Tim Smith has been out on his milk route this morning since 3:30. He’s under a full moon. “I try to be quiet,” says Smith. “I know there was an old song, Mr. Milkman can you keep your bottles quiet. Milkman humor. We don’t have bottles but we try to be as quiet as we can.”
He pulls up his 1994 Nissan V-6 truck with the customized refrigerated bed to a house somewhere near Mira Loma high school. He lets the truck idle but turns off the headlights. He reaches inside the refrigerated compartment and grabs five quarts of milk which he delivers to the doorstep of the house. The occupants are up – a television can be seen through a window. Smith gets back into the truck. The customers in the house never knew he was there. Smith says that’s the case most of the time. “Once in a while you meet them. Scares the daylights out of them. They know they’re getting milk but they don’t realize what time. Scares them to death. But most of my customers are not awake right now.”
Tim Smith is one of 18 milkmen in the area – and by the way, they are all men. It continues to be a male dominated profession. Smith and his fellow milkmen each have a couple hundred customers. They carry Crystal dairy products but work as independents. Once the sun comes up, the trucks are rolling billboards for Crystal. But according to Smith, the light of day is no place for delivering milk. “Our main concern is sun. We try to put it in a place where it’s not exposed to the sun. Winter’s a milkman’s best time, because we don’t worry about the milk. We get done, well, if I run my wheels off here, we’ll get done by 6 o’clock, quarter to six.”
With 50 deliveries ahead of him, and rush hour just two hours away, traffic would slow him down. But under the cover of darkness, the city streets belong to him and his cold box. Right now, Smith’s got Eastern Avenue all to himself. “Anytime people are out generally at this time of day or night they’re probably up to either no good or coming home from work or they’re drunk.”
Or they’re delivering milk.
Milk is a morning tradition. On a farm, milk at 5 a.m. is considered the cow’s imperative. But today’s delivery customers need milk on their porches so it can be put away before they go to work. Rain … Snow …Heat … NOR gloom-of-night can dare a dairyman.
Milkmen like Tim Smith have a lot to keep straight in the early morning darkness. Every order is slightly different. There’s six flavors of yogurt…Butter …Eggs … And a BIG selection of milk in colored cartons. Smith lists them off. “It’s either white, blue, pink or green. Pink’s nonfat, green’s one percent, blue’s two percent and whole milk is white.
Why do people continue to have milk delivered to their homes? Lots of reasons, according to Smith, who insists one thing his customers have in common is that they’re saving money. “If you notice the store, they’re always set up where the dairy products are set up at the back of the store. And it’s purposely set up that way. So when you run out of milk, you run to the store and you walk through all the good things, and that’s the idea, to get you to put more things in your basket than milk,” he days.
While most of Smith’s customers don’t know him, he knows some things about them. Life as a milkman brings out the sociologist in him. “The less affluent, you drink more whole milk. The real wealthy areas that we have are almost all nonfat.”
By 6 a.m., traffic has picked up and so has the sun. With about six deliveries left in Carmichael, Smith is nearing the end of his day, and he reflects on his job. “I live a pretty, I guess some people would think it’s boring life, but it’s a routine. In all honesty we love what we do. So. Can’t ask for any better than loving what you’re doing,” he says.
And with that, Smith drives off to the next customer. Someone is expecting their usual delivery to be there when they wake up, but chances are, they’ve never met the man behind the milk on the doorstep. And that’s just the way Tim Smith likes it.