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The Octopus Production

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By Emily Portner, on July 2, 2010

Just call me the garbage girl because this post is about trash again! It just so happens that I had the opportunity this week to do a ride-a-long with the Town’s solid waste crew and live the life of a collector here. Gross and smelly as it was, I have to tell you that I had a great time playing a role in the “octopus production”. But seriously, it may seem as though all I’m getting out of my summer internship experience with the Town of Chapel Hill is related to solid waste, but this could not be further from the truth. I discovered that there is a deep lesson to be learned from participating in a simple garbage collection route.

One of the crew members told me the moment I stepped into the truck that I was about to witness a production. He wasn’t lying. These crews are so in sync with one another that their collection of trash is more like a football play in which one person predicts the other’s move and then moves accordingly. They know the routes like the back of their hand and are ready for what is coming next. With everything the Town requires the men to do in the course of their day – hang onto the truck, jump off, roll the cart to the truck, maneuver the levers to dump the trash in the truck, roll it back, and stick on a notice of no service collection July 5th due to the holiday – these guys are octopuses. I had to beg the driver to let me get out of the truck cab and participate in the collection (due to liability issues). Thankfully, my negotiation skills are up to par (thanks, Professor Whitaker!) and I was able to successfully sprout a few limbs of my own and help the crew on the streets.

While I was on the road I experienced something really neat that piqued my existing interest in Town/resident relations. Even though these men are solid waste collectors, they are incredibly cognizant of the importance of their role in the community and the service they provide to the Town. They take a tremendous amount of pride in their work, and even better, the community recognizes their importance too. It became apparent as we went through the route that some residents had intentionally timed putting their can out on the street to the exact moment when the truck came by with the desire to have personal conversations with the collectors. It was obvious that there was a long-standing relationship between the crew and these residents because the conversations often involved checking in on how family members were doing and, in one case, asking about a sick dog. How cool is that?

It was so neat to be present at the point where the Town and its residents meet and to witness the respect and value shared by each side for the other. This is why I am interested in public administration; because what we do in our offices and in front of the computer screen has a tangible and obvious effect in our community. Whether or not we realize it, what we do in our public service jobs everyday nurtures the relationship between government and community and helps to make the towns or counties or cities we live in a better place. I will never forget how I felt when I witnessed the crew and the residents engaging with each other. One day when I am a manager, I will remember that, even if your role is a lead in the octopus production, your service is valuable to the community.

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One Response to “The Octopus Production”

  1. Lauren


    Thanks for all of your informative posts. It’s been neat to read about your adventures and experiences with the Town. I can tell that you are absorbing all of your teachings inside and outside the classroom. So proud of you!


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