A Brief History of the Seattle Weekly Distribution Box

From dirty diapers to Girl Scout cookies to quality journalism, you never know what you’ll find.

There for you, whatever your needs. SW File Photo

Every Wednesday at 2 p.m., a middle-aged white man in a black Porsche SUV takes every single Seattle Weekly from the boxes along First Avenue North in Lower Queen Anne.

He never misses a week, he never misses the time, and he never takes copies of our competitor, The Stranger–only every single Seattle Weekly, every single week. And every Thursday, Seattle Weekly circulation manager Jay Kraus returns to those blocks and refills all the boxes.

We’re not shitting you; we have video evidence. Kraus has filed several police reports to no avail. He once confronted the man, who claimed he was delivering them to the nearby headquarters of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. But when Kraus asked the Gates Foundation’s front-desk staff, they had no idea what he was talking about.

“I just don’t understand,” Kraus says. “I’m at my wit’s end with what to do with this guy. Sometimes people will steal the Weekly because they make a few cents a pound to recycle it. Sometimes people steal it because they object to the content. But I don’t see what’s out there to offend him”—we’re not running too many racy ads these days—“and he’s got an eighty-thousand-dollar car, so I know he doesn’t need the money to recycle. He doesn’t touch The Stranger, so it’s not a matter of he just needs paper for something”—like his 500 pet hamsters, say. Whatever the reason, “It happened this Wednesday, it’ll happen next Wednesday. Right at 2 o’clock.”

The only explanation Kraus can come up with is that at some point in time, the Weekly ran a story that negatively impacted the man’s life in some way, and he’s still mad. But does everyone we’ve pissed off over the years steal hundreds of papers every week? No.

Dear Queen Anne Thief: Please use your words.

The print version of Seattle Weekly—around for four whole decades now—has seen all manner of fuckery, from regular thieves in certain neighborhoods to capricious pranksters in others. One fellow named Marty, who slept under the viaduct near the Bainbridge ferry terminal, Kraus says, made it his morning ritual for a time to walk up to Capitol Hill, moving all the Weekly papers into the Stranger boxes and vice versa. Sometimes the Weekly falls prey to the fresh fish- and flower-wrappers at Pike Place Market. Other times it’s the target of racists. There’s a nasty bigot in the U District who occasionally tapes over SW headlines with his own scary messages. At least one arsonist is a fan. It came out in court that the man who lit a string of fires in Greenwood in 2009 was doing so with copies of Seattle Weekly. “Maybe we burn better, I don’t know,” offers Kraus.

And our telltale red boxes, those beloved and battered things, have been not only bearers of great journalism, but also convenient receptacles for all kinds of items: food wrappers, coffee cups, soda bottles, drug paraphernalia; stolen goods, like iPads and Macy’s clothing and wallets emptied of cash; duffel bags full of personal belongings; and other, grosser stuff, such as used baby diapers.

“Soiled diapers–that’s a new thing,” says Dave Jette, a drummer, music teacher, and downtown Seattle Weekly delivery driver for nearly 28 years. “That just showed up two months ago, and I’ve already dealt with it too many times.” In his line of work, “You’re prepared to see anything once,” he says. “I guess it was the repeat aspect of it that was surprising.”

But lest you fear the boxes, let it be known that we do everything in our power to keep ‘em clean. Kraus says he “can’t drive by without stopping and cleaning” out any box that’s sub-par, and probably spends a full day each week “doing nothing but fixing broken windows, cleaning graffiti, stuff like that.” Also, they can be treasure troves.

“What did I bring home the other day … ” Jette muses. “Oh, Girl Scout cookies! Two boxes of Girl Scout cookies, the mint ones. Totally still in the box. Virtually untampered.”

In sum: “You’d be surprised at how much is in the Seattle Weekly racks besides the Seattle Weekly,” he says.

The boxes themselves have also been used in history-making ways: as barricades during multiple May Day protests and as projectiles during the WTO riots. Protesters “were taking the boxes and throwing them through the windows of Starbucks,” says Kraus.

During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Seattle last September, Jette notes that the city removed all the newspaper boxes from the 10-block area that was cordoned off for his delegation. Says Jette: “They’d learned their lesson.” (They also learned, by the way, that removing the newspaper boxes in the downtown core as part of the city’s nine-and-a-half-block strategy last summer didn’t impact crime rates very much; they’ll probably replace them soon.)

Jette has an impressive stint as the longest-running Seattle Weekly employee, and remembers when the Weekly actually cost something: 75 cents. He got the gig initially because he’d just arrived in town, he was a starving musician, and he had a pickup truck; he keeps the gig partly because he’s “a completist,” he says. He likes to stick with things. Also, distributing Seattle Weekly downtown allows him to fine-tune some very magical powers: “legendary parking karma” and his “arrangement with the rain gods” every Wednesday morning.

Delivering downtown for so long has also been a fun way to watch Seattle change–and not change–through the years. Pike Place Market doesn’t feel all that different, for instance, while the rest of downtown is in constant flux. “I get to see the collision of all this and am grateful for that,” he says. He’s taken only two stints away from the job in 28 years. “And am I gonna go for 30 years? You bet! Even if I get that big gig and I’m on Saturday Night Live, I’m still gonna do my Weekly.”

 

Photo by Jose Trujillo

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