This man was doing his job. He was a garbage collector, hanging precariously at a back corner of the huge truck as it moved between collection points. Since then trucks have become automated, but the personal touch is still required when the modern version breaks down.
I was struck by the beauty and efficiency of this man’s actions, and I reflected that, no matter what the job, those who take pride in their work will always manage to operate with skill.
I wish I could have spoken with the dancer. I have talked with other collectors of our trash, mainly those picking up the big items—refrigerators, sofas and all sorts of stuff—thanking them for what they do and learning how heavy loads are lifted safely.
I make it a point to chat with anyone doing things I wouldn’t want to do or am incapable of doing. These include plumbers, carpenters, appliance repair folk, lawn maintenance workers. In fact, anyone who will speak with me.
I have discovered that almost without exception they love it when someone takes an interest in their job and are more than willing to discuss their work. I learn of tricks they’ve found to facilitate their efforts. Sometimes they tell me about their families: pride in what their children are accomplishing and even admissions of guilt about not always having been the best of parents.
Rarely am I rebuffed for expressing interest. I’m sensitive and if I detect even the slightest reticence, I back off. But I don’t have to often.
I find I like the ones I engage, fascinated by what they do and full of admiration for their work.
Several years back the city decided to install improved street lighting around a couple of nearby lakes. After the requisite several month delay between decision and implementation, a crew appeared. I had been waiting, and it wasn’t long before I pounced.
Wires had to be strung underground from lamppost location to lamppost location. I was fascinated to watch their machines make it all possible without digging trenches.
Once that was accomplished, the wiring had to be completed by hand. And that’s when I met Tiny. Not his real name, of course. You might guess he was big, very big, both from genes and food. And a wonderfully nice guy.
I asked if he’d mind if I watched him work. This is my standard approach because I feared many wouldn’t like it, a concern fostered by the comic strip Blondie.
He said not at all; in fact he’d enjoy the company. He was sitting on the ground, legs spread, with the top of the lamppost between them. He showed me what turned out to be the intricate wiring required, much more complicated than a ceiling lamp. We went from location to location. I think I stayed with him through five or six lights. He explained how the lights were divided into different sets, two sets for each lake, each under their individual control. He was proud of his work, demanding the best job possible from his large nimble fingers.
This was a long time ago and I never have forgotten Tiny.
I think too often we don’t “see” folks doing the essential work that surrounds us and makes our lives better. I love the fact that they are people sharing many of the worries, family goals, interests as I.
I will continue to engage these fascinating people in conversation as long as they let me. And I will learn from what they have to say.