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Birney Imes: A newspaper and a smile


Birney Imes



Arlee Jordan''s picture was in The Times the other day. 


To accompany a story about various observances of Tennessee Williams'' centenary this month, The New York Times ran a picture of the playwright''s first home here in Columbus. The photograph, shot from a low angle, shows the newly refurbished house looking good with its coat of many colors. To the right is a large live oak and at the front and center of the picture a man is walking purposefully, head down, with a bundle of newspapers under his left arm. That''s Arlee. 


In the picture he is wearing one of his trademark driving caps -- he has seven of them -- a windbreaker and trousers. The man is always dapper. 


Arlee Jordan took up newspapering after a 20-year stint at Buford Electric. That was 23 years ago. For 20 of them he''s been delivering to downtown businesses. 


At 69, one does not take good health for granted, nor pleasurable work. Arlee has both and, perhaps because of it, unfailing good humor. 


"I really do enjoy this," he said. "It keeps me going. I just look forward to it -- to meeting people." 


He''s telling me this Friday morning as we wait for his papers to come off the press. We''re sitting in his black 2006 Chevy pickup in the parking lot behind the post office. Like Arlee, the truck is immaculate. 


"I''ve always been that way," he explains. "When we were coming up and I was going to Mitchell Memorial School, my mother would keep what little we had -- jeans and such -- starched and cleaned." 


Like Tennessee Williams, Arlee moved at an early age -- from Starkville to Columbus. He says until he married he lived in a part of town called Pear Orchard, which, as it turns out, is another name for Sandfield. 


"There used to be a lot of pear trees there," he explained. 


Arlie has about 150 customers. Weather permitting he delivers his 40 downtown papers on foot, then drives the remainder of his route, an area stretching from downtown to Propst Park bordered by College and North Fourth Avenue. On this day, I''m going to walk with him. 


After getting his two bundles from the loading dock, Arlee puts the larger one in his truck, opens the smaller one and sets off, papers under his arm. 


First customer is a tenant above Cafe on Main. We then jaywalk to the Arts Center where Arlee goes in and hands the paper to Rebecca Favre at the desk. We cross Market and then jaywalk to the Globe. Another personal delivery. Several papers in door handles, a personal delivery to Rex''s Rentals, the TW Visitor Center porch, then back up Main toward town center. 


Arlee is greeted by smiles at every stop: Amber Brislin at Main Street, Linda Bobbitt at Edward Jones; at CPI it''s Donna Dove and Shala Cook ("He''s such a nice guy," Cook says later.) 


At Court Square Towers we get on the elevator and go to the fifth floor where we walk into Andrew Colom''s office. 


Arlee hands Colom his newspaper. 


"I like to put it in their hands," he tells me as we ride the elevator back down to the second floor. 


He says he''ll pick up Margaret Henry and Randolph Lipscomb when he drives. 


Through the Y we go. 


"He''s the best paper guy in the world," Andy Boyd says, only half joking. 


Think of the people you have brief contact with as you make your daily rounds: the cashier, the waitress, the attendant at the drive-thru. Some of them are matter-of-fact, some mildly friendly, some are on another planet. Then there is the rare someone whose good humor boosts the spirit, who makes your day a little bit better. Put Arlee in that group. 


After the Y we cross Main in front of The Dispatch. As we head down Market. I ask him if he has the time, and he says he doesn''t wear watches anymore; he''s slung too many of them off throwing papers. 


At WCBI, receptionist Miariel Heard gets a paper and a smile. 


"Mr. Arlee is the best," she says later. "He makes our day around here." 


Receptionists at Jamie''s Salon and David Dunn''s both get similar treatment from Jordan. 


At Light and Water we go to the second floor where he slips a paper under a locked door. 


"They''re at lunch," he says. 


"I''ll get the banks driving," he says as we walk back to his truck. 


The sun is out. It is spring, and Tennessee Williams will soon be 100. 


Arlee Jordan has about that many papers yet to deliver on this perfect afternoon. He cranks his truck and pulls out of the parking lot, a wave and he''s gone.


Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.


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