Meet Gene

I met a remarkable man just now on the street near our home in Tribeca, New York. Gene spends his day searching through the city's open trash cans pulling out cans and bottles for recycling.  On a good day, he can make $200.  Today $50.  In his makeshift pushcart pictured here... $2 worth.  By my calculation he personally ensures the recycling of more than 1m cans and bottles a year.

Gene walked at twice my speed, ignoring the traffic, still going strong at 8.30pm after traveling down from the Bronx early in the morning. He was upbeat, funny, cool and proud of his high-speed trash-picking technique.

I'm in the middle of Alain de Botton's brilliant new book "The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work" on finding meaning in what you do. Gene should have had his own chapter. An inspiration.

17 responses
He's one of the 'gleaners'. We need a lot more of them -- esp. in business, people who find value in things and take the initiative to leverage them.
i'm not trying to bring anybody down, but there's ONLY a bright side when you get paid out of the trash. to earn $200 from cans you had better walk at twice as fast as your Tribeca home owning ass. savage happiness? get over yourselves, twit about your insufferable boss, pay your mortgage, and stop wishing you were as simple and 'happy' as the trash picker on your block who probably has a diagnosable mental disorder and would kill to have regular access to a computer.
Thanks for this. Logan, the world is full of reality checks, reality checking one of them is moot. The message is, find something you love about what you do, no matter what it is. Even if you have a mental disorder, and pick up trash. $10 says you are a serious asshat.
Although admirable in his tenacity, here in the Silicon Valley and SF, that would be a crime. The trash belongs to the garbage pickup folks. The money they get for recycling helps offset the price of garbage collection. In SF, there are organized trucked gangs who rip off the contents of the recycling bins in the middle of the night. In Silicon Valley, we have recycling bins, and workers sort through the regular trash as it travels on conveyer belts to grab anything worthy of recycling. Several folks here in Mtn View make regular rounds of the trash cans at restaurants to pull out the cans to cash in. Now if the city didn't pay attention to recycling, then he's doing a great service.
Try to see some cities in Brazil. We have 1 Gene in all streets and this work is very important to big cities, events, shows and the nature :)
Stumbled upon your blog from the Posterous homepage. Nice variety. I think the quick tale of Gene is a nice, succinct way to acknowledge those who are less fortunate than most of us. Sure, on some level Gene might be the fortunate one and "the rest of us" are really the ones trapped, etc. On second thought, no, Gene is really struggling to get by. Still, thanks.
I always wondered what is behind the Spam e-mail "Make $200/day job, apply now" I receive at least three times a day - Now I know!
it is very nice to meet people like gene. he had just find a way to survive and maybe a bit more :D
A dignified man living in a way that most of us would feel apologetic toward. Your brief story connoted your own dignified, respectful viewpoint of a regular guy, using what abilities are present and manifest to him. Thank you for posting Chris. Good luck Gene.
good for him.
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