Valley Voices

Confessions of a former Fresno Bee Biker

On a recent morning, as I anxiously awaited the late arrival of my Fresno Bee, I retrieved the previous day’s puzzle page, upset that I had to resort to using a paper and pencil to solve one of the puzzles, and perhaps, more upset that the morning Bee was not outside my front door on my first or second trip.

Inasmuch as I was still Bee-less at 2 p.m., after having participated in a recon mission all the way to the driveway (which is located out of visual range on the garage side of the house), I decided to write this letter.

As a former “Bee Biker” helping my big brother, Mike Drinen, deliver The Bee every Sunday in Selma from 1959 to 1962, (first, near our house in the barrio close to Berry Park, then later, over by Selma High School), I remember that I honed my public-relations skills schmoozing with angry customers after we missed deliveries.

For that reason, I was no longer upset that my Bee was not delivered. I lost my brother over 20 years ago, and the missed Bee delivery brought his memory vividly back to life. He was known as “Freddy Bear” to his fellow Fresno Unified School District groundsmen, and later, his fellow cement crew workers, but to me, he was my older brother, Mike: Selma High School, Class of 1971, U.S. Navy Seabee 1971-1975, teacher of bike riding and Fresno Bee entrepreneur.

When we missed a Sunday paper on our route, it was a big deal.

“Lu, you are much better talking your way out of a missed delivery than I am,” Mike would say, “And besides, you have to this time, ’cuz it was on your side of the street.” Point well made.

So, we would ride back to our neighborhood Bee delivery point, just northeast of our house at 1749 Sylvia St., in the Selma barrio, hoping that The Bee man would still be there. Otherwise, we would have to buy a full-price paper at Matthews’ Market, and that always had a negative impact in the profit/loss column of our personal finances.

In this case, he said, “your side of the street, Lu – your loss!” Oddly, I can still remember my brother’s no-nonsense approach when money was involved.

However, no matter if it was on my side of the street or Mike’s, I was the “designated schmoozer,” which was my first public relations job, as I recall. I was the one who delivered late papers.

“Tarde! Otra vez, tarde, huerita! (“Late! Late again, fair-skinned girl!”)

“Sorry! Forgive me! Disculpe!” I said, cowering. I handed her the expensive Sunday Bee purchased from Matthews’ Market, and took off on my 20-inch bike as fast I could pedal, before she could continue blasting me.

After we moved from Sylvia Street to Barbara Drive, Mike continued serving as a Bee carrier for several years. Although I still helped him with the Sunday inserts such as the back-to-school insert and the highly dreaded holiday insert (which included a 24-page toy catalog), I was no longer needed to help with deliveries.

He had moved up in the world of high finance that his Bee route provided, and had bought a second-hand moped, with a basket in front as well as on both sides, with enough room for all his papers.

On a shakier note was our task of collecting for The Bee. In those days, Bee carriers had to take payment for the paper and issue receipts. Sherlock Holmes had nothing on Mike when it came to collecting for The Bee.

“Lu, the car has been moved about a foot from where it was earlier – he has to be home! You ring the front bell, and I will go to the back door to catch him when he comes out.”

His approach worked every time.

Remembering those wonderful experiences growing up with my brother would not have been possible if I had received my Bee on schedule the other day, so perhaps a thank you to my carrier is the best way to conclude.

Lucile King of Selma is a retired school administrator for Fowler Unified School District.