Aug 8, 2009
Guess Where This Is?
Lovely, isn't it. (Though, I don't suppose I'd recommend swimming in the water).
We arrive at the entrance and are greeted by a cheerful, perky blonde who gives us a quick and useful explanation of where to go and what to do. Out ahead of us, a pastoral setting of green, rolling hills dotted with foliage stretches out in all directions. Everything we need is neatly organized and arranged for our convenience, and all the staff is professional, courteous, and friendly.
Where are we you may ask? A golf course maybe? A city park? A farmer’s market perhaps?
I’ll bet none of you guessed the Orange County Landfill in Orange County, Florida. That’s right, I said landfill—as in garbage dump. Surprised? So was I. I was amazed by the great experience my sister Dawn and I had dumping trash. The last time I visited a landfill—also in Florida--I recall racing across acres of compacted trash in my sister’s old pickup, pulling up at a stinking mound of refuse, and tossing our stuff from the back of the truck directly on to the pile, while the buzzards circled over our heads and garbage-crunching machinery rumbled in the background.
I feel like it was the same place but if so, they’ve changed their dumping system tremendously in the past few years. The stinking trash heap may exist somewhere in the landfill, but this time we didn’t see it. Instead our vivacious hostess directed us to a covered, decidedly unstinky disposal area, with a quiet green vista, where we would dump our junk into different massive dumpsters—the household junk in one, metal in another, appliances in still another.
It hadn’t been pleasant work up to this point. My sister had been hired by her landlord to clean out one of his properties, the house next door to hers. It turned out to be some heavy, backbreaking work. The house was filthy—full of all kinds of treasures such as a pot of stew that had been left on the stove to rot for weeks. Dawn gamely tackled most of the work herself, but Mom asked my brother Vince and I to help her haul away some of the heavy stuff. So on Thursday, July 16, we headed over to the house. First, we trucked a bunch of furniture down to a used goods store that took the whole lot for $40. Then we returned and began working on cleaning out the garage. It was unpleasant work. The stand-alone garage was dark, dank, and suffused with a musty, moldering odor. There were dozens of half-empty paint cans, crumbling furniture, ugly fluorescent light fixtures, boxes of old VHS tapes and the odd prom photo circa 1993. There was a metal desk with no legs sitting, like a derelict car, on blocks, it’s desktop dusted with glass shards. There was the rolled-up, rotting carpet harboring a decomposing rat so far along in it’s decomposition that it didn’t even stink anymore. It was disenchanting work—sorting through the detritus of someone else’s life. Gloomy thoughts of the wastefulness and transience of human life wafted through my mind. There’s few things uglier than all the things we’ve swept under the rug (or tossed in the shed) and tried to forget about.
When we were finished we had a U-Haul truck full of garbage. And we had no idea what to do with it. You’d think throwing a bunch of junk away would be easy, right. But it’s pretty complicated. The metal desk, rusted barbeque grill, and other large items were too big to put at the curb. The paint, lawn chemicals, and antifreeze would be rejected by the garbage men as well. There was some talk of making a late night run to various dumpsters around town, but fortunately integrity prevailed. We decided to call it a day and call around to find out where we could take a truckload of junk. Naturally, we looked into the landfill but the Orange County facility Dawn found online refused to take virtually everything we had in the truck—even cardboard! That night, however, when I did some web research myself, I discovered that the Orange County landfill Dawn had found was in California. The Orange County, Florida landfill would take our trash.
And so it was that Dawn and I got up early Friday morning and drove the U-Haul to the Orange County Landfill. I was prepared for a repeat of yesterday’s existentially gloomy and physically unpleasant task. I was prepared for flies, buzzards, the sounds of crushing metal, the stink of decomposition—the leftovers of mankind I’d seen the day before magnified by millions. I expected to be greeted by gruff, leather-faced folk grimly going about their nasty business, ordering us here and there with a spit of tobacco juice at our feet for emphasis. I imagined that working around garbage day in and day out would smother the soul of any man or woman.
Instead, we found our landfill experience to be actually, well, pleasant. The friendly blonde directed us to the unloading station where we met by a congenial older gentleman by the name of Jim. He definitely had the worn face of a man who has been around the tracks more than a few times, but cigarettes were his tobacco of choice and his demeanor was friendly and helpful. We dumped most of the junk into one giant bin, the metal light fixtures, desk and other metal pieces in another. While we worked, Jim would drift by to check on us and offer some friendly chitchat. He made us feel right at home. After having disposed of all the non-hazardous items, Jim directed us over to a different area of the landfill that handled hazardous material. We drove the truck over and were met by a quiet, professional woman who had us load the paint, chemicals, fluorescent light bulbs, and an ancient early-80s era computer hard drive on convenient rolling carts for proper disposal.
The main disposal area is the sheltered area on the left. This where the affable landfill employee, Jim, holds court.
After that we headed back over to the main disposal station to sweep out the truck, borrowing a broom from Jim’s workstation. He had a little outdoor office of sorts, complete with a snazzy rolling, leather office chair, no doubt rescued from disposal. From there he managed his little corner of the landfill. After we’d swept the truck clean and exchanged some more pleasantries with Jim, we headed out to pay our fee—only $13!—left the landfill with both our truck and our hearts light. Who would have thought we would have left a dumping ground feeling so good and thinking—wow, we really had a nice time!
Our encounter with Jim, and his colleagues reminded me that all work is honorable, and that no matter how distasteful the job, it can be done with a positive spirit, professionalism, and pride. My hat is off to the Orange County Landfill for keeping things green—both in appearance and in their responsible handling of waste. It felt good to know, that at least as far as I could tell, our junk wasn’t going to junk up the planet anymore than it had to. I also applaud the county officials that have created an environment where the employees are so pleasant and helpful. Disposing of all the stuff we throw away is a dirty job, but somebody’s gotta do it. And the folks at the Orange County Landfill are doing it well.