4:30 a.m. Wake-up: A Sign of Our Times

A green-colored glowing 4:30 a.m. is the first image I see nearly every morning.  No matter how hard I try to close my eyes and not open them, my mind continues to turn its gears. The harder I try not to wake up, the more my mind fights this by accelerating its pistons.  Ultimately, one to two hours later, I can’t stand it and give up and get up out of bed.

Articles have been written about people who have a similar sleep disorder during the pandemic, called Covid-somnia or coronasomnia.

The year 2020 is almost over, and thank goodness.  If you live in Los Angeles, the Lakers and Dodgers each winning a World Championship in October, the first time that has happened since 1988, were two bright spots in a year that will otherwise forever go into the history books as the year of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Congratulations—we are surviving a world health crisis.  This was a golden missed opportunity for people of all political persuasions to come together on a common goal:  diminishing the impact of the virus.  If we had the right president in office, a unifier not a divider, this would have been an enlightening moment for America.   While not as bad as the Great Depression or World War II, this was our crisis test to continue the American tradition of working together for the common good of our neighbors.

Thank God most of us do not have loved ones defending America around the world.  Limiting contact with friend and family to Zoom sessions should not have been that big of a sacrifice.

Sadly, we failed the test.  If people can’t agree on science, then conflict separates us.  Wearing masks, staying at home, limiting social contact were traits on a resume to see if you were Pro-Trump or anti-Trump.

The new surge in Covid cases across the country combined with a President who does not want to leave office continues playing havoc with people’s sleeping habits.

No wonder I keep waking up at 4:00 a.m. each day.  From mid-March to mid-November, 8 straight months and counting, has been the most anxious continuous length of time most of us have ever lived through.  And it will likely be another 8 months before the majority of Americans receive a vaccination.

If you are waiting for normal to return, best to wait it out until 2022 which is less than 14 months away.

I don’t know about you, but I find myself overeating and not sleeping well.  Even the holidays are dripping with anxiety.  Families unable to be together, arguments in families between those who fear the virus and those who ignore it, masks vs. no masks is enough unpleasantness to kill the Christmas spirit.

Besides sports, during this year I have found solace in comedy.  My wife and I discovered “Schitt’s Creek,” the best family sitcom since “Everybody Loves Raymond.”  What makes the show so appealing is its perfect casting from the stars to the supporting cast.  What makes the show memorable is that it treats a family with a gay son as nothing special.  The show is not about messaging about homosexuality.  Its only message is about the love between parents and children.

The other thing I find calming is watching old Huell Howser episodes.  I just finished the one he did in 2005 on Oak Glen with all the apple orchards.  I still can’t believe he died in 2013 at age 67.  He was such a genuine loving human being, with the curiosity of a child and the heart of a saint.  Not a phony bone in his body.

It didn’t matter if he was visiting an old oak tree or an old man with an elephant as a best friend, his ingratiating personality always reacting with a genuine “wow” at discovering something is a salve for today’s times when it seems Americans are fighting other Americans.

It is also something of a curiosity to see how life used to be not that long ago when people shook hands with one another and stood a foot not six feet apart.  In one episode at Oak Glen apple orchards, customers were encouraged to use the their bare hands in sampling free apple slices from paper bowls.  No social distancing, no washing of hands, no masks.  A farmer with his bare hand used a knife, cut off a hunk, and handed it to Huell who ate it and . . . lived without getting sick.

And every person Huell interviewed was decent and nice, something that is missing in so much of our lives these days.

I am worried about the future of our country and world.  There is little connective tissue that we share anymore.

For so long, Americans shared common experiences.  We now live in a time when each person can create his own world.   Some may like this, that they can tailor their music, social media, TV content to their own taste.  But when each person lives in a bubble when it comes to facts, science, and only feeds themselves political views that they have, they can easily vilify those with different views. 

History has plenty of examples where once people look at other people as unequal, we are only a small step away from causing harm to the “others.”  History is full of these stories.  They are called genocides.

Once people like me die off who lived through better times for America, younger people who didn’t grow up that way won’t even recognize the loss.  I’m glad I won’t be around to see what that America will be like.

And that’s why I see “4:30” each and every morning.

Huell Howser—Historian of Us All

Hearing the news that Huell Howser passed away is a sad day for Angelenos.  His public TV programs, including Visiting and California’s Gold, spotlighted the best in people and places.

When I was a kid, Ralph Story was the TV historian of Los Angeles on Channel 2 News, providing stories of the region of things that I either knew nothing about or very little.  Then Huell Howser came long on the same station.

With a folksy, honest “good to meet ‘cha” attitude, Huell (Mr. Howser seems too formal) could go anywhere with a microphone and a camera and speak to strangers.  In fact, one of his shows was called “The Bench,” where he literally sat on a bench and spoke to anyone who walked by.

There is a lot of stuff to love about California. I’ve lived here all my life and haven’t seen even half of the sights it has to offer. Through Huell, I’ve vacationed vicariously, to the northernmost and southernmost points of the state, to all 21 California missions, to the lady who made art out of lint from her dryer, to the animal trainer saying a last goodbye to his old elephant friend.

And who could not relate to his love of food? From See’s Candy to Stan’s Donuts, he tasted and savored these delicious goodies for us all.

His wide-eyed reaction to all small and large things of marvel was a joy to watch. Even when some would make fun of his wholesome enthusiasm, it was done with much love and respect. In a way, we all wish we could be like Huell Howser and not so cynical and grumpy.

He made his work look so easy, meaning it really wasn’t.

I remember his reaction to the 1992 riots and how dejected he felt that regular folks would loot their neighborhood stores.

I remember him advocating for the protection of Los Angeles landmarks, fighting to save the Farmer’s Market.

He showcased our past as a way for us to remember that those of us living today have a legacy to leave behind.  He brought all kinds of people together like no politician ever could.

He is one of those famous people who while you may never have known him personally, you felt that you did know him. That’s why his death is like a death in one’s family. It is difficult to imagine life without him.

The only good that comes out of a death like this is that it serves as a reminder to all of us that life is fragile. None of us knows how many days we have to live. The cliché of living each day fully, as a gift, resonates strongly.

How ironic that the man who would end each “California’s Gold” introduction with the words “in search of California’s Gold” was as precious as the people and places he invited viewers to get to know.

In a time when ugliness permeates the airwaves, Huell brought us real stories about real people, mainly because he was a real person himself. Yes, we can still watch his programs, and, in that regard, his legacy lives on. Still, a piece of California’s gold has forever been lost.

It is up to us now to never forget Huell Howser.