I’ve seen a couple of them regularly in my neighborhood, emptying the litter bins at the local tram stop, sweeping up the gravel put on the sidewalks back when it was cold and icy, and picking up empty beer bottles in the park. They wear bright orange suits with reflective tape on the sleeves, legs, and chest. The younger one always seems to be leading the way and is quick to make a joke. The older one has darker skin, a lazy eye, and a more thorough custodial approach. They have a camaraderie that only comes from long days of shared manual labor. But lately there have been a small army of them, as if management has finally recognized that some threshold has been broken and has sent in the reinforcements. Maybe their inside intelligence has told them that the nice weather is going to hold on for awhile. The army is sweeping up debris from the previous several months of snow and wind storms and making piles on the curbs – leaves, branches, and hopefully some of the dog crap. I can’t believe that spring is nearly here and there’s still a week to go in February. I’ve even noticed buds forming on some of the hedges.
Even though I’ve done it a dozen times by now, I have to admit that I still get a little nervous heading for the check-out counter at the grocery store. First, there’s the anxiety about getting the money right – if I can hear and understand the amount the clerk says that I need to pay or if I can catch a glimpse of the face on the cash register. And then there’s the bagging process. There is no bagger! At the same time that I have to pay attention to the money, I’m also responsible for putting all my stuff into bags – bags that either cost me money or ones that I have brought from home. If I’m getting just a small load of stuff, like milk and bread, then it’s not too bad. But if I’m doing a major shop for a couple of day’s meals and I have the girls with me asking for the impulse sugary items strategically placed where they can find them, then I get sweaty and irritated. I unload the items from my cart on one side, pay attention as the clerk scans them in the middle, and hurry to load them back into the cart on the other side, ever listening for any inquiries the smug seated clerk might be asking me in German. Paying and verifying the change, even with the coins that are hard to tell apart, makes me feel like I’m almost out the door. But then I have to take the cart over to the grocery packing tables to fit them into my bags. I know heavy things go on the bottom and meat should be wrapped in plastic, but I always seem to burst a yogurt cup or crush some rolls somewhere on the way home. And I’ve become thankful that milk doesn’t come in gallon, or even half gallon, containers, because it’s either a four-block walk home or lifting all this stuff on and off a tram. It was six weeks before I bought a six-pack of beer.