LAST STOP Suchmann. [Photo by Richard McCaffrey]
There is no backseat in Chris Suchmann’s silver minivan. Instead, there are stacks of the Providence Phoenix. The stacks, which vary in height from about one to three feet, are made up of plastic-belted bundles of 50 papers. There are probably 3000 copies in the car right now, Suchmann says. Back in the day, he would carry 8500 papers on his downtown Providence route, and drop 400 copies at each end of the Providence Arcade.
Suchmann has been a Phoenix driver for 26 years. His uniform today —Thursday, October 9, 2014; the day Phoenix owner, Stephen Mindich, announces that the paper will close after 36 years — is hiking boots, dark jeans, and a blue T-shirt from the developmental disabilities service center where he works full-time. On his right index finger, he wears a thick metal ring with a short curved knife that extends like an eagle’s talon. “It’s to cut open the bundles,” he explains. “Alas, I will not need it much longer.”
After I hop in the van outside Phoenix HQ on Chestnut Street in the Jewelry District, we lurch around the corner 100 yards to the first stop: Alibi Café, on Bassett Street. Suchmann hustles out, drops 15 copies in the deli and 10 more at the adjoining bar, then jumps back in the car to drive another 100 yards to Jerry’s Artarama, which used to be Art Supply Warehouse, he tells me before walking in.
Suchmann overflows with such facts. Feeling the “pulse” of the city is one of the byproducts — and joys — of the delivery gig. “I see who’s open and who’s closing,” he says. “I talk to a lot of restaurateurs, bar owners, store owners.” These people used to greet him as “the NewPaper Delivery Dude.” Now, he’s “the Phoenix Guy.”
Suchmann has earned the title. Before the paper switched printers a few months ago, he would drive 40 miles up to Auburn, Massachusetts, to pick up his haul around 1:30 am, complete as much of his route as possible before 7, then head to his full-time job. He knows his route so well, and cares about it so much, that it’s tough to find a substitute. Not that Suchmann would accept one. On his wedding day in 1996, Suchmann delivered papers with his soon-to-be wife before the ceremony.
Over time, he has also developed a thorough taxonomy of Phoenix readers: the irreverent 94-’HJY listener who has been reading for decades, the Philippe and Jorge fans who want to laugh at the latest Vo Dilun political corruption, the musicians who want to see which bands are being covered, the political wonks who want to learn about the art scene, the crossword people, the “smut people,” and their counterparts, “the person who consciously makes sure that I see that they’re taking the adult services [section] out.”
He tells me all of this as we drive and drop papers at Rick’s Roadhouse, Olga’s Cup + Saucer, and Rue Bis, the café on South Street where a meter-checker nearby shouts, “You guys can’t park here!” Then she spots Suchmann, softens her stance, and says, “Hurry up!” His van has a laminated sign on the dashboard reading, “PROVIDENCE PHOENIX DELIVERY. PLEASE DO NOT TICKET! THANK YOU.”