Raise your hand if you ever had to buy cigarettes for your parents at the packie when you were a kid?
Ok. Now raise your hand if you ever called a taxi to deliver cigarettes and beer to your home during the third period of a Bruins game?
Yep. Did you ever witness your aunt grab a nameless neighborhood kid and send him to the store for eggs with a buck…and he actually did it?
Of course. Finally, raise your hand if you ever got a sub with “hots” and cigarettes delivered with a free book of matches thrown in?
Yea, you’re from Boston.
The way we used to roll around here before UberEats, GrubHub, Amazon Fresh and all of those so-called innovators in home delivery is through a delicate system of taxis, kids and cash. As the great Solomon said, nothing is new under the sun. So it is, I have to laugh when I get wind of these Internet types “reinventing” what we’ve been doing around here for generations on a face-to-face level.
I had to laugh not long ago when I was scanning some Boston neighborhood papers from the 1970s and saw a rather mundane advertisement for a pizza parlor.
It was the regular deal, one 12” pizza for $5, two for $8. A bargain by today’s standards.
Yet what caught my attention was a box at the bottom of the ad that said, “Cigarettes and subs delivered to your home after 6! Free matches after 8 with purchase of both.”
Next to that was a special offer that for another $3, they would go next door to the liquor store, pick up a six pack of beer, and bring that too.
At least three things in that advertisement are likely punishable with jail time now, but what a flood of memories that brought back.
Vividly, I can remember my aunts picking up the phone and looking at the clock in the kitchen to see if it was late enough to get cigarettes delivered from the pizza shop.
My dad smoked Pall Malls, filterless, and my routine was to go to the packie to pick those cigarettes up for him. Oddly enough, my old man had a hang-up about me knowing the names of beer brands, so he wouldn’t tell me the brand of beer I was to ask for. I only gave my last name, and the man behind the counter knew which one to hand over.
The elephant in the room here is that, yes, kids could go buy beer and cigarettes – especially young kids – for their parents. No right-minded storeowner in 1960s or 1970s Boston was going to turn away a 10-year-old trying to buy beer, liquor or smokes in the neighborhood.
Can you imagine if that happened today?
What a change we’ve gone through as fewer and fewer people know each other and there are more strange faces than friends.
One of the old standbys, however, was using the taxi cab late at night to get a fifth of whiskey or another six pack to the front door during the third period of the Bruins game. No one wanted to go out in the winter, and I would stand to bet one-third of the weekend business for cabbies back in the day was delivering the sin-tax items to people wrapped up in the Bruins or Celtics games.
Nobody watched the Patriots back then, or at least not like they do in the B&B era. It was all Celtics and Bruins in the winter, and Red Sox for the rest of the year.
Being streetwise teens, my friends and I were ripe to capitalize on this little Boston delivery eccentricity. Once we were old enough to want to abscond with cigarettes and beer for ourselves, the trick was to wait on the stoop while copping a horrible attitude and slyly looking for a cab with a delivery. We had to make it believable to the cabbie that our old man had sent us to wait outside for the delivery. If we were lucky, a delivery of beer and smokes would pull up. With our fake bad attitude, we’d intercept the delivery and pay the cabbie. There were no cell phones in play back then to call whoever ordered it. If we pulled it off, suddenly Saturday night in the back alley got a lot more fun – or so we thought when we were 15.
The hand-delivered marketplace isn’t what it once was in Boston, but it doesn’t mean people still aren’t living that way.
It’s just that now there’s an app for it.