Difference Between Us, The

Over the years, there have been moments when I realized that the rest of the world does not see life in the same way as those of us in the solid waste field. There are many civilian behaviors that I have forgotten. However, I have managed to jot down some examples of how we can better understand civilians and ourselves:

Most people do not wake up at 4 a.m., unless they are making a trip to the bathroom. In fact, some don't even arise until well-after 6 a.m. I realize that this may seem like an exaggeration, but believe me - it's true.

Most people don't have any idea where their kids are, let alone where their refuse, a.k.a. trash, ends up.

Most of the population has difficulty lifting a 50-pound child, but they regularly put out 110-pound trash container each week.

Using experience as a guide, people would rather sacrifice their first born than not have their trash collected.

Holiday collection schedules are more confusing to the general public than the Rosetta stone ever was.

A waste collector, who has a doctor's slip stating that he cannot lift more than 50 pounds, always finds a way to lift a 90-pound container 15 feet into a truck to earn a homeowner's tip.

What motivated me as a child may have led to my work in solid waste. As a child, I wanted to become an archeologist. Now, with the advent of garbology, I wonder if my childhood ambitions drew me into the field.

As a manager, beware of workers who are smarter than you. When I was a rookie supervisor, I was given the task of shadowing a notorious overtime crew. One day, I stayed with them every step, to prevent overtime and make sure the load still was collected. But despite my efforts, the crew had overtime. They worked steadily all day, and the driver even helped the loader at every stop. Years later, the loader confided that the driver was lightly tapping the ejection lever with his elbow as he came to the rear, thereby short-packing each load.

Sometimes, items accidentally tossed into the trash can be recovered. This is possible if the same agency that collects the garbage also controls the transfer station. If notified in enough time, the collection vehicle can slowly be dumped out. Like a flaky biscuit, refuse is compacted in sequential layers, so a load can be scanned for discarded envelopes with addresses to locate a specific resident's trash. Also, most collectors can gauge where they collected the load for that street.

This recovered-garbage theory once was proven by collectors who found a tax accountant's papers. The accountant's maid assumed the paper bags were garbage instead of important client papers.

Those of us working in the solid waste field are extremely intelligent, highly talented people. We have enormous potential to make a difference in people's lives by working in what appears to be menial jobs. These jobs are fraught with societal prejudices, physical and economic circumstances. But if we have a little humor, there is gold to be found in garbage.