Vail Daily columnist Warren Miller: The early riser
Vail, CO, Colorado
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 I had to walk about four miles before I got ready for school.
I put half of the papers in a sack over my shoulders, with half of them in front and half in back. Each one of them had to be folded a special way without a rubber band and thrown on the porch as close to the front door as possible. If the building was a duplex, I had to put them under the front door handle.
My boss wanted everyone to have their Shopping News before they got on the bus or street car and rode downtown to their work place. There was no such thing as shopping centers in 1937 except right in downtown Los Angeles or on Hollywood Boulevard west of Vine Street.
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To do the job to earn my dollar for delivering that many papers, I had to get up by 4:30 in the morning. 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 once I got my driver’s license.
I was also about to save enough money to buy a trailer that could hold four or five 100-pound surfboards to and from San Onofre on the weekends, and in the winter to Palos Verdes when there was still a road almost down to the water.
When I started at the University of Southern California in January 1942, I got a job polishing the floors in the library. It paid 25 cents an hour, and I started my job sometime between 4:30 and 5 in the morning in order to get them all polished before the students showed up, but only five days a week.
My next job was at Arrowhead and Puritas Water Co. in 1942. It was a good one working on the bottling line where the 5-gallon glass bottles of water showed up at the rate of a thousand 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 in the morning to ride to San Bernadino, Redondo Beach or Long Beach to unload the cases full of 5-gallon water bottles.
The next job was in the Navy, and you had to be outside in the predawn darkness doing calisthenics before 6 in the morning, rain or shine.
Once I got aboard a ship, I was always the junior officer, so I got the 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. duty watch or the 4 in the afternoon until 8 at night. You had to get up at least half an hour early for the morning watch so your eyes would be used to the darkness and you could spot Japanese submarines before they saw you.
Once out of the Navy, after I got sunk in a hurricane near Guadalcanal, 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 getting 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 teardrop trailer by 7 in the morning to 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, and 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.
First tracks were a wonderful thing to experience in 1946-47 because no one else was trying to do it. We carved a lot of sets of figure eights on Mount Baldy.
Getting out of bed early continued when I was teaching skiing in 1948-49 because I was making a lot of money with my shoelace business and had a couple of hours of work every morning boxing up my shoelace orders and then teaching on Dollar Mountain all day.
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 was 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 the 4:30 in the morning so I could at least be home by 6:30 at night to have dinner with them before they went to bed.
For about 10 years, my car was parked right under my daughter’s bedroom window.
So that I did not wake her up when I started my car at 4:30 in the morning, I would push it out into the alley and down the street a couple of houses and be in my office in five minutes and get four hours of work done before anyone else showed up.
I could call people in New York after 6 a.m. in my office, and they were always surprised by my early morning call. 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 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 four-thirty in the morning 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.
Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years, and his column began in the Vail Daily before being syndicated to more than 50 publications. For more of Miller’s stories and stuff, log onto warrenmiller.net. For information about his foundation, The Warren Miller Freedom Foundation, go to http://www.warrenmiller.org.