Wednesday, August 12, 2009


In the later years of my graduate studies, I scored a real treasure: a faculty parking pass from an outgoing friend who had been a research associate.  I could park anywhere on campus, including right next to the building, where I would get puzzled glances from the (real) faculty.  Little did I know at the time that I would inherit something else from my friend: the need to wake up early.

Dartmouth's War on Parking has continued at a brisk pace throughout my time in the area.  They took out dozens of spots when the new Engineering building was built, took out a hundred to build a new dormitory on the other side of campus, and with the same project took out a convenient access road to one of the remaining lots.  In other words, they appear to be winning this war.  As casualties, employees of the college (that is, those who are not waging this war; those who are have assigned spots) have to come in increasingly early to get a parking spot.  During the normal school year, if you have not arrived by 8:15, you are playing chicken with fate, and more literally with that other car circling the lot.  I always beat BMWs, they're just not believable under these circumstances.  And the Volvos, you can tell their hearts aren't in the game -- they'd be happy to park across campus and walk, you just know it.

As a result, I have joined the ranks of the early risers.  I am generally at my desk by 8:30 in the morning, depending on which office I'm going to.  (My office in Lebanon, where I spend half my time, has a much saner parking setup)  However, sometimes I just get ready quickly in the morning and am at my desk before 8am.  This is not boasting, I am not proud of this.  But there are those who are.  You know who these people are, the earlier-than-thous, the people for whom there is apparently no greater virtue than waking up early and doing things.

They don't even have to accomplish much, either.  At this time of day, "I walked my dogs", "I already had my coffee", "I played squash", "I responded to all my email" -- these things are accomplishments that we are expected to nod appreciatingly at, acknowledging that these people are indeed earlier than us, and therefore better people.

I found myself among these people this morning.  I cannot tell which bothers me more, being looked down on by these people as I arrived, or being accepted with tacit approval (and some irritation) if I am already here when they arrive.  Either way, I found myself wondering where the phrase "earlier-than-thou" comes from.  The earliest mention I've seen so far this morning is from an excellent article from Time magazine, 1969.  It's worth reading while you enjoy your morning caffeine.

(I can mostly vouch for the method of putting the alarm clock on the other side of the room, by the way.  There are few inventions more useful and yet more evil than the snooze button, apocryphally invented by Lew Wallace, Civil War General, and author of Ben Hur.  I still don't know where the 9 minutes comes from, but my private theory is that when you are groggy, it's just too difficult to figure out when you will be woken up again should you push the button, and that little extra indecision helps you wake up again.)

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