Last week was his last day on the job. It was only a few weeks ago that he told me he has had enough and that he simply cannot maintain this kind of schedule and perform the job anymore. We have known each other and worked together for about 18 years now. Luther is an African-American man who lives with his family in Hempstead, just about 20 minutes away from the Five Towns. In a few months he will be 90 years old.
Luther has been a trusted, essential, but unsung associate of the 5TJT for all these years. For close to two decades—just about since I first met him—he has overseen the circulation of the paper throughout Long Island, the five boroughs, and, more recently, also parts of New Jersey and Rockland County.
As I might have explained a few times in the past in these pages, there are multiple tiers that require coordination in order for a weekly publication to work as effectively as the 5TJT does. I can analyze and discuss all the numerous elements, but for the purposes of this essay let me state that at the top of the list and order of priorities it would be difficult to disagree that circulation of the paper is the most important—indeed, it’s the lifeblood of the publication.
After all, what would all the painstaking effort that goes into producing this or any publication be worth if at the end of the process the paper was not sufficiently circulated?
If I had to sum up what it was like to work with Luther all these years in just two words, I’d say they are trustworthiness and dependability. Week after week, for the last 18 years, I would call him each Wednesday evening at the end of the business day to talk about what the next morning would be like as it would impact upon the distribution of the newspaper.
The things we usually talked about in those weekly calls included how he was doing and the size of the paper so as to ascertain whether all the bundles of papers would fit on his truck or if he would have to make a second trip to the printing plant for the paper’s second day of distribution, usually on Fridays. And then we would talk about the anticipated weather conditions, which would impact most on the fashion in which this newspaper would be circulated the next morning.
That was always more of a factor in the winter when snow was expected or if it was already snowing outside. But one of the most frustrating distribution challenges occurred this past April. I was on my way back from Israel and had a two-hour stopover in Munich. Before leaving Israel, I had seen online that a snowstorm was expected in New York on that Thursday in the early morning. My two-hour layover in Germany was at around the same time that Luther would be preparing to leave his home in Hempstead and head for the plant in Long Island City, usually at about 4:00 a.m. I called Luther from the airport to ask how he was managing. He said he was snowed in and could not dig out his truck. That was disheartening to hear, and while it didn’t matter that I was in an airport in Europe (because if I had been home in Lawrence I still would not have been able to do much about this specific problem), something needed to be done. It was then that I uttered the magic words, which were along the lines of: “I don’t care what it costs; just get someone to dig you out.” I called him a half-hour later and he was all dug out of the snow and on his way to pick up the papers. Another problem solved.
Anyway, Luther was more than just dependable and reliable. On the days that there were delays in the printing schedule and I was being told stories, there was just one person I could depend on to get a clear, objective, and truthful assessment of the delay, and that was Luther. He told it like it was, unabashedly and directly. When the plant managers would say the papers were almost done or that they were being loaded on the trucks, I’d call Luther to confirm. Too often after those early-morning calls I would hear the truth from Luther—that getting the trucks loaded was still at least two hours off.
When I first met Luther, he was already retired as a union electrician here in New York. His wife, I believe, was also retired as a Nassau County employee, so in a sense we can say that Luther retired to the Five Towns Jewish Times. Over the last few years, we hired some younger people to assist him so he would not have to jump in and out of the truck so often. But it was only in the last month or so that he began to complain that the task was becoming too difficult and that he wanted some time off to go visit family down south.
The truth is that just by looking at the calendar I knew this day was inevitable. Luckily, we have additional good people who can slide into Luther’s place and make sure that our circulation continues to be as comprehensive as it has always been. But Luther will be missed—and not just by me, but by the crew of delivery personnel he has been working with all these years. This is a tribute to Luther and an expression of gratitude for a job well done. We wish him continued good health as well as long and happy years with his family.
I’m going to miss those 4:00 a.m. calls when he’s in the printing plant and not sure about something. I’m going to miss chit-chatting with him on those Thursday mornings when he brings a few copies of the paper to my home, and mostly I will miss those check-in calls with one another on Wednesday evening at 5:00 p.m. Then again, maybe I’ll just keep calling on Wednesdays to check in and ask how he’s doing. I’m definitely calling him this week, if for no other reason than just to say hi and, of course, thank you.
Read more of Larry Gordon’s articles at 5TJT.com. Follow 5 Towns Jewish Times on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates and live videos. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome at 5TJT.com and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.