Thanking those with thankless jobs

  • Written by Ray Hanania

Hanania-GrapevineEach Christmas season, I get up early on garbage pickup day, and wait.
 I’m not worried about getting the garbage cans out to the curb. I’m always worried I’ll miss giving the drivers their Christmas gifts when they drive their routes, grabbing and dumping each of the huge containers lined up along the curbs.
They have thankless jobs. We’ve been taught to look down on them. But we shouldn’t. We should thank them. They do the hard work we take for granted, even if the technology has changed.
Years ago there were three workers on a sanitation truck, and they had to lift the huge cans themselves. Now, there is one driver, and the truck has a mechanical arm that lifts and empties the containers.
Of course, now we also have three trucks. One for garbage. One for recycling. And one for yard waste, three seasons of the year.
(ON a side note. This change was never planned. The garbage can is larger than the recycling can, but these days, recycling is 90 percent of my waste. The recycling can is packed and the garbage can is near empty.)
Every year for the past 24 years, the same kid (now a man) has been picking up the garbage at my house in Orland Park. He has one of those jobs where you have to be out there when everyone else is usually enjoying the day off.
We don’t often get a chance to talk. I don’t even remember his name – age has taken a toll on the memory. But he deserves a Happy Holiday greeting, too.
“Merry Christmas,” I yell, the truck noise makes it hard for me to hear myself.
“Merry Christmas,” he yells back, standing in the door of the truck where he manages the controls wearing a red bandana. “I wish I could be home this morning like everyone else.”
“Yeah, I know. You guys have the toughest job. This is just a little something to thank you for all you do. I hope you and your family have a great Christmas.” I said as I handed him the gift.
 When it’s over, it makes me feel good, because that’s what Christmas is supposed to be all about.
Not taking.
Helping others, not being selfish.
It shouldn’t be about shopping, sales discounts, or buying the latest high-tech gadgets. 
A few minutes later, the recycling driver pulls up to the driveway and I wish him Merry Christmas with a small gift, too.
You should have seen the surprise and smile on their faces. It made my day.
Later, I’ll catch the mailman. The mailman’s dad used to own a pizza place back when I was a kid in Burbank. His brother was one of my classmates at Reavis High school. They lived only a few blocks away.
When I happen to be home when he delivers the mail, usually on Saturdays, we spend a few minutes remembering “the old days.” It was a better time, I think.
It’s a great feeling, folks. If you are able to give, you should take a moment to think of the people who help make our homes real homes.
Make it your New Year’s resolution to thank the people around you. Not just the ones you work with every day, but the ones you might take for granted. If you can’t give them cash, a simple thank you will do.
A “thank you” can go a long way.
Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall reporter. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .