Since it’s Labor Day, I thought I’d pull up a piece from the archives. The gentleman featured here has since retired, and I hope he’s enjoying every day after giving his job – and his customers – such great work and service for so many years.
He calls himself “Fred the G-Man.” I know that because every year around the holidays, he leaves us a nice card signed in just that way: “Happy Holidays, Fred the G-Man.”
So that’s what we call him. The “G” stands for garbage. And let me tell you, we’re lucky to be on his route. Anyone would be.
These days, I’m sure there is a more sophisticated title for what Fred does, but if you really want to appreciate this occupation, then “garbage collector” is the only appropriate title because it truly gives you a sense of the places they go, the sights they see, the stuff they smell and the things they come in contact with every day.
And among “G-Men,” Fred is an All-Star, taking anything we dish out, without complaint. He’s punctual, usually arriving between 6:30 and 7:00 a.m. every Friday (unless there’s a holiday in the week, in which case, garbage is pushed back a day).
He always has a smile on his face, and a friendly wave for everyone he passes, young or old, on foot or in a vehicle. If he’s half as happy as he looks, he’s the definition of someone who has figured out what life is all about. Because unlike a lot of the people who live in the houses that he serves, Fred doesn’t let his job define him; it’s merely a means to an end. In other words, garbage collection is what he does, it’s not who he is.
Fred’s a big man, probably 6-feet-2 and 240 pounds (give or take), but he swings out of that truck, grabbing garbage cans, bags of all sizes and odds and ends like he was born to do it. And while we’re all wondering why anyone would want to collect garbage for a living, it’s like he’s thinking, “Man, what’s wrong with these people going to their offices and schools and corporations every day, dressing up and stressing out? That sounds like garbage to me! I’m outside, dressed comfortably, moving around all day. And I don’t have to worry about spilling something on my shirt. This is the best job in the world!”
I get up early, so I’m often out of the house on Fridays by the time Fred pulls up. Yesterday, we crossed paths. Right on cue, and just like always, he had a big smile on his face. He waved and I could see him saying, “How you doin’?” but I couldn’t hear him over the roar of the truck. I reciprocated in kind. “Hey Fred!” I said, and I’m sure he couldn’t hear me, either. It didn’t matter. Within seconds, our garbage can was empty, back on the curb and Fred was moving on, with a smile and a wave for the next customer.
That five-second encounter with Fred got my day off to a great start. He has that impact on a lot of people, except for those who never smile or for whatever reason, don't want to wave or otherwise acknowledge people who collect their garbage, mow the village lawns, drive delivery trucks, fix water mains or fill potholes. And why is that? Why are some people so reluctant to be friendly to others, especially those who are working so hard to make our lives easier?
In a world where we don’t have time to be nice to others because that might interfere with our goals – a bigger home, better cars, more money, an expansive stock portfolio – it’s guys like Fred we should turn to if we want to learn about living, and being happy, satisfied and grateful for what we have. I think that’s called perspective, and I’ll admit I lose mine so often sometimes
I don’t know what it is when it crosses my path. I need to be more aware of that.
Fred seems like a guy who loves to laugh, and who always has something good to say about everyone. I’m thinking he can tell a joke the way it’s supposed to be told and find the silver lining around every cloud.
I’ll bet Fred’s a good neighbor, a good husband and father, a good coach for your kid’s baseball team, and someone you’d like to sit and have a beer with.
I’ll bet he still sees his mom on a regular basis, and when he can’t, he calls her to see how she’s doing. And I’ll bet if you needed somebody to move a refrigerator or help you dig post holes for that new fence or to pop the hood on your daughter’s car to check out that knock that gets louder when she accelerates, Fred would be there, ready to help.
Fred’s probably a guy who has lots of tools, and he’s willing to lend you whatever you need, including a hand with the project. That’s Fred.
Now, I’ll admit I don’t really know anything about Fred; his past, his home life, his faith or his political perspectives. I don’t know if he’s got a workshop full of tools, and I don’t know if his mom is still alive. This is a character I have created, based on the real Fred I see on Fridays, the happy, smiling, grateful, generous man I’m betting he is: the man I hope he is.
But there’s something I do know about Fred. He makes a good, honest living. He does what most of us don’t want to do. He does it every day, rain or shine, in the cold and snow of winter, and in the stifling heat and humidity of summer. And, he does it with a smile on his face.
I also know he’s our “G-Man,” and I hope he stays on this route as long as we live here. Thanks Fred.