Wheat's Place, The Last Stop on the Paper Route: An Essay
Updated: May 10, 2020
The first paying job I ever had, like many other kids around the age of 12, was a paper route. The route tangled its way through North Town Escanaba, roping up and down Sheridan Road and hopping between North 16th and Stephenson Avenue and back over to Sheridan. All told, the route measured a distance of just under two miles, not including the final trek back home. I had inherited the route from my older brother, who inherited from a cousin of ours, who inherited it from her brothers, who...well, you get the point. For several generations, the paper route has been in our family, with the occasional paper carrier being a family friend, which still pretty much counts as family. It all started in the late 60’s with my uncles and continues today with my younger cousin. With changes in paper carriers also came changes in route patterns, houses to deliver to, number of customers, etc. Even in the five years I had the route, alterations to the number of houses, and usually route pattern in unison, could be expected on a fairly common basis. The music I listened to while walking or riding my bike changed often as well. Sometimes, the music would change to old racing clips I had downloaded from YouTube, like a clip of Bill Elliott’s hellacious crash in the 1998 DieHard 500 at Talladega (This version uploaded to YouTube by SMIFF TV), or Davey Allison’s tremendous tumble in the 1992 Miller Genuine Draft 500 at Pocono (Uploaded to YouTube by battalionfan888). What did not change during my tenure, except on rare occasions, was the final stop. Wheat’s Place.
The aforementioned clips can be seen below.
Situated at the very end of Sheridan Road, Wheat’s Place awaited me every day, except Saturdays (morning delivery) and Sundays (no paper to deliver), after walking or biking the paper route. Most days, I would walk in and be greeted by Wheat, the owner and namesake of the tavern. Wheat, with his trademark smile and camouflage hat, was usually sitting at the bar in conversation with patrons or checking out what was happening on the television situated in the corner of the room behind the bar. I would walk in and, most days, bring the paper right to Wheat. From there, we would usually strike up a conversation revolving around NASCAR, the Packers, or just racing and sports in general. Discussions could last anywhere from just a few minutes to upwards of 20. The latter was quite common on Friday afternoons as NASCAR practice or qualifying would be on the television. Even if Wheat wasn’t there on Fridays or other days, I would stop and talk with other visitors for a few minutes about practice, qualifying, or really any other random subject. For years, from age 12 to 18, this was the customary procedure when I stopped at Wheat’s Place. As a kid of that age, talking to adults about things I cared about, and they cared about too, was unbelievably helpful in maintaining my love for racing. There weren’t too many kids my age who enjoyed it or even tried to understand why someone would like racing. To have those people to talk to was something I looked forward to every moment of the route. Some days, with or without conversation, Wheat would offer me a cold can of Coca-Cola. He would do this quite often, but especially on hot summer days. When the Holiday Season came around, most customers on the paper route would leave out a cash tip or treat for me. Wheat would fall into the first category and more. In addition to a cash tip, Wheat would always have a collectible diecast NASCAR model wrapped and ready for me. Often times, it was a Rusty Wallace car, like the two below.
Gifts of diecast NASCAR models were not just given at Christmas time, either. Sometimes, just because, he would grab a car for me to take home. I particularly remember him grabbing me a 1:64 size model of Dale Earnhardt Jr’s 2004 Daytona 500 winning car (below).
In the spring of 2012, Wheat passed away. When I had set out for the route the day his obituary appeared in the paper, I had no idea. Just because I delivered the paper, doesn’t mean I always took the time to read it. The first stop on the route was my Grandparents’ house next door to mine. Before I had the chance to leave there, my mom called their phone and had me run home. It was then she let me know that Wheat’s obituary was in the paper. It was quite the shock. It felt like I was just talking with him the day before. Shortly following his passing, there was another gift waiting for me at Wheat’s Place. It wasn’t a car or can of Coke, it was an incredibly nice, shiny, NASCAR windbreaker. I’m pretty sure I put it on right when I finished the route that day. If you have seen me at a track on a windy or chilly day, you have seen me wearing this windbreaker. Outside of my family, Wheat was one of the only people to show a genuine interest in the things and thoughts I had about racing. At no point was he dismissive of me, or my words. Whether he knew it or not, he played a vital role in my life and where it would eventually lead. There are many conversations I wish I could have had with Wheat about topics spanning far and wide. Mostly, I wish I could have said one last goodbye and thank you. A thank you for his gifts, a thank you for his generosity, but mostly, a thank you for just being someone a kid could talk to about something they loved. I think every kid needs someone like that in their life. I know I sure did. Until we meet again, Wheat, thank you. By Todd Rose
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