EDITORIAL: Chicago and Garbage Man


It is a common known fact that the world is a diverse place with all sorts of people and personalities scattered across its vast spectrum. That is why I identify myself as a sonderer, someone with an amazement of the hundreds of unique stories inside each and every single person’s history and mind. Everyone has their own perspective, preferences, opinions, and experiences.

The larger the number of people in a city, the truer this becomes.

This story is for every person having anything at any point in their life to do with Chicago; whether they have ever lived in Chicago, visited Chicago, or are thinking about going to Chicago, the following is a scene that to some extent surely plays out several times a day throughout the glorious city that is Chicago.

Picture it.

I am on Van Buren waiting for the Megabus, standing about 20 yards down from the line in which most of the other passengers are waiting when a man comes down the sidewalk towards me, pushing a residential dumpster overflowing with garbage. He stops amongst all of us standing or sitting along the parking ramp wall ledge and begins meandering around, picking up various pieces of garbage from the sidewalk and ramp ledge. Finally, Garbage Man goes to the city trash can and finds on top a large McDonald’s cup. He snatches up the cup, throws its straw back into the trash can, and heads for his dumpster. After several attempts, he cannot fit his new treasure in the dumpster with the rest of his inventory. Undaunted, Garbage Man flings several bags and pieces out of the dumpster, sending crushed cans skittering across the sidewalk and bouncing off of passing cars. Some of the casualties include the half eaten contents of a McDonald’s bag spilling into the street.

I’ve been to Chicago several times and seen many… shall we say, displays of unconventional behavior, yet I cannot help but look around at the other passengers and wonder if something should be done. As a little white girl wearing a backpack with luggage in one hand and a mint green covered Android phone in the other, I feel I am not the ideal candidate for the task. In fact, the only other person in the vicinity that seems to notice this man is a scrawny teenage kid wearing a t-shirt from a Christian school in my hometown. Whereas I am merely unsettled by the display, this boy appears petrified.

I had been contemplating going past Garbage Man and joining the rest of the passengers in line, but the no man’s land inbetween is now subject to a flying arsenal of refuse and looks unsafe. I hold my position.

Garbage Man goes to his tossed McDonald’s bag contents, picks up a half eaten sandwich, and begins eating as he heads back to his dumpster. A passenger in a nearby car stuck at a red light begins yelling at him to not eat stuff off of the road. Garbage Man ignores the health tips and collects more garbage for his dumpster (much of which he had just thrown out of the dumpster).

Meanwhile, a pigeon had found the rest of the discarded food and begun munching on a french fry. A seagull now joins him and they begin fighting over the feast. This subplot plays out as the passenger continues to yell incoherent things at Garbage Man.

Soon, the car drives off, with the passenger’s final words of “stay loose, my friend!” lingering among the sounds of moving traffic.

Garbage Man finds a half full juice bottle amongst the nearby litter. He wanders over to Scared Teenager with it. As he mutters something to his new friend, Garbage Man sets the bottle on the ledge as close as possible to Scared Teenager without actually touching him. It is clear that Scared Teenager does not have a proper response to such behavior in his repertoire aside from awkwardly staring.

Before this, I had not left the scene out of safety from flying garbage. Now, with a stifled grin, I wait to see how this vignette plays out.

Garbage Man retrieves a tied up plastic bag filled mostly with boxes of granola bars (full or empty boxes, I could not say). He brings this bag to Scared Teenager, mashes the juice bottle inside of it, and sets it uncomfortably close to Scared Teenager’s elbow. Having taken care of his bro, Garbage Man picks up some of the garbage shrapnel, shoves what he can into his dumpster, and begins to wheel down the sidewalk in my direction.

Garbage Man apparently does not see the sidewalk square that is sitting unevenly, as the dumpster wheel catches the lip and the entire dumpster begins to slowly tip. In a blind panic, Garbage Man improvises by spinning with the dumpster, which mainly just serves to propel it faster towards where I am standing. For a brief second, my life and loved ones flash through my mind as I imagine the ultimate garbage bomb careening towards me, litter shrapnel flying through the air and taking me down to the sidewalk in a heap.

At the last second, Garbage Man gets the brilliant notion to stop moving and hold the dumpster steady. This works, but he loses some of the dumpster’s precious ┬ácontents in the process. Shaking his head at the close call, Garbage Man continues down the sidewalk, the rumbling of the dumpster wheels eventually fading into the auditory fray.

Some of the aftermath.

Scared Teenager, meanwhile, is still standing next to the granola box bag and is now shooting hesitant glances between it and the corner beyond which Garbage Man disappeared.

The episode obviously over, I head towards the line of fellow passengers, but not without tossing Scared Teenager a smirk and an “enjoy your lunch!” Scared Teenager responds with an awkward shifting of his weight and then a departure from his post, leaving Garbage Man’s kind gesture on the parking ramp ledge.


Epilogue: a Megabus finally pulls up and lets its passengers off directly into the remnant garbage pile. I board the bus immediately behind it to the sounds of kicked soda cans and rustling plastic.

Until next time, dahlings…

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