A number of years ago, my job required me to wake up early each morning and head to work—pretty much like everyone else in the whole world. But on one particular day, I really didn't want to work. It was the day after Christmas, a Friday, and most everyone else was taking the day off. My kids were home for winter vacation and the last thing I wanted to do was drag my lazy carcass to the office.
I managed to get out of bed in a reasonable time, eat breakfast, and wandered out into the dark yard to scrape the ice off my car windows. It was a cold, gloomy day, the sun wasn't yet clear of the mountains, and it seemed I was the only miserable soul that had to go to work. Well, almost. I heard the sound of the garbage truck arriving, so I knew at least one other person in the world was working. While the car warmed up, I pulled the big, black trash can out to the street and returned to the garage to get another empty box that was too big to fit into the can.
The garbage truck pulled up and the driver waved down at me. He had a big smile on his face and acted as friendly as Mr. Rogers. Or maybe Mr. Bean. I briefly wondered what the heck his problem was—if anything, he should be hating his job even more than I was that morning.
The big robotic arm reached out and lifted the can up over the truck. It dumped all our leftover Christmas packaging into the bin, with Mr. Rogers smiling the whole time. I couldn't really talk over the noise of the truck, so I pointed at the extra box I had. The driver motioned for me to toss it up into the bin. I did so, but a small wind caught the box and it landed behind the bin on top of the truck. Now what could I do?
The driver was totally unfazed. He saw the box through his mirror, took the truck out of gear, unbuckled his seat belt, climbed out of the door and onto the ladder next to the cab. And he was still smiling and waving and nodding his head like he was the happiest man in the world.
He couldn't reach the box from the ladder, so he climbed onto the top of the truck and found he still couldn’t reach it. He waved at me like nothing at all was wrong and actually climbed down into the garbage bin to reach the box. Then tragedy struck. He slipped on the slime and disappeared down into the dark depths of the trash hole.
I'd killed the garbage man.
I ran over to climb up the ladder, but his head popped back up. He was safe, and still smiling and waving. Then he slipped and fell again. This time when he resurfaced, he didn't wave. He instead chose to use both hands to hold onto the side of the truck. He inched his way through the rubbish and reached my errant box. After pulling it in, he slowly returned to the front of the bin, climbed out of the trash and back into the cab. He was covered with slime and torn-up gift wrapping, but he never stopped smiling.
I stood there and watched him drive to the next house. And I came to an important realization—my job didn't suck that bad after all.