While I was in college 30 years ago I spent my summers working for my hometown department of public works.
My job? Sanitation Engineer, more affectionately known as a “Garbage Man”.
From 7AM to 3PM, five days a week, my teammates and I went up and down the alleys and streets of our town, collecting the trash, putting it into the back of large compactor truck, and then taking it to a “transfer center”. On average we collected about 13,000 pounds of garbage a day.
Nothing glamorous here, to be sure. And it was hard work. But it taught me a lot about life, and the value of work itself.
Here are the Top 10 things I learned from collecting garbage:
- Contrary to what you might think, grass is heavy. Fill a container full of it, try to lift it up, and you’ll see what I mean.
- In order to make a policy a success, you must enforce the policy religiously. Our city had a rule that the garbage had to be in a certain place at a certain time. We found that if we skipped that house because they didn’t follow the rule, the next week they followed the rule. If we let them slide and picked it up anyway, they would continue to violate the rule.
- Always wear comfortable clothes. While it’s really tempting, you can’t try to be a fashion plate and collect garbage at the same time.
- You can tell a lot about a person’s personality by the way they arrange their garbage. Sure enough, if we needed to chat with a customer about their mess we had to clean up, they were not easy to deal with. Conversely, there were multiple occasions where the neatniks brought out lemonade for us poor tired workers.
- The adage “One man’s garbage is another man’s gold” is absolutely true. I snagged a lot of interesting stuff that other people threw out, including some vintage LP’s and 45s. Thank you, whoever you were!
- Respect your body and use proper technique to lift things. Even a 20-year old back figured this one out pretty darn quickly lifting 13,000 pounds a day
- Sunscreen is a wonderful invention. No, you do not get “bronzed” spending 5 days a week in the sun. You get burned. Badly.
- It’s always a good idea to be nice to your supervisor. Because I observed this rule, my supervisor always let me take a break and drive the garbage truck every now and then. Those breakfast buys really paid off!
- Pace Yourself – most things are marathons, not sprints. There was nothing worse than trying to rush through the first third of our day trying to finish early. By noon we were exhausted, and ended up actually finishing late. Ah, youth.
- It’s not proper to be singing “My Sharona” at the top of your lungs in an alley at 7AM. Nuff said on that one. 🙂
(Note: This is the first post in a series I will be presenting here, called, “Joyful Jubilant Learning – The Reprise”. I wrote a number of posts between 2006 and 2009 for a blog that is no longer active called Joyful Jubilant Learning, led by Rosa Say. It was a collaborative exercise featuring many other wonderful people, dedicated to learning. It was a great experience, and I wanted to share with you a sampling of what this group inspired me to write and create. This post originally appeared on JJL on 8/20/09. Thanks!)