People Who Show Up

Every Friday morning around 6:30 am, I hear the rumble and screech of the garbage truck as it makes the turn around the corner on Brady Street, and I feel that all is right with the world, if only for two minutes.

Well, I should clarify: if it’s one of those days when I forgot to put the trash out, all is chaos for two minutes. On that critical knife edge of time when I hear the rumble, I have two options and just seconds to decide between them. I can make a dash in my PJ’s to try to haul the garbage can out to the street before the truck roars past, or I can leave the garbage to languish for another week. The good thing about winter is that it’s dark at 6:30 am. But there are bad things about winter, like ice and snow under the plastic wheels of the monster garbage can. And, those trash guys are like Judgment Day: they wait for no one.

There are a lot of unpredictable, unfaithful disturbing elements in Elkhart. Rain for 1,689 days straight. A refrigerator with dead cockroaches caked in the plastic seal of the door. Bitterness and shootings and young girls who get pregnant to have a purpose in life. Closets filled with dirty clothes because it’s easier to buy new than to do laundry and 26-year-old males with 10 children out of wedlock. I’m not making this up. (Well, the 1,689 days…)

But, when the garbage truck rolls in, I feel my heart swelling with gratitude.

First, those people get up early. It’s only 6:30 and it’s not likely the garbage men start their route on Brady Street. (Nothing in Elkhart starts on Brady Street.)

Second, we don’t have to dispose of our own trash, a distinct benefit of living in town.

Third we live in a country where trash is picked up. In Blue Christmas, I recorded this line about Port-au-Prince, Haiti: “I had left the snow in Chicago as well; instead, there were silvery drifts of thin plastic food bags, with red or blue striping, blown into banks by the wind.” Also, when I went to Lebanon in 2015, the city was on a trash strike. It wasn’t as bad as the media made it out to be, but still it’s a very bad thing to have no one pick up trash when it’s 80 degrees.

But above all, there’s something so meaningful about the faithfulness of someone who shows up at the same place, same time, week after week. Someone who shows up promptly at 6:30 am to carry out the duties of a nasty job, reminds me that faithfulness still happens in this complicated world.

Perhaps some day I should run fresh pastries out to the garbage truck as a morning treat (after getting dressed of course). I’m not sure how it would work–I’m picturing myself hearing the rumbling, and yanking something out of the oven barely finished, burning my fingers as I dash down the porch steps through rain, splashing through a puddle, and arriving disheveled and mud-splattered at the garbage man’s window, only to have him ignore me or growl, “We aren’t allowed to accept tips.” I think the chance of such a venture turning into a “What-Not-To-Do-Wednesday” column is exceptionally high. Still. I think I might try it sometime. Why not thank someone if you appreciate them? Why not at least show them that you notice?

Because just showing up faithfully one more time can sometimes be the hardest thing to do.

12 thoughts on “People Who Show Up”

  1. The garbage trucks in Taipei, Taiwan play music while going on their rounds. Sort of like the ice cream trucks here (and I don’t know if ice cream trucks still go about in cities.)

  2. Sharon Schrock

    Oh yes, do it! I ran some Christmas cookies out to our garbage man on a whim last Dec, and his lit-up face and thank you warmed my heart! Because, yes, I admire and appreciate the trash guys too!

  3. I have heard that taking cold bottles of water or Gatorade to the men who pick up our garbage is a real treat. My trash man arrives at 6:30 AM….so, I am not likely to take water….maybe a cup of coffee? Love reading your blog each week!

  4. I have taken bar cookies of some sort to our garbage guys-in a ziploc bag per earlier commenter about them probably not wanting to touch food. They are not so punctual here on Marilyn Street but they must have been on a roll this morning ’cause I missed them. 🙁

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