Fritz and Robert Take Me to Work
I met Fritz and his friend Robert Sommer one Saturday morning. Fritz said, “You wanna know what our life is like? Ok, Bring your camera and follow us.” Beers in hand, we made our way behind a shopping plaza, along a creek bed and under the 101 Highway coming out in a clearing near a large apartment complex.
We paused for a few minutes and being curious I asked, “ So what are we doing and where are we going?” Sipping on a beer he had transferred into a Styrofoam cup, Fritz said, “ You go to work everyday, so do we. We dig through the dumpsters looking for bottles, cans, food and clothing. Anything we can use. You’d be surprised what people throw away. If you get sick and take the day off, you probably still get paid. If we miss a day, it’s the difference between eating or going hungry. So, we are going to take you on our route.”
Fritz told me he makes about $25.00 a week recycling. I did the math in my head and thought perhaps his estimates were a bit overstated. After all, you would need to recycle 500 containers to earn $25.00. Robert, who has a larger route and takes any recyclable, says he can make twice that. One of the challenges with recycling is that glass weights considerably more than plastic and carrying that kind of load the nearly 1‑¾ miles to the recycling center takes a lot of strength and stamina. That wouldn’t be a problem this day as I planned on driving them to their destination. The recycling prizes are the 2.7‑ounce Yakult Probiotic containers. They stand but 4 inches tall, take up minimal volume yet they yield the same $.05 as a 2‑liter bottle.
Life on the streets is about understanding your environment, being efficient and taking advantage of opportunities. I was amazed at how well Fritz and Robert knew their route. Garbage trucks come on Thursdays so you need to get out especially early to beat them to the dumpsters. Friday is generally a day off since the trucks have been by the day before. Saturday and Sundays are generally the best day to recycle since tenants have been partying on the weekends. But you can’t go too early because everyone is hung over and they don’t take out the trash until later in the day.
We weaved our way through the apartment complex, moving from dumpster to dumpster. I was taken by what people are willing to endure when your survival depends on it. Robert found several expired cans of food that he stuffed in his backpack. Moldy bread and cheese that were baking in the dumpsters under the summer sun were tossed in a shopping bag for later. The scavenger hunt continued, old hamburgers and fries, peanut butter, half filled OJ containers, partially rotten fruits and vegetables. Anything that could possibly provide nourishment was consumed or saved for later. I asked Fritz and Robert if they were concerned about getting sick and I was told that the streets are a quick fix for finicky eaters.
I felt a mix of nausea, sadness and heartache. How is it that we allow people to live this way? I knew in that moment that in some small way I was going to do all I can to make a difference.
Share a moment when you reached out to help a homeless person.
Tags: Blog, Fritz Dutter, Homeless, Recycling Day, Souls Not Forgotten