- Spencer Platt | Getty Images
- Pat Bouffard delivering Seven Days
From his home in Ripton, elevation 1,680 feet, author Bill McKibben keeps an eye on the Vermont media, on occasion emailing words of encouragement to local journalists who go the extra distance.
Last week, he shared his view with the readership of the New Yorker magazine, to which he has been a longtime contributor. In a Thursday "Daily Comment" entitled "How Vermont's Media Helps Keep the State Together," he gave Seven Days props for our extensive coverage of food, arts and politics. He noted that the paper's "true specialty is high-calibre long-form journalism, marked not just by careful reporting but by literary flair."
My sole quibble: I wish McKibben had also written the caption for the photo that illustrated the story, which shows a Seven Days delivery guy navigating a handcart stacked high with papers on snowy Church Street in Burlington. The minimalist explanation reads: "A man delivers newspapers in Vermont, where various local media outlets provide different and complementary ways of understanding the state."
A more informative caption would have been: "Pat Bouffard delivers Seven Days newspaper — a weekly job he and his brother, Joe, have done for more than a quarter century. Prior to that, they did the same work for the daily Burlington Free Press."
Only one delivery technician has worked for Seven Days longer than the Bouffard brothers: Nat Michael of Jericho, who has had a route since the first issue on September 6, 1995. For 27 years, she's been one of the individuals who show up at our loading dock early on Wednesday morning, fill their cars with stacks of newspapers, and head out to deliver them to more than 1,000 locations in Vermont and northern New York.
These 18 essential workers are the connective tissue of our local media business. They clean up our racks, remove and tally any of the previous week's papers that remain — a tiny number, according to our auditors at the Circulation Verification Council — and deliver the latest issue, often to readers eager to snag a copy off the top of the stack.
Although the once-a-week job seems perfect for loners, it actually requires some people skills. "When Seven Days shows up, it's usually a very positive exchange. People like to engage our drivers," circulation director Matt Weiner said. "If you were a total introvert and didn't like people, it's maybe not your thing."
Michael supplies the businesses that make Seven Days available to readers in Colchester, Milton, and dozens of towns in Franklin and Lamoille counties. They expect her on Wednesdays.
Many of the proprietors and employees on her route also looked forward to seeing her beautiful dog, Wren. Riding shotgun, the Catahoula leopard dog, a rescue, was Michael's "chief navigator" for more than a decade.
- Courtesy of Nat Michael
- Wren on the job with Nat Michael
"I knew she was the perfect dog," Michael said of a telling moment shortly after picking Wren up at North Country Animal League in Morrisville. "When we stopped at an intersection, the two of us looked both ways."
Wren rarely left the car — except for bathroom breaks — but Michael's regulars brought the dog treats. When this spring Wren became too old and frail to ride in the car all day, they sent the dog snacks home with Michael. "We had a wonderful summer of naps and snacks and CBD, which is not a bad way to live," she said.
Wren was 13 and a half when she died on September 9. She'd spent 11 years on the road with Michael. Her predecessor, a lab-hound mix by the name of Callie, rode the route for a dozen.
Will Michael enlist another canine copilot? "I have to. I can't imagine..." she said, trailing off. Michael has never missed a Wednesday. She reads Seven Days religiously. And, like the Bouffards, she gets our paper in addition to delivering it.
That might not matter to the New Yorker, but it means a lot to us.