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Column: Does the early bird really get the worm?

I got up and hustled to work this morning an hour and a half earlier than my usual time, to take care of a pile of unfinished business. I stopped on the way and picked up a quick coffee to go. At the coffee stop and on the way to work, I encountered flocks of "early birds." We've all heard it a thousand times: "The early bird gets the worm." But for every statement that an early riser makes in praise of his own early morning habits, a night owl has an answer -- like "even worms don't get up early. What the early bird is getting is yesterday's left-over, stale worms."

Does the early bird really get the worm? Benjamin Franklin, who wrote a book titled Early to Rise, seemed to think so. In his popular Poor Richard's Almanac, Franklin wrote, "Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise." Franklin was obviously a bright fellow, but you may recall he had the early morning habit of taking a bath then sitting naked to dry with the windows open in the dead of winter. That seems neither healthy nor wise to me, and has nothing whatsoever to do with wealth. The night owl has his own verse for that one: "Early to bed, early to rise and your girl goes out with other guys."

But Franklin didn't give up easily. He came back with, "the early morning has gold in its mouth." My life companion wouldn't hesitate on that one. "That's not gold, that's morning breath."

Mark Twain was quite a bright fellow himself. To him, getting any benefit from early rising was a joke. He wrote: "Put no trust in the benefits to accrue from early rising as set forth by that infatuated Franklin."

Getting an early start on a long trip, Raquel and I were driving in the dark. She was sleeping. We were driving east and as we came over a hill, there was the biggest, brightest sunrise ever in creation. I wanted to sing, "Morning is breaking, like the first morning," but I respected the slumbering. Then she stirred and opened one eye. "Just look at that sunrise," I exulted. She squinted and moaned. "I've already seen one," she said. Case closed. Two interpretations of the very same horizon.

The advocates of early rising will pompously list the advantages like the 10 commandments:

1. Head start to getting things done.

2. Quietude -- perfect time for reading, thinking and breathing.

3. Sunrise -- incredible colors, morning dew, beauty of nature.

4. Time for a genuine breakfast instead of a skip or snack on the run.

5. Exercise -- morning exercise never gets canceled like it does when put off until late in the day.

6. Productivity -- write, study and work with energy, not fatigue.

7. Goals -- a perfect time to reflect and set goals for the day and the week.

8. Commuting -- the early hours are the best time to beat rush hour traffic. (I can vouch for this one -- I encountered absolutely no rush hour traffic this morning.)

9. Appointments -- you always arrive on time or maybe even a little early for your appointments.

10. Feel good about yourself.

That "feel good" commandment is the last straw for the late night crowd. They say, "Early risers are disgusting. They are so self satisfied and self righteous they make me sick. Besides, they have to go to bed so early they don't know how to have fun. If I wanted to live that life I would have joined a monastery. Don't wake me in the morning."