Trade Secrets: Milkman

Frank Camera

The Trade
For more than half a century, Alta Dena products have been delivered to Orange County homes, and for 34 years Camera has been behind the wheel. He’s one of 15 independent dairy drivers who make nightly rounds.

Chances are you won’t see Camera at work. From the moment his alarm goes off at 12:30 a.m., and till sunrise, he’s delivering dairy fresh from the cow to homes in Newport Beach and Corona del Mar. Sixty-nine-year-old Camera, who grew up on Long Island, recalls waking up as a kid to milk on the doorstep. “Even in my mid-20s when I was living back east, I still had a milkman.” The night shift, Camera has discovered, is one of the best parts of the job: “I can nap in the afternoon while most people are at work. It’s almost like I’m not working.”

Did having a milkman inspire you to become one?
Not really. But when I moved to California in 1979, a friend told me Alta Dena was hiring milkmen, so I just happened to fall into it. It’s done me very well. Even my son is doing it now.

Do you share a route?
No, his is in Brea, Anaheim, and Rancho Santa Margarita. Delivered or store-bought:

Which is more expensive?
The average price at a store is about $5.49 a gallon, unless they slash the price—then it could be as low as $4.49, or even $3.49. A gallon is a little over $5 with home delivery, but there’s never an additional charge for delivery.

What’s the biggest advantage?
It’s fresher, and handled less. The milk you find in the store goes from the farm to the warehouse, then to the store, and then into cold storage until they rotate it in.

Tell me about your customers.
I have close to 300 in all, but as far as regular customers go, I can’t really say. The typical delivery is about 1½ gallons of milk, but every family has different needs. And people tend to buy more on the holidays. The company has several solicitors who go door to door. We’ve tried many things, but we’ve found that 99.9 percent of the time knocking on doors is the best way to get new customers.  

And your nightly routine?
I load my own truck in Santa Ana and then I’m on the road about six hours. I drive about 100 miles a night. Afterward, I go back to the yard and take an inventory from a load sheet that we use to keep track of the orders. Every other day I wash and clean the truck with my own supplies. I keep the inside as clean as I would my fridge. The truck never goes home with me.

Any frightening moments in the dark?
One night I’m walking up this guy’s driveway when I see out of the corner
of my eye a passenger in his truck. I nearly had a heart attack. Then I realized it was a dummy—he’d put a dummy in the seat so he wouldn’t get caught in the carpool lane!

Where do your dairy goods come from?
The milk comes from farms that the company has contracts with. Alta Dena used to have its own farm, but now it has local farmers who supply the dairy. The farms are spread across California.

How long between the time the cows are milked and when it’s delivered?
About 24 hours.

Ever milked a cow?

Can you tell a Jersey from a Holstein?
I’m somewhat familiar with those terms, but no, I can’t.

Sell anything else besides milk?
Sour cream, cheese, eggs, lemonade, yogurt, you name it.

They would have to be ordered in advance, but we could go get them.

Anyone in your family lactose-intolerant?
No, but I do drink soy and almond milk.

Get any, uhh, special orders?
There was this one woman … I went up to the door with her order and saw the door was open. Then I saw this note: “I’m waiting in the bedroom for you.” The guys at the loading dock asked me what I did, and I said, “I ran the hell out of there!” I was married at the time.


Photographs by Priscilla Iessi

This article originally appeared in the July 2013 issue.

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