James Myers spent Presidents' Day hunkered for hours in a van parked on a Los Angeles street corner.
Long hours of surveillance, even on holidays, are not unusual for Myers, a private investigator who owns his own firm and specializes in insurance fraud. Myers, 51, of Anaheim Hills, learned the trade during five years of working for the FBI in Los Angeles.
"In those days, the FBI used to investigate insurance cases," said Myers, whose wife is also a private eye and his business partner. "Now, they do only larger cases, which leaves some work for me. I used to find all my work in Los Angeles County, but this kind of thing is moving to Orange County, particularly during the recession."
The work requires long hours. But as far back as he can remember, Myers had life boiled down to a basic tenet: hard work.
"I learned really early that I had to work," Myers said. "I knew as a kid my family couldn't give me all the things I need, and I started working. But it never really bothered me--maybe because everyone else was in the same boat."
Myers grew up in a working-class neighborhood in New Jersey just south of Newark. One of 10 children, he worked for two years after graduating from high school before a basketball scholarship took him to the University of Nebraska.
It was during a college trip to Raleigh, N.C., that Myers, then 19, first encountered racism when he took part in a sit-in at a Woolworth's coffee shop.
"I had heard about these things but never experienced them in New Jersey, where we were integrated," Myers said. "Knowing about something like segregation and seeing it are two different things. I was scared down there. These people were serious."
Although he had vowed to avoid violence, Myers said, he remembered "sitting there thinking, 'I hope nobody hits me.' I didn't know if I had the kind of control to not fight back."
Control is something Myers later studied through karate. The martial arts, particularly karate, teach combat but stress self-defense, Myers said.
"The stuff you see on TV, that's show business," said Myers, who holds a black belt. "I studied karate as a training type of thing mostly. But you also learn about your inner self and how to control yourself so as not to use it except to protect yourself."
Myers and his wife have three children, and he volunteers as a basketball coach for youth groups in the cities of Compton and Lynwood. There, Myers said, he preaches the work ethic that has served him well.
"I relate it to athletics," Myers said. "If you lose a game, you can't dwell on it. You put it aside and move forward. The only person that can hold you back is yourself. Black or white, win or lose, you have to keep forging forward."