. Flynn said he delivered 25 daily papers and 130 on Sundays. His pay before tips — a whopping 2 cents per daily paper and 5 cents per Sunday.
“I love Canada but when I think about my youth this is where I grew up,” said Flynn, who is retired from the Toronto Transit Commission and lives in Caledon Village, Ontario, about 50 miles northwest of Toronto.
Paul’s parents, Michael and Mary Flynn, moved from Canada to Geneva in 1964 when Michael Flynn landed a job at Almarco Printing on Castle Street. The large Catholic family lived at 41 Hoffman Ave. and also included Flynn’s three brothers and two sisters. In fact his brother, Tim, joined him on Friday’s bike ride.
It was two of Flynn’s siblings who found his Schwinn bicycle on eBay several years ago and gifted it to him — the same model, year and color as the one Flynn bought in 1970 from Ray’s Bike and Key shop on Exchange Street with his Christmas tip money. It cost about $70, and Flynn still has the original receipt. He estimates he has spent about $2,000 to refurbish his current Schwinn.
“I think it cost me more to restore this bike than I made delivering newspapers,” he joked.
Flynn said he was “always hungry for money” and eventually also started delivering the morning Rochester Democrat and Chronicle from 1971-73; he had 90 customers on that route, which included High Street and William Street from Pulteney to West Street, plus most side streets. He would also pinch hit for Geneva Daily Times carriers who were on vacation.
Many of Flynn’s childhood memories focus on his customers, who spanned all class levels, he said.
He recalled one couple on High Street — No. 67, to be exact — Bill and Mary Trickey. They had no children and took a shining to young Paul, feeding him “dozens and dozens of molasses cookies.”
“When I was collecting for the newspaper they would always invite me in to have a soft drink and watch color TV, which was quite a novelty then,” said Flynn, who kept in touch with the couple until Mary’s death in 1979 and Bill’s in 1981.
Another customer, George Petteys, fostered Flynn’s lifelong interest in antique farm equipment and steam engines. Petteys lived with his mother at 34 Grove St., Flynn recalled.
“George sold antiques, and I became his helper when he attended local antique farm equipment and car shows,” he wrote. “George first took me to the Canandaigua (Pageant of Steam) show in 1971, where they referred to him as ‘Honest George.’ To this day I am still involved in the hobby … ”
Flynn’s family returned to Canada in 1973. Almarco Printing closed, his parents were homesick, Watergate was brewing, and the Arab oil embargo was in full swing.
“It was a pretty dismal time, and my dad got a job offer in southern Ontario — and he took it,” Flynn said.
Although he left Geneva when he was 15, Flynn returns to the Finger Lakes about once a year. He has attended Class of 1977 reunions, is a member of the New York Steam Engine Association, and attends the annual Pageant of Steam in Hopewell, which Petteys introduced him to all those years ago.
Now a part-time bus coach driver, he even stayed in Penn Yan last Labor Day while driving a Mennonite group.
However, never before has he returned to retrace the steps of his newspaper route.
Early last week Flynn said he expected it to be a bittersweet ride. Although he can remember which customer lived in which house, they are no longer there … instead likely buried in a nearby cemetery.
“My memories come from my customers,” he said. “I met real interesting people and kept in better touch with my old customers than my school chums.”