For those of you who do not know me may be thinking, “why is this topic important?” I think it’s important because of the work that garbage men and, yes, even some women, do everyday. For those of you that do know me, will know it is important because it is the very job that my husband has.
Every week, you roll your trash cans, toters, and recycling bins to the curb for the sanitation workers to pick up and get rid of. This way you are able to live a life without living in your own filth. What is it really like being that sanitation worker? Or even, the sanitation worker’s family? Let me tell you!
Now, the trash business isn’t all that new to me because my step dad has been working as a sanitation truck driver, well, for forever. I was familiar with the smells and dirty clothes that come along with the job. I also knew the hours that go into it. However, when Chris and I got married and he decided to take on the job (better pay and benefits) I was in for a lot more than what I thought I knew. He drives a rear-load truck (meaning the trash goes in the back) for mostly residential (neighborhoods) and some commercial (businesses) customers. His day starts before the sun comes up, roughly 4:30 a.m. everyday of the week (and occasional Saturdays). He eats his breakfast, gets dressed, and kisses us goodbye (I always tell him to be safe-it is important!).
I usually stay awake long enough after he leaves, waiting for him to text me that he got to work. Once he is at the shop, he attends a short meeting with the other drivers, pre-trips his truck, and heads to his route. He averages anywhere from 80-300 stops every day. His truck, alone, can hold 20,000 pounds of trash. In a neighborhood setting, you will find him running from house to house collecting cans, taking them to the truck, emptying them, and returning them to the curb.
Have you ever tried lifting a full trash can? What about two at the same time? They’re heavy! I can’t forget to mention the fact that he usually is by himself, without a helper. That means he has to drive, get out, run to get the cans, empty them into the truck, put them back where he got them, and get back in the truck just to drive further along to get out and do it again and again. It is very physical and not a lot of people can do it, rain, shine, snow, below freezing, 120 degrees, you name it!
On rare occasions, the managers have to decide that the conditions are way too dangerous to be working in. However, that just means they then have to work the following Saturday to make up for it (this goes for holidays as well). Not only do they work in any conditions, but they also work some insane hours. Sometimes when the loads are heavy, he may not get home until 8 o’clock at night. There are also times where he is done and home by 2 o’clock. The main point here is that they are not done until all the trash is picked up for that day.
You might be thinking that they must get all this overtime money on their paychecks! Unfortunately, that is not always true. You see, they are salary based pay, they make a daily wage. This means, that by law, they are not required to give overtime incentives for working more than 40 hours a week (most weeks are a minimum of 50 hours worked). Luckily for us, my husband’s company does have overtime incentive, but it does not equal time and a half. In the long run though, the pay does allow me to stay home with our children.
What is it like being married to a trash man? Well, for starters, the obvious is the smell. Yes, trash smells and so does sweat. Put those two things together and you can imagine the odor coming from my husband’s work clothes. If you are anything like me you want that washed constantly, so that it doesn’t linger in the house. Everyday I am concerned about my husband’s safety out there in that big truck. People can be very rude and impatient when it comes to waiting for the garbage truck to move.
My step dad was smashed between two garbage trucks (before we knew him) and he wound up in the hospital for a long time with many broken bones that are still affecting him today.
There are also many dangers working in bad weather conditions. For instance, in the summer time, when it feels like 120 degrees out there. Many workers wind up with heat exhaustion and you can also find them throwing up. In the winter, there is snow and ice, those trucks can be difficult to stop! Every time I see or hear on the news that there was an accident involving a truck or semi, I am frightened that it was Chris. If I can’t find out what specifically it was, I usually end up calling him repeatedly to make sure it wasn’t him.
Not only is the job dangerous, but it is very exhausting. It is so exhausting that by time he gets home, showers, eats, and makes his lunch for the next day, he is passed out on the couch. As a wife, it can be frustrating to not have the attention I want all the time from him. We also spend a lot of time talking about “the trash world” and when we are around others, that is always topic for conversation. Sometimes, I am just sick of trash! Not only is it the topic around most conversations, but he even sleep talks about it (sorry babe). I have heard from other wives that all of their husbands do the same things, almost like it is a trash requirement or something.
Although it can be frustrating for me as a wife, I am so very grateful for my husband’s job and the fact that he is willing to do that every day for us.
If you take anything away from this post let it be this; be nicer to the garbage people, have patience when they are blocking your path, and please, for the love of pearl, do not get in your trash cans!