A funny thing happened yesterday when my friend and I were waiting for a space in the club parking lot. We were doing some stretches outside when an old man with a bamboo stick over his shoulder and too medium bags at each end came tiptoeing in. Where in the world was he going, we asked ourselves. Our eyes followed him to the back corner of the lot, which extends around and into the club. Like a ninja, he proceed to jump into the big recycling dumpster and start rummaging!
After about 5 minutes, he popped out, and those medium sized bags on each end morphed into bags the size of his own body. This time, he happily walked away and didn’t tiptoe around us. Cool, he’s decided to lessen the dumpster’s load and take some plastic bottles and cans for himself. Maybe the old guy can get some trade in value for his stash, although I can’t imagine very much.
The friend and I are still waiting for a spot 5 minutes later when ANOTHER man with bamboo stick and plastic bags on each end comes marching in. This fella was younger, perhaps in his 30’s and could literally have been the older man’s son. He didn’t do any tiptoeing, he just marched right in and climbed into the dumpster. After about 10 minutes, he threw himself out, and muttered in disgust, “Don’t people recycle anymore?!” and walked away.
We felt a little out of place as we continued to stretch our hamstrings on the pavement floor. Was the parking lot camera rolling, and we were being tested on whether we’d be the recycling police? Nah, it was just a little bit of reality.
1) Experience counts. The older man was a veteran by virtue of his age and timing. He moved like a cat when he trespassed into the parking lot, careful not to attract attention. He was decisive in his leap, and quick to pick up his treasures. In and out he went smiling. The younger guy, on the other hand was boisterous on entrance, took double the time, and was 5 minutes too late.
2) Competition is everywhere, all the time. If it wasn’t for the old man, the young man would have collected all the goodies, or would he have? Now that I come to think of it, these dumpster hunters are everywhere in the city all vying for the same cyclical intra-day supply. When the young man cried out “Don’t people recycle anymore,” he was blaming others for his misfortune. He didn’t say “Damn, I bet someone else was here before me,” nor did he ask us casual observers whether someone came recently before him. Not recognizing the competition nor asking for help leads to permanent mediocrity.
3) Doing everything to survive. In the bigger context of things, both men are admirable, doing anything they can to make some money in these trying times. They could have done nothing that Saturday afternoon and complained about their economic situation, but they chose to risk persecution to collect recyclables. They had no ego, simply a will to survive and make a living 5 cents at a time.
Simple math says that 200 bottles equals $10. The recycling station takes 20%, but given they aren’t paying taxes on their income, the gross take goes back to $10. The old man probably walked away with about 50 bottles in five minutes. Say he were able to visit six other dumpsters in one hour, leaving 30 minutes for travel time, he’d collect 300 bottles and earn $15/hour! Not bad compared to our state’s minimum wage of $8/hr.
There was no shame in the way yesterday’s men went about their business and that is admirable. When I worked at my first job at McDonald’s during high school, I told my manager to put me in the back to make Egg McMuffins because I was secretly ashamed of being seen by my friends. I remember the manager telling me, “RB, you speak the best English out of the bunch, won’t you be my greeter and front line leader? You’ll get a 30% raise ($1/hr more) if you do a good job after a month!” Thanks manager, but I’d rather eat free apple pies and practice a foreign language than be seen by anybody! There was a girl or two I had a crush on back then, who so happened to drive nice cars compared to my bicycle. I didn’t have enough allowance money to get them anything, so I worked, but I tried to avoid them at all cost during the process! I never did end up getting the girl, but that is another story!
After 19 months, we’ve already gone through the longest recession in history, longer than even the 16-month recessions of 1973-75 and 1981-82. We’ve all hurt in some way, in different magnitudes (“The Less You Have…”), but we’re going to find a will to make it through. The good thing about the past 19 months is that it’s over and done with. There’s no shame in doing anything you have to do to survive, because it really doesn’t matter what you do. What matters is how well you do it and whether you do it with passion.
Readers, feel free to share any stories you have that gives you hope. Any side jobs or interesting things you’ve done to help pay the bills? I’d love to hear them. We probably have some things we’re better at doing than the average person. Why not try and monetize if you need the money. Guitar lessons anybody?
Financial Samurai – “Slicing Through Money’s Mysteries”