Updated: Sep 1, 2021
Along with the occasional gigs that came with having a family business I was tasked with riding along with my father on his routes whenever school wasn't in session. He used a variety of vehicles over the years but the Ford E350 cargo van was the one I remember most, very similar to "little helper" my family uses to feed the houseless now. My parents saw no reason to waste money on daycare or a babysitter when I could be put to use helping out. Summer break, snow days, holidays, you name it while most kids were playing at home I was riding shotgun in a commercial van. My small frame made it easy for me to duck into the back and pick out the supplies needed as we drove to the next stop. It wasn't exactly safe but made things efficient.
This was pre-internet and pre-cell phones so I spent a lot of time reading books and watching the ever changing view from the passenger side window. My father had a penchant for talk radio and Rush Limbaugh was among his favorites. As an adult I cannot stand that man but there is this weird tinge of nostalgia when I hear him that's difficult to shake.
If we had a particularly large delivery or it was a stop with several machines to stock I was my fathers backup and would help him manage the product and machines (usually while he talked to folks in the lobby). With the vending machines we would check the expiration dates and if it would expire before we were scheduled to return he would have me pull it (and cart it home, never throwaway on site). We'd also reclaim slow movers that weren't expired and try them at a different customer. We learned what pastries, candy bars, chips, drinks etc. were popular based on the type of establishment, For example auto body repair, salvage and generally blue collar locations preferred chips, candy bars and full flavor sodas with lots of sugar. Office building, insurance agencies and government buildings leaned more towards the lighter options like bagged nuts, baked chips and diet soda. There were always exceptions of course and sometimes we would stock one specific item because the owner or manager asked for it and even if they didn't eat much we wanted it available for them since they were the ones that signed the contract.
Most of the time though I would just sit in the van waiting. It cost a lot of money to run the engine so in the summer it could get sweltering hot and I'd just have to fan myself and hydrate. I got so frustrated knowing he was just in there chatting 90% of the time. I'd try to bottle my frustration (unsuccessfully) and he'd remind me how important glad handling was to the success of the operation. I'd usually avoid engaging, after all I couldn't change how he operated. I'd ask where our next stop was and begin preparing their invoice and staging the product in the back while he'd be cruising down the road.
I got to know Kansas City pretty well at least by sight, it wasn't until later that the street names and landmarks all merged into a graphical map in my head. While I got board out of my mind and would prefer to be home with friends I did find ways to enjoy the time with my father. When we weren't listening to conservative radio or classic country we'd debate things like what was the greatest Indian Jones movie (Raiders) or who was the greatest James Bond (Connery of course!) He knew I was a sucker for views of downtown so when we pulled over for lunch he'd try and angle the vehicle where I could see planes departing the downtown airport or trucks jockeying along I-70. Many many summer days were spent riding shotgun with my father and for better or worse it helped shape who I am. I have an excellent sense of direction, a love of being out and about, I have a low threshold for heat, a knack for fixing vending machines and limited patients when waiting in a parked vehicle. All the same so very many sites around Kansas City remind me of my time with him and to this day I can identify old customers of my father nearly everywhere I drive around the metro.