(This is a repost from a blog I wrote on June 4, 2007)
Early Monday morning about 1:30am, my friend Kevin and I were sitting in my apartment talking and browsing the Internet when I suddenly had an idea for a picture that I wanted to shoot. I got up and headed out to my car to get my tripod and when I stepped outside I looked up at the clear night sky with an near full moon shining as bright as ever and was taking my time as I was enjoying the coolness of the night. I happened to glance over to my right and noticed that the area just down the road near where the trash dumpsters are seemed unusually well lit for there not being that adequate of a light source nearby. I stepped out a little farther in the road to catch a better glimpse at what might be illuminating the area and noticed that a car was parked facing the dumpsters with it’s lights on. At first I thought, “no big deal, someone probably just dropping someone off for the evening” and went about my business. I stepped a little farther out and then noticed that a figure moving about from within the dumpster itself. “That’s strange”, I thought. My natural reaction to seeing this was that maybe someone had thrown away something of value that they needed to get back. Having seen the rather comedic appearance of someone with a flashlight rooting through trash naturally appealed to me, so I quickly ran back inside to get my camera and snap a picture of this “dumpster diver”.
When I came back outside after grabbing my camera I noticed that he was already gone. Kevin followed me out this time and offered up the suggestion that perhaps he was driving over to the next dumpster. Kevin went one way, I went the other, and together we plotted a scheme at capturing this guy on film. As I approached the car I suddenly noticed that the diver had a child with him and immeadiately thought to myself that maybe this wasn’t a case of finding something of value that was¬†thrown with the trash, but instead maybe this was a case of survival of a family that was down and out. I continued to approach the car and when I came within distance I asked the gentleman who at this point was standing just adjacent to the dumpster what he was doing. He responded by saying that he does this all of time and that he wouldn’t be much longer. The way in which he said it made me think that things might not be as they had originally and secondly been thought of, so I asked him what it was exactly that he was in search of. He said that was going through the trash to find anything that people might throw away that he might be able to sell. Now this both intrigued me and also irritated me at the same time. I told him that the area was private property and that he was in fact trespassing and also that going through the trash, albeit the belongings of people that had been discarded, could be construed as an invasion of privacy due to the fact that quite a lot of information can be gained just by going through some one’s garbage. He told me that he had already spoken to the police before about the matter and that he was indeed allowed to do so.
After hearing all of this I had the idea of asking him if I might take some pictures of him as I thought it was somewhat interesting that he was actually doing this. I also told him him that I sometimes write articles for my website about odd and interesting happening that I find every once and a while and that I thought this might make a good story. At first he was very skeptical and it was only after assuring him that I would not take any pictures of his son or his face did he agree to allow me to take some pictures. I properly introduced myself to him, and although his name escapes me now, some four hours later, I’ll just call him John.
This is John.
John was thirty-one years old, married with a child and disabled. Since John did not work, he used this as a means to add extra income to his wife’s job for their family.
During his recent excursion through our apartment complexes dumpsters, John found a television and an AIWA tabletop stereo system, that upon inspection, seemed to be in proper working order only needing some attention to cleaning the exterior free from dirt.
John had also found a vacuum cleaner that he would add to his collection of items that people had thrown away in hopes of turning a profit.
Amongst the television, stereo and vacuum, John seemed most proud to find a microwave that someone had tossed.
John said that a lot of the times what he finds is either a hit or a miss, and considering that what he finds is considered trash, I can see where that would ring very true. John asked me if I was familiar with the phrase, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”, and for John, this night seemed to hold quite a bit of bounty for this entrepreneur of waste.
One box that John found contained a rather expensive game controller for a computer.
Some of the items that were thrown out seemed rather unusual items to be trashed, such as stuffed animals.
John said more than likely, items like this would be donated rather than sold.
John had been doing this for about ten years after some friends of his when they were younger were out one night and had gone to a local potato chip factory and and found hundreds of bags of chips in the dumpsters. He said that this gave him the idea that there might be more than just chips to be had. I asked him, and all together John claims to have made about ten to twelve thousand dollars off his decade business endeavor. He has sold items on eBay as well as rummage sales. Some items that John finds he says that he keeps for his own use. He even claimed to have found twenty dollars in a purse that someone had discarded along with a Louis Vuitton purse which allegedly sold for the sum of four-hundred dollars on eBay.
I asked him if there were days of the week which proved to be more fruitful in his finds and he said that Sundays and Tuesdays were the prime days to go searching. John rounds out his searches by splitting up his time throughout various parts of the city spending only a few hours a night doing it and usually wrapping up around three o’clock in the morning.
When I was done taking pictures I stuck around for a few minutes and discussed a little more with him about his unusual occupation and I grew a respect for the man. He seemed to take pride in what he does and I must admit, I admire him for doing so. We discussed the American dream and how that it seemed to be a dream that fades a little quicker each morning after waking up, but it’s people like John that recognize that it is a dream that can be lived out in a number of different ways. Some people achieve it behind the desk of a corporate office, some in the field of service, and some in the middle of the night with a flashlight and the hopes that the things we no longer need will soon become the things that pays the bills.