Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Paper Route, 4:44 a.m.

It’s early, before the sun’s up and the day grows hot. Before people’s dreams have faded to groggy alertness. Before they’ve started their morning routines. Most people, at least.

A minivan whips around the corner, four-way lights blinking, and comes to a sudden halt. A woman in a long T-shirt, with a head of big, curly hair, opens the door and dashes out toward a rowhouse. What is she doing? What is she fleeing?

She pivots suddenly in the darkness and hustles back to the car, leaping back through the still open driver’s seat door. The car lurches forward a few feet before stopping again. Now—illuminated by a street light—as she darts toward another house, it’s clear what she’s doing. She hucks a newspaper hard and it soars through the early morning air, landing expertly with a satisfying whump at the front door step. Clearly this is not her first paper route.

It’s not as quaint as the name suggests. There’s no bicycle with a big basket stuffed with papers. It’s not pocket money for an early-rising grade schooler. The way she moves—fast, frenetic—makes everything feel fragile and desperate. Maybe she’s just running late.

The car jerks forward again and she comes to the next house, tossing her parcel toward it. She continues in short bursts, fading back into the darkness and disappearing around a corner. 

The sun will rise in about an hour. The rest of D.C. will get started with its day. People will wake up, brush their teeth, and step outside to read the day’s news.

Will Warren writes Scene and Heard. If you know of a location worthy of being scene or heard, email him at