As everyone knows there are morning people and there are night owls. I’m definitely not a night owl, and I’m only marginally a morning person. I’m actually more of an early morning person, and for that reason last Thursday, June 21, and the week or so immediately preceding it were — for me, at least — the worst days of the year.
That’s because these days leading up to the summer equinox were the longest days, with the sun rising at 5:23 or 5:24 in our area. For morning people — the folks who come into the office at 7:45 feeling chipper, and not reluctant to brag about their 6:30 a.m. run or bicycle ride — these were great days.
But for early morning people — people like me who like to take advantage of the dark and empty streets and offices to get work done that would otherwise get relegated to another, less efficient time — these were the painful days.
I’ve been an early morning person since the late 1950s, when I got a chance to be a newspaper boy for the Binghamton (NY) Sun-Bulletin. The route began three blocks away from my house, and stretched for another five blocks or so. In order to get it done on time — 7 a.m. — you had to get up at 4 a.m. I was in sixth grade. For some crazy reason my parents let me do it.
I loved it. The first thing I did when the bundles of papers were thrown off the truck was to open one up to the sports pages. I went straight to the Yankees’ box score. If the Yankees won there was an early morning moment of elation. If they lost it was a punch to the gut on a dark street corner. Then I looked down to third line of the Yankees’ batting order: Mickey Mantle. How did the Mick do? I knew, before anyone else in town.
The last thing I did was deliver a paper to Cerra’s Diner on Watson Boulevard (named after Thomas J., the founder of IBM). The cost of the paper was 5 cents; the cost of a huge glazed donut was 5 cents. I gave him a paper, and took a donut. Sweet. It wasn’t even 7 a.m. yet, but the early morning was over.
In the intervening years I have taken advantage of my early morning persona to rescue publications that might not otherwise have made it to the printer on time; to do a payroll that might otherwise be undone as a small army of employees and freelancers came knocking at the door for their checks; or to get a column written that might not otherwise see the light of day.
Being an early morning person is more reputable than being a night owl. Back in the early days of being a single father, my former wife discovered that I was leaving the house — and our two boys home alone — to make an early morning, five-minute walk to Nassau Street to buy the morning papers. That prompted a lawyer letter, and a threat to report me to the Division of Youth and Family Services.
I decided the best way to defuse the threat was to call DYFS myself, and ask them what they would do if someone called with such a complaint. “We’d ignore it,” was the blunt answer. “We’ve got cases far worse than that to deal with.” Of course, if someone had been accusing me of running out late at night to get a six-pack, it might have been a different story.
So on June 21 I found myself out and about at a little after 4 a.m. Perhaps not surprisingly, nearly a half century after my debut as an early morning person delivering newspapers in upstate New York, I was again out delivering newspapers, tidying up and refilling boxes that contained our super-thick June 20 Health & Fitness issue.
With the sky still mostly dark, but with the birds already chirping in anticipation of that early sunrise, I drove south on Nassau Street, restocking the boxes in front of Cox’s Store, Triumph Brew Pub, Starbucks, and Callaway realtors. Then I headed down to the Dinky Station and the WaWa — Princeton’s version of Cerra’s Diner. No chance to trade for a donut these days, but no chance to get the Yankees’ score, either. In the Information Age, not a single morning paper carries the score of a game that ends after 10 p.m. the night before.
Armed with a cup of WaWa coffee I head back up Nassau Street and begin to refill the boxes on the other side of the street: the bus stop in front of Nassau Hall, then the box at Thomas Sweet ice cream. I begin to trade places with a large SUV, stopping and starting at various points along Nassau. At Charlton Street I catch up with the driver. “You must be in the same business as me,” I say.
She is — delivering the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. How much of an early morning person is she, I ask. She says she starts at 2 a.m., seven days a week. And five days a week she also has a day job. Without prompting she explains: “I’ve got seven kids at home. That’s why I do it.”
There’s nothing romantic about being an early morning person. I finish up the boxes and head back to the house, to use the last few minutes of the early morning to take care of the lingering E-mail from the day before.
Off to the east I can see the sun hitting the tree tops. The damned joggers and cyclists will be out soon. But from now on the early mornings will get better. By the time you read this the sun will not rise until 5:26. It will get later and later until the end of December, when we can move about in the shadows until 7:20 or so. But for now it’s one of the worst days: It’s 5:45 a.m. Early morning is already over. The dreaded day has begun.