My city currently finds itself in the midst of a garbage crisis. An unfortunate and mostly preventable series of events has led to increasingly terrible service over the past four years, and now when I put my bins at the curb, I wonder how long they’ll stay there. Until this afternoon, my recycling bin had manned its post at the end of my driveway for 32 days.

After the January 7 pickup, I rolled the bin back into my garage until two weeks later, the night before the collection truck was scheduled to roll through my neighborhood again. January 21, no truck. January 22, no truck. January 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, no truck. February 1, 2, 3, 4 (the SECOND missed regular collection day), no truck. February 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 (the THIRD missed regular collection day), no truck. February 19, 20, 21, no truck. Not for me, not for my neighbors.

If you’re tired of counting the days my bin sat at the street, believe me, so was I. After weeks of making trips to the street to empty recyclables from the house, I had started stashing the overage in buckets tucked around the garage. It took 32 days, but I had finally had enough.

When I dialed 3-1-1 to complain (I had already filed online miss reports after each forgone pickup), it took me four tries to get into the customer service queue. The first three attempts yielded only recorded messages which assured me that my call was important, but their lines were full. Not an auspicious beginning. After 32 days, 4 phone calls, and a recorded hold message, you might say I was a bit testy.

Five minutes into the hold sequence, a human voice finally greeted me: squeaky, hoarse, and audibly frazzled. This woman clearly did not feel well.

And that’s when my testiness dissipated.

I reported my name, address, and the date of the latest miss without the colorful commentary I had planned. And while I did make sure the woman knew that my neighborhood’s last recycling collection was six weeks ago, I kept my tone fairly matter-of-fact, and–dare I say– almost cheerful. She confirmed my information and assured me she had entered it into her database. Mission accomplished.

As I thanked her and started to take my leave, I added that I hoped she recovered her voice soon and started feeling better.

That’s it. That’s all it took.

Through the phone, I could almost feel the woman’s body release some of its tension. She thanked me and told me that she really didn’t feel well, but the complaint line had been so busy that she hadn’t been able to take time to rest. So many people have been calling, she said. There are just so many problems. I told her I knew the issues weren’t her fault and assured her I appreciated her help. I wished her a good day and added that I hoped people wouldn’t take out their frustration on her. After all, she was just there to document the calls for the people who COULD do something.

Right before we hung up, the woman again assured me again that my report had been logged, but this time she added that she would personally send a note to the supervisors since it had been so long. Wait, what? That was a step I didn’t expect.

Three hours later, all the bins on my street were empty.

Be kind today. Someone needs it.

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