Coffee with Mimi: How self-sufficient are we?

Published 6:32 am Saturday, August 11, 2018


Contributing columnist

There are many ways to occupy a person’s day. We may be fully- or partly-employed, semi- or fully-retired, or home with children. As we move through our day we encounter teachers, shopkeepers, lawyers and medical professionals. Depending on our own role, we may engage in activity with librarians, artists, accountants or tech repairmen. 

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We accomplish a lot in any day ourselves. We do our laundry, cook our food, tend to the yard and the house, generally. We shop for our needs, plan for activities and enjoy leisure time. We are fortunate. We can, for the most part and within reason, get through our lives comfortably, self-sufficiently.

Or, so we think.

I just was reminded just how inaccurate and unappreciative this assumption may be.

My daughter lives in a pleasant neighborhood close to the large urban university in Louisville.  The houses are close together and residents and visitors often must park on the street. Most of the houses have a front porch. Our daughter’s house is one of those with a covered front porch.  When I visit, I take my coffee and book and sit early in the morning. 

Monday is trash day. On Sunday evening, residents wheel large city-issued plastic tubs to the street and place them at the curb. As night approaches, cars and cans completely line the curbs from one end of the block to the other. The cars and cans are so close together, they are virtually touching. I wonder if there is a special driving test item a teenager must pass to live on streets requiring delicate car maneuvering to get around all the obstacles without incident.

I am an early riser, even when not necessary. So, there I sat on the front porch very early in the morning with my coffee and book. The unobstructed view of the street with its line of cars and cans raised my curiosity and concern. There was no way a garbage truck could make its way down the street, extract the cans from between the cars and place them back at the curb without bashing something or everything.

Shortly, the monster garbage truck appears on the corner. It neatly turned onto the street without incident. From around the back of the truck, there appeared two men wearing reflective vests over their neck-to-toe coveralls. They wore heavy work boots and industrial weight work gloves.  It was already a pretty steamy day.

The driver moved the truck slowly, stopping house to house, as each man on the street efficiently extracted the cans on his side, rolled each to the back of the truck, fitted it on to the lift and dump arms, opened the can lid and flipped the switch to raise and empty the can.

When the empty cans were mechanically lowered to the ground, each man released the one on his side of the truck from the arms, wheeled it back to the curb and placed it precisely next to the curb with the handle facing to the driveway side. If the can was not exactly right after viewing it from a few feet away, the man would return to it and make adjustments.

After handling the two cans in front of my porch perch, seeing me, the worker gave me a smile and a wave before moving on to the next house.

I watched as the truck and crew moved down the center of the street, stopping, lifting, dumping and replacing the cans. Towards the end of the street, a car began backing out of a drive. The driver must have been operating low on caffeine, as he/she seemed to be unaware of the very large and noisy truck approaching. The truck driver, on the other hand, was on the ball and stopped in time to avoid a messy incident. He allowed the car driver to move along first. 

I was fascinated and awed. By the whole process, the job and the attitude. By the time the whole block was collected and many of the cars had moved on, the effect of all those precisely and carefully emptied, lined up cans was stunning.

We all make garbage. We roll the cans to the street and we think very little, if at all, about who takes care of our mess. Not our job. 

This crew of three men have a specified route every day. We expect the cans to be emptied on our day. We don’t think much about the weather on our day. This day was really hot. In a few months, it will be really cold. By the law of averages, it rains a lot on our day. But we still expect the cans to be emptied, short of a declared state of emergency.

Delays caused by residents surely slowed the progress on the assigned, timed route. On a hot day, atmospheric conditions close to the back of the truck could not have been too pleasant.

Very few people even see the men doing their work, they just retrieve the empty cans, refill and repeat.

But, the men waved and smiled to a person on a front porch drinking coffee.