Oh Dark Thirty

By Beacon Staff

Up until recent years I always got out of bed very early. It started when I got my first morning paper route at the age of 13. It was a great job because all I had to do was deliver 300 copies of The Los Angeles Downtown Shopping News to 300 different houses on my route. I had to have all of them delivered by 6:30 in the morning. Most of my route was in a residential neighborhood where the houses all had lawns and the lots where I had to walk about four miles before I got ready for school.

To earn my dollar for delivering that many papers I had to get up by 4:30 a.m. I did this on Wednesday and Saturday mornings with an occasional special delivery on Thursday.

Getting up early at the age of 13 set the pattern that I would follow all the years I worked for a living. That guaranteed $2 and sometimes $3 a week was enough to buy 10-cents-a-gallon gasoline to put in my sister’s car to go surfing.

When I started at USC in January of 1942, I got a job spinning (polishing) the floors in the library. It paid 25 cents an hour and I started between 4:30 and 5 a.m. in order to get them all polished before the students showed up.

My next job was at Arrowhead and Puritas Water Company in 1942. It was a good one working on the bottling line where the five-gallon glass bottles of water showed up at the rate of 1,000 an hour. During that summer I got to sleep in until 6 a.m., but then I got promoted to helping unload a truck and trailer three mornings a week and once again I had to be at work before 5 a.m. to ride to San Bernadino, Redondo Beach, or Long Beach to unload the cases full of water bottles.

The next job was in the Navy and you had to be outside in the predawn darkness doing calisthenics before 6 a.m. rain or shine.

Once out of the Navy, I tried to go back to college and get my degree but quit a few weeks later and went skiing and never looked back. Skiing with Ward Baker for two winters we always were on the chair lift with the ski patrol and that meant catching the 8 a.m. bus from the ski school meeting place by the Challenger Inn swimming pool. To do that we had to roll out of our tear drop trailer by 7 a.m. in order go to the skiers’ chalet and shave while our ski boots got thawed out so we could get into them, thaw out the frozen milk for our oatmeal, then back to the trailer, and cook our oatmeal and make sure all of the feathers from our down sleeping bags had been picked off of each other’s sweaters.

My ambition has always exceeded my necessity for sleep. I have been very lucky in that respect. I also got up early at Squaw Valley to draw my daily cartoon unless there was powder snow for my brand new Bell and Howell 16mm camera. On a powder morning if I had earned enough money on the side to buy film I would be on the first chair up the mountain. That early-morning photography not only guaranteed good powder snow but it also guaranteed the best light of the day.

As my film company grew, eight hours a day were not enough to do everything necessary. By this time I had three children and morning in any house with kids is chaotic so I was back to waking up at 4:30 a.m. so I could at least be home at 6:30 p.m. to have dinner with them before they went to bed.

When I was filming in the 1970s I was still getting up early to make sure the camera was in perfect working condition, the lenses were clean, my heavy rucksack would not break under the load and package and to ship the film I had shot the day before.
If I had not kept the overhead down by getting up early all of those years, the company would never have grown to the size it was when I first sold half of it.

Today it is a real luxury for me to wake up at 4:30 a.m. automatically and realize I don’t have to hit the floor running, unless I have a deadline for a column, which is when I wrote this one.