Invisible People, Invisible Work

Invisible People, Invisible Work

Kevin and Jay Collecting Yard Refuse

A couple of days ago I was taking my trash out when the garbage truck pulled up. It’s getting towards the end of the lawn cleaning period, before winter settles in, and they were picking up lawn refuse. I grabbed my camera and walked with them as they went down the alley. This is what I learned.

Kevin, Jay and a third man who was driving the truck had been on the route since 6 a.m. and now it was mid morning. The truck was almost full, meaning that it was carrying about 9 tons of waste. Because they were picking up bagged lawn debris they couldn’t use the hydraulic lifts on the truck and had to manually lift and throw them into truck’s maw.

The bags have a 30 gallon capacity and their weight can vary dramatically due to what is stuffed into them.

Kevin and Jay hustled all the way. Moving at a brisk walk they formed a two-man swarm that efficiently attacked each pile of bags. The lighter bags they threw and the heavier ones they dragged over to the truck and heaved them in. It was strenuous work. They would continue until about 6 p.m.

Kevin proudly told me that he was a partial owner in the truck and collection license.

They’ll be back in a week for regular service and perhaps I’ll be able to pick up our conversation then.

We see these folks every day, driving their humpbacked trucks and picking up our trash. We include them into our busy routines without thinking about it. We separate recyclable from the trash and make certain that everything is ready for pick up on scheduled days.  During the spring, summer and fall we bundle our lawn waste in proscribed ways so that it can be removed. On certain days, we put our old furniture and appliances out so that they can be hauled away.

Yet, what do we really know about these invisible people who are the muscle and blood of modern life?  It turns out, very little.

When I Was a Kid

At Christmas time, my mother would prepare a series of envelopes with a card and some money. These were for the invisible people who made our world better: newspaper boy, mailman, and the garbage man. My mother knew each of them by name and would talk to them when they came by. They were working people and they were respected in our house.

My folks believed that there was nobility in work. It didn’t matter what you did, so long as you tried your best, your work was important and deserved respect. If mother caught me slacking off or complaining about chores she would remind me of the garbage men and how their work required heavy lifting, working in all kinds of weather, and dealing with other folks waste. It was their job and they excelled at it without complaining.

My folks taught me that, inherent in the idea of respecting work, was the idea of equality. If I worked I was the equal to any other man regardless of their job, wealth or importance. I believe that still.


Today, the idea of egalitarianism born of work is derided and ridiculed. We live in a country that glorifies wealth and derides work. The people who hold our society together, the garbage men, mailmen, police, firemen, teachers, municipal workers and the vast numbers in the services industries are poorly paid and abused by the rest of society.

We have become a country of moneyed elites whose main goal appears to be to denigrate the rest of society while amassing vast wealth and power. Since when is the life of a hedge fund manager or banker more perilous than that of a fireman or highway worker or teacher or a garbage man?

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