Danger of Routine

Photo: The Dobber & I. Still buddies 58 years after meeting in third grade

By Mike Johnson

The “5” flipped into place, KDWB radio clicked on, my eyes opened to “3:45 am.”
I owned a “Groundhog Day” flip-clock/radio 23 years before it became famous.

I sprang straight out of bed.
Thirteen years old, I’d learned that taking a moment to enjoy warmth, comfort and darkness led straight to oversleeping.

I had 45 customers depending on me.
90 if you count the Dobber’s 45.
It was my job to wake him up too.

I crunched through three blocks of snow to rap on his basement window.
Ten seconds later he'd pull aside the little curtain, show his face and point up, signaling me to the front door.
A minute later he’d let me in.

While he finished dressing, I kneeled next to his dog Inksy, sleeping by the heat vent.
As I petted, she lazily exposed her belly, which was much warmer than my hand.
This was my daily moment of weakness.
Dreading the cold and work ahead of me, I’d have shit-canned my paper route and humanity to transform into that warm, comfortable dog.

The Dobber and I then walked another three blocks to the paper stop.
This protected our face from the sub-zero wind.

Half the time we beat the paper truck.
The colder the morning, the later it arrived.
Which made no sense. Did they print the newspapers outside?

Eventually the panel truck arrived.
We fell into the groove of counting, filling our bags and shuffling off in opposite directions.
I’d complete the route, walk home, watch cartoons, read my paper and get ready for junior high.
Then I walked back to the Dobber’s house, repeated the window rap, dog petting and walked with him to school.

Routine is a salve. Route-teen in our case.
It takes no thought.
You just repeat the groove.
The groove becomes normal, familiar misery.
Over and over and over.

Decades later, you remember the good parts fondly.
The bad parts lose their sting.

When you’re a kid, there’s no escape.
You must comply.
If you have a friend to share the misery, it’s easier to cope.

But when you’re an adult, sharing the misery with a friend makes it harder to escape.
You reinforce each other’s captivity.
Routine becomes habit and habit becomes your life.

I’m an adult in age, but still a teen in my head.
Fortunately, I escaped a life of comfortable misery.
It took moving six states away to reinvent myself.

But I’ve always missed it. Mourned it. Memorialized it.

That’s how compelling it is.

So everyone faces two choices.

Spring out of bed. Or languish in comfortable misery.

Either way, it becomes your life.



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