I Should Have Been a Garbage Man

For New Year’s Eve, I went to a house party hosted by a married couple. The couple is about my age, married, and employed. She’s a high school English teacher; he’s a self-described garbage man.

Everyone at the party was employed, with the exception of me and one other law student. Everyone was committed to engaging in the polite small talk that comes with talking to students – how far along are you, when will you finish, what will you do when you graduate? It seemed they all shared the belief that upon graduation, we would immediately become attorneys with more money than we knew what to do with.

Rapidly losing patience with this kind of conversation, as I typically do, I thought a little dose of reality might curtail the discussion. So I threw out the starting salary for Assistant State’s Attorneys in my hometown ($40,000). The husband started laughing. “Hell,” he said, “I make more than that a year and I ride around on the back of a garbage truck.” Against my better judgment, I asked how much. $55,000.

He went on to tell us how some days his job isn’t so bad. In the springtime he spends the whole day outside, enjoying the weather. Around Christmas, the people on his route gave him liquor and cash and gifts. I’m sure the days it’s raining or snowing or 100 degrees are a different story.

While he was talking, it occurred to me that there is a very real chance I would be better off as a trash collector than a law student. I’ve spent seven years in school, paying to be there. I could’ve spent those same seven years earning a paycheck, benefits, maybe even a pension, somewhere. Without going to school, you don’t have student loans. So I’d have saved the time and the money, while making money.

The garbage man hours aren’t too bad either. Not many trash collectors are putting in 60 and 70 hour work weeks. Not to mention the rules for the profession. There’s no Sanitation Worker Registration and Disciplinary Committee. There are no ethics involved in refuse collection. Your garbage man has no obligation to keep your secrets or solve your problems. There probably aren’t rules saying garbage men can only ethically accept token gifts and not substantial ones. The closest they get to putting your crap in separate funds is if you recycle.

This sanitation worker versus Assistant State’s Attorney pay ratio isn’t just a “back home” or “small town” thing. Using Cook County (Chicago) as an example, the starting salary for an assistant state’s attorney is $59,340. The average salary for a Motor Truck Driver for the Department of Streets and Sanitation (their version of a garbage man) is $70,503. In case you thought that Motor Truck Driver salary might be a fluke, the average Tree Trimmer is making $67,786, and the average Sanitation Laborer is making $65,894. In fact, for the whole Department of Streets and Sanitation, the average salary is $67,451. That’s over $8,000 more a year than an Assistant State’s Attorney, starting out. Maybe I should’ve been a garbage collector.

At some point during our conversation, I’d started shaking my head and staring at my feet, like my silver Guess Neodany heels might have something to say about the whole thing. Mr. Garbage Man interrupted my musing by stating the obvious, “You could hop on the back of the truck with me and make more money.” Then he followed my eyes down to my shoes and said, “Well, you’re gonna have to change your shoes first.”

Post image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Not all blonde lawyers or law students want to be the next Elle Woods. Though she has since graduated from law school, you can still find Not an Elle on Twitter @NotanElle or on her own site at thenotanelleblog.com

8 Comments

  1. Scott

    February 5, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    Heh. Funny story, and I guess it’s all true if you plan to do nothing with your law degree but be a state attorney and pick up a State sponsored check. Start your own firm and get a niche doing something that you don’t suck at and you can actually earn a good wage in this business.

  2. Laura

    February 5, 2013 at 11:30 pm

    Totally understand…My waitress sister earns the same amount as I do as a second-year lawyer.

  3. Jill

    February 6, 2013 at 6:15 am

    This is NOT good.

    I am in law school b/c I want to be financially independent of men who just want to sleep with me.

    With a decent salary, I will not need to have men buy me dinner and then expect to come over to my apartment and spend the night having sex.

    We need to figure out how to get men to stop expecting this after paying out $100 for dinner.

    • Frank

      February 7, 2013 at 3:50 am

      Lady, if you any good, men would not just want to hump you and bolt. If that’s you then you have to change your attitude.

  4. John McDonald

    February 6, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    Ha. Funny story. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Scott

    February 7, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    Becoming a lawyer is certainly a most noble endeavor. Sure it’s hours of hard work, but the fulfillment found when serving the needs of the truly oppressed, or forging and interpreting new insights into the evolution of mankind’s societal growth, or insuring that the rights of the few aren’t usurped by the demands of the many, or standing firm against the winds and gales of bluster and evil, or holding vigilant against the rule of man overshadowing the rule of law; there can be no more honorable (if unappreciated) calling than that those individuals suffixed with the moniker “Esquire”.

    And, you can dick around the internet while eating lunch.

  6. Joel

    February 7, 2013 at 7:01 pm

    JILL: I think you should reconsider your choice to go into your profession.
    I thought that someone who goes into Law is a person who cares about one’s Rights and one who helps to uphold the laws of the Constitution.
    We really do not need someone whose main concern is making money so they can pick and choose their dates.
    Please, for all of us, RECONSIDER!
    There are MANY other ways to make a good living
    Thank you!

  7. wally

    November 22, 2014 at 8:50 am

    Nice story. But being a garbageman isnt as easy as people think. certain places might be great if they have good equipment. secondly alot of places your working on your own. which involve in and out of the truck lifting and pushing constantly. i am a gabage man and seen alot of my fellow co workers get knee replcement and tons of guys with shoulder problems. not to mention alot of rats and if your route goes through a bad neighborhood then lots of needles. get poked by a needle straight to the hospital you go and no sex for 6 months. its a very dangerous job. I wish i was in you position with a law degree. Nice office and in the long run better off.

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