Dear Diary: Today, I Worked – Newspaper Hawker

| Boston Magazine |

What people in three quintessentially Boston jobs do during a typical day at the office. And why (according to Harvard labor economist Edward Glaeser) they earn what they do.


1. The Metro Hawker

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David Tagliaferro
Salary: $9/hour

The Metro employs about 70 hawkers to distribute a chunk of the copies that make up the free daily’s estimated circulation of 180,000. After being laid off from a maintenance job he held for 23 years, Tagliaferro found work as one of them. He puts in a three-and-a-half-hour shift every weekday morning, giving away about 1,200 copies before he clocks out.

5:15 a.m. I live about a 10-minute walk from Davis Square, which is where I work, but I prefer to take the bus. After I get off at Davis, I walk to a stack of today’s Metro that’s been left for me. My shift doesn’t officially start until 6 a.m., but I like taking the extra time to prepare. When I took the job, they told me I should just drape the papers over my arm as I hand them out. But I found it easier to fold each paper in half first, then hold a pile of them.

5:16 a.m. I meet my first customers, Tim and his dog, Betty. We have a short discussion about the Red Sox.

5:20 a.m. I walk to a nearby residential center for senior citizens, and drop off a stack of papers. I’ve been doing that for about a year, ever since some elderly people told me they like their papers delivered. I don’t mind. I don’t want them to have to walk around, especially if there’s bad weather out.

6 a.m. My shift officially starts. Some buses come, and I hand out papers as people walk into the station. I say hi to some of my regulars.

6:30 a.m. A foreigner who doesn’t speak much English comes up to me. “How much? How much?” she asks. “No, it’s free,” I say. She’s happy, and takes one. Ninety-nine percent of the people I see are very friendly. The others don’t want a paper, and they look the opposite way. Those are the ones I eventually want to win over.

7:30 a.m. I meet a steady customer, and her dog, Lucky, lies down beside my stack of papers for a while. When I first met my customers and their dogs, the dogs wouldn’t come near me. Now they come right up.

7:45 a.m. I fold more papers. This is what I do whenever there aren’t people walking in the station.

8:30 a.m. More buses come through, and I make more small talk with various types of people. It makes the time go by. One young lady works in the Boston Celtics office, and we discuss basketball. She takes a Metro.

9:30 a.m. My shift is over, so I pick up all the newspapers that I didn’t hand out and place them in a Metro box outside the station.

Edward Glaeser says: You know that a labor market is tight when hawkers for free newspapers earn 20 percent more than the minimum wage. He is paid to give something away for free because the Metro needs readers, and people are more likely to take a paper from a person than from a box. This reflects both enormous human laziness—who can be bothered to lean down?—and the value of personal interactions in a dense, older city. People are more willing to take his papers because they relate to him as a person.

  • Ann Haywood-Baxter

    David Tagliaferro died recently. I offer gratitude for the joy this dear man gave me each day on my morning commute. Dave, we miss you!

  • Elise

    I was devastated to hear that he passed away. He greeted me with such kindness and care every morning and was the best part of going to work each day. To be honest, I would take a metro and often recycle it downstairs, just to say hello to him. The paper was incidental. He was a treasure.

  • Kristen

    I am devestated as well. I never took a paper, but enjoyed saying hello to David each morning and he always greated me with warm wishes. Reading this article which was written years ago breaks my heart even more – there are so few people like Dave. He will be missed.

  • Daniel

    I was very sad when I wake up to the fact that the sign I saw yesterday night on my way home was because Dave had died. I come from Spain and never took a free paper back home. Since June 2011 I live in North Cambridge and I take the T every morning. Mike smiled at me every morning as if we were long time friends, and greeting him was a nice way to start the day. I started reading Metro because of him… He was one of the first people I met in this city that is now my home away from home. Early mornings will not be the same without him…