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Ron Carlee

Ron Carlee

Posted: May 17, 2010 09:40 AM

I Love You Because You Are The Garbage Man

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On May 11th, I was listening to a heart-warming story on All Things Considered about Brad Metzler's book, Heroes for My Son. I was feeling all warm and teary until the story ended like this:

Meltzer ...says, the most important lesson in the book [is]: "Love yourself first and everything falls into line.

"If I could pick one lesson to teach my son, that's it. I want him to have perseverance, I want him to have kindness, but it's the battle we all fight with ourselves every day to accept ourselves for who we are," he says.

That's a lesson Meltzer's mother, who died from breast cancer two years ago, helped him learn.
"My publisher was shutting down and it was really the worst day in my professional life," Meltzer says. "I didn't know if anyone was going to take over my contract. And I was talking to my mom on the phone, telling her how terrified I was, and there was this long pause [and] my mom said to me, 'I'd love you if you were a garbageman.' And to this day, every single day that I sit down to write, I say those words to myself."

What does this say about the people who collect our garbage?! Is this the worst thing you can be and maybe your mother wouldn't love you if you collected garbage?!

To all the garbage collectors out there, I say, "Thank you!" I love you for who you are and what you do for our communities. You hold one of many noble jobs that society takes for granted. Because of what you do, we live in cleaner, safer, and healthier places.

There is nothing less noble about collecting garbage than being a writer.

I remember well many years ago when I as a very young management analyst working in a local government's central budget office. One of the departments in my portfolio was public works, which included garbage collection. As I did for many of the programs with which I worked over my career, I wanted to learn what the job was about. So, I spent a day riding a route on a garbage truck.

Yes, it smelled bad, especially as the rotten garbage mixed with diesel fumes. The heat and humidity are also suffocating in the Washington area in the summer, but I heard no complaining from the crews; they were too busy. I've never seen anyone work as hard as they did, literally running along side the truck emptying heavy cans until the truck was full. I was also struck by their concern about service quality. They were committed to missing not a single house and whenever collecting a questionable item was in doubt, they picked up whatever the citizens had left on the curb.

Today, garbage collection is privatized in many communities. Local governments contract for the service, and in many instances the sanitation workers have temporary jobs, with low wages, and few benefits. The work, however, remains just as hard and just as noble.

The same it true for many other positions in local government and in the private sector. People that we do not know, perform hard, back-breaking, dangerous work every day and night: crews that repair our water and sewer lines, repair roads and the infrastructure related thereto; people who plow the snow and remove trees during storms; and people who pick up our garbage.

Imagine going deep into a trench filled with raw sewage in the dark of a cold winter's night to repair a pipe.

The brave men and women who do these jobs and many others are workers who quietly serve others behind the scenes. And, the very functioning of society depends on their work.

In my home community of Arlington, Virginia, county worker Matthew Pickens died on April 16. He was repairing a traffic signal when another vehicle struck his repair truck.

On November 25th, James Bea died after being electrocuted while repairing a broken water pipe over the Thanksgiving holiday. His colleague received serious and permanent injuries. They had worked through the night in an effort for residents to have water for the holiday weekend. Sadly, stories of sacrifice like these are experienced across the nation all of the time, but rarely are told.

These are my heroes. I love them for who they are and admire them for what they do. And, I hope I would still love them even if they were writers.

 

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