by Will Kyle
MONTPELIER — Have you ever wondered who brought The Bridge to the spot around town where you pick it up?
The man responsible will be the focus of this story. Dan Renfro is his name. Twice a month when The Bridge is published, he can be found carrying stacks of newspapers in a garden cart to downtown businesses and drop spots. The full route for him demands close to three hours of walking. With a smile on his face, Renfro faces the blazing heat of summer and the exhaustion of heavy lifting. He could certainly complete the route faster and with more ease if he used a car. But the easy way out of hard work is not for Renfro. He doesn’t walk this route for the sake of the buckets of cash he earns from The Bridge for his service. He does it for the people. He does it for the dogs. Most importantly, he does it to do his part for the environment. And, he told me, “I do it for me.” This week, I was afforded the great pleasure and honor of following Renfro on his twice monthly route, scribbling as many notes as I could on the quickly moving conversation.
Renfro inherited the paper route eight years ago from a little girl who grew up and eventually moved on. Nat Frothingham, The Bridge’s publisher and editor, was friends with Renfro, and asked him if he was interested in taking over the route. Renfro decided he could use a little extra income, and before you know it, Renfro was “stuck with the deliveries,” he said, laughing, as he walked up to the Botanica Florals with a stack of papers. A friendly German shepherd named Ferdinand came to greet him as he dropped the stack on the right side of the counter. I said, ‘hello’ to Ferdinand’s human, who was putting more flowers in a large glass case. Renfro gave Ferdinand a scratch, then the dog came over to meet me. Renfro turned to leave, his work done. The dog’s human, Bronwyn Fryer, called out, “Thank you!”
Every time Renfro dropped a stack of papers in a store, people would invariably thank him. The kindness he receives even from store owners with whom he doesn’t happen to strike up a conversation is part of the perks of his job. “It’s kind of nice,” he told me. “If you are a sociable person, which I’m not really, it’s a good way to meet people.”
As we stopped at Capitol Grounds to deliver by far the largest stack the papers along the route, Renfro told me there is some skill involved with his task. He sets papers at about waist height, typically to the right of where people would be walking anyway. That way, anybody can simply grab a paper with one hand without any extra difficulty. Capitol Grounds was one exception, with the papers being to the left as you walk in. However, the coffee shop patrons make up more than the difference. People who go Capitol Grounds seem to be as hungry for something to read as they are for breakfast.
Renfro occasionally gets hungry on the route, but today he was more focused on staying hydrated. We walked into Delish, Montpelier’s sweet shop, to deliver a stack of papers. Co-owner Mary Kay Blouin told me that when the weather isn’t so hot, Renfro always buys some of the sweets. “They fuel him,” she laughed. Renfro had already walked out, but he popped his head back in the door to answer. “Mm!” he exclaimed. “Yes!”
On his way out of Positive Pie, Renfro picked up a piece of plastic trash he saw on the floor. Cleaning up messes is part of his job too, he tells me, though The Bridge had nothing to do with the trash on the floor.
The garden cart he pulls around filled with stacks of papers seems to fit the stacks so perfectly that it could have been made for the job. Renfro bought it from a local hardware store and doesn’t own a car. As convenient as it may be, he told me that he doesn’t need one, so he can do without. He hopes that seeing a guy pulling around a garden cart all afternoon can be a symbol to the people of Montpelier. What kind of symbol do you want this to be, exactly?” I asked him.
“Now is a time when we all have do our part to take care of the planet.” Renfro wants people to become just a little more aware of their environment, of the use of oil and of people with less advantage in the world. With his small act, Renfro hopes that he can share his respect for our planet, and communicate that respect to the like-minded people around him.
Renfro told me a funny story about his mom. After president Jimmy Carter asked U.S. citizens to become more conscious about wasting resources, his mom stopped using her clothes dryer and never used it again. I suppose that’s more respectable than funny. But it’s still a good story.