I woke on Tuesday morning in a panic. Still searching for my coronavirus rhythm, I was groggy at 6:10 am when normally I would be fully caffeinated and ready to leave for work. Suddenly, I heard a thunderous reverberation outside the house, and realized with a start that I had forgotten... to... put... the... recycling...container...on...the curb!! Aargh!!
In a haze, I grabbed what outer wear lay at hand and rushed out the door, where I experienced the first of three memorable moments with Waste Management.
As I frantically chased the big green truck, trailing the bin behind my ridiculously flapping bathrobe, I flagged the WM driver. Rather than laughing at my robe and Tevas, he indicated a spot on the curb. He deftly backed up and grasped the receptacle with his giant mechanical claw, dumped it, placed it gently at my feet, and pulled away.
I said a prayer of gratitude for the driver, shrouded behind a beard on his high perch, for his grace and his early morning work ethic.
Soon after my close call on the street, I headed out for a walk with Charlie the yellow lab. It was still well before 7 am on this same crisp Tuesday when I had WM experience #2.
As Charlie sniffed his way through the neighborhood, I noticed some colorful chalk art on the sidewalk and street. Someone had left a love letter for Waste Management, and that someone even seemed to know the name of the mysterious truck driver who had just done me such a solid: Vern. (I could tell from the thank you note taped to the recycling bin with Vern's likeness on it.)
I hung there for a moment, trying to make sense of what I was seeing: A series of bright pastel thank you notes to Waste Management, including a giant "We HEART WM!" on the driveway. As I stood bewildered, from the house came a young fella of about nine years (let's call him David). Believe it or not, David was wearing a neon-yellow Waste Management vest, with a matching WM beanie.
David informed me that he was the artist behind the display at my feet. He is a big fan of Vern and Waste Management. His family has been particularly grateful to WM lately, as they have been remodeling and "we have a lot of recycling." His mom had gotten him the cool neon vest; Vern gave him the WM beanie.
David allowed me to take some photos of his colorful mosaic, then turned to wait for the WM truck, which we could hear rumbling around the corner somewhere. I walked on, humbled by this devotee of public servants I had so long taken for granted.
In this strange and unsettled spring, we have been reminded of the servant-leaders in our midst—not only health care workers, but delivery drivers and takeout chefs and grocery clerks who go to work so that we do not have to, keeping us all alive. I silently added the unsung warriors of Waste Management to my gratitude list.
When Charlie finally sniffed his way back to our street, I came upon WM scene #3: The weekly watchers.
By this time, I would usually be at work, deep into a faculty meeting. Little did I know that on Tuesdays at about 7:30 am, the two neighbor boys, two and five years old, respectively, would be in their driveway with their mom, watching for the Waste Management truck.
Here they were, eagerly watching the "garbage guys" and their magnificent green truck, doing their essential duty. "Oh yeah. We just looove the garbage truck!" Mom informed me with a chuckle.
I have occasionally wondered, "Where is 'away,' anyway, when we say we are throwing garbage 'away'?" I have contemplated the landfills we are slowly filling somewhere in the unseen corners of Oregon.
Rarely before Tuesday, however, had I given even a minute of contemplation to the early morning heroes who take our garbage and recycling away from our homes, in sun and snow and ice and rain—and now, even in the face of a horrible pandemic.
But David had contemplated them, with gratitude, and so had my two neighbor kids. Charlie and I moved inside, grateful and humbled and deeply moved by this illuminating morning. So: thank you, Waste Management, and all of the rest of you remarkable carriers of our altered world. Thank you.
Paul J. Hogan