“Even our garbage men are white,” said the city manager of a town with a nasty past of racial violence. I was a girl reporter at the time, as white as they come, blonde and blue-eyed, and he seemed to assume I would be impressed with the pallor of the city’s staff. I thought he was an idiot. That was 40 years ago, so he may have gone to his reward. I just hope his soul came to life before he met his Maker. Since then, I’ve lived in neighborhoods served by the full spectrum of garbage men, and I’ve found the content of their character to be, for the most part, sterling, regardless of the outer layer.
Across the street from us once lived a retired couple. The husband was disabled, so the wife did all the outside work, including hauling the garbage down to the curb. One particular garbage collector, a very large black man, always carried the can up the driveway to the garage after emptying it. This was the only house that got such extra service. If the woman was outside, the collector would greet her cheerfully. He was doing a kindness to a little white lady, just because he saw she could use some help. I was so impressed, I called the garbage collection company to tell them about it and congratulate them on the quality of their employees. I think the woman who took the call was happy to hear something other than a complaint.
Sometimes my little grandson and I are outside when the recycling truck comes by. The men, who mostly appear to be Hispanic, always smile and wave at three-year-old Edward, and the driver blows the horn. The guy who empties our bin into the hopper knows he’s putting on a show for the pre-school cutie-pie, so he pulls the lever with a flourish and grins at the rapt little face as the machinery roars, lifts and crashes. He gives a thumbs-up as he hops back onto the truck.
This morning, I happened to be out by the mailbox when the garbage truck pulled up. I crossed the driveway, smiled at the man who emptied the can, and said, “Thank you.”
He answered with enthusiasm, “You’re welcome, ma’am.” That made me wonder how often he and his co-workers hear thanks, or even how often they are recognized as human beings. Hey, everybody! These men are doing a strenuous and very important job. (What would we do with our garbage otherwise?) They deserve a smile, a wave, and a word of gratitude.