I have a Ph.D. I also have MA and MDiv degrees. I am an ordained minister in the Lutheran Church and I turned 50 this year.
Currently, I drive a garbage truck.
This last bit is either a conversation starter or stopper, depending on who I’m talking to. From the latter category, I generally get sympathetic looks and comments. I don’t write for them. I write for those whose eyes light up.
What is it about garbage trucks? Children are universally attracted. They stare, they wave, and they sparkle if I invite them closer to watch as I tip a can and crush the trash with the powerful hydraulics. Parents—moms especially, in my experience—appear uneasy with this attraction in their children. Grownups don’t delight in garbage trucks the same way kids do. A little boy and his mom crossed in the crosswalk in front of my truck. The boy was all eyes. I waved. He waved and pointed for his mom to see the truck six feet away. Her grip on his other arm tightened and she pulled him along without casting a glance.
Was it merely to get her boy safely across the street that she would not entertain the brief connection? Or, even at an unconscious level, was there an instinctual impulse toward a different kind of protection going on? Who are the people who pick up your trash? What must they be like? We all want our kids to take out the trash. But few, if any, want them eventually to pick up the trash.
It’s dirty business for sure. And those of us who do it get dirty, sometimes in pretty disgusting ways. We touch the trash of a lot of people. Because I don’t drive one of those big rigs with a robo arm that picks up the can, I get out, open the lid, tip the trash and pull it into the back with hydraulic levers. I see a lot back there. The trash tells stories. I know who is remodeling their bathroom and who is on Weight-Watchers. I’ve been squirted by rotting juices. The trash I pick up sometimes sets me to wondering—about the people I serve, but also more philosophically about what our trash says about us as a culture of people, and about human nature itself.
These will be some of my stories.
I am, for the time-being, the Reverend Doctor Garbage Man.