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Pay It 4ward: 'Morning Show' doesn't waste chance to hail unsung heroes

Memorable day with Solid Waste workers leaves mark on heart -- and senses

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – There are superheroes, everyday heroes and unsung heroes.  

The unsung are silent heroes, wearing a uniform or perhaps a name tag, instead of a mask or cape. The unsung heroes walk among us, performing their jobs daily without accolades, awards or thanks. 

“The Morning Show” recently got to “Pay It 4ward” and say thank you to a few of these unsung heroes: the men and women of the Public Works Department in the Solid Waste Division.

Our visit started when we met Courtne Brown at 5:30 a.m. so we could get on the route by 6 a.m. With my normal schedule, being out by 5:30 a.m. is sleeping in. 

For Courtne (pronounced court-knee), it's the start of his second shift. Yes, his second shift. The 32-year-old has been working at least two shifts per day, six days a week, for two years. His day starts as early as my typical day -- at 2:30 a.m.

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My coach and trainer for the day was Ellis (he never offered a last name, but said his friends call him “Red”). And Division Chief Will Williams also came along.

Friendly warning: If you're eating while reading this -- I'd come back later before you continue. Remember, I warned you.

Here's a recap of our visit with Courtne and his crew:

6 a.m.: Wheels are rolling and we are on the way to our route.  

6:05: From the cab of the truck to the back of the truck: “It's go time!” With Courtne behind the wheel, Ellis, Division Chief Williams and I literally do the heavy lifting. 

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6:07: It's already nasty. The first stop (not the second or third) the very first can I open, I am greeted by hundreds of the larvae of the common housefly -- also known as maggots. To make matters worse, they have taken up residence in an outdated garbage can, which means I have to pick it up to empty it (no automated dumping for this one). As I evict the creepy-crawling residents, it gets worse. The bottom of the can is filled with a gelatinous, semi-liquid substance that comes splashing out, and I am now wearing said substance. Remember, that was the first garbage can...

6:30: Furniture, a mattress and box springs sit on the curb, along with carpet and padding. I pick up and empty the nearby garbage cans, looking past the bedroom furniture. But Ellis says that's got to go in the truck, too.  

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7: The sun is rising, temperatures are climbing and the GPS device I keep in my pocket says I've already run 2 miles.

7:45: Maggots by the thousands, rotted fence panels and furniture for two bedrooms and two living rooms are in the truck.

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8: The sun is up, and what started as a cool morning with temperatures in the 60s is now steadily warming through the 70s. You know what happens to odor as you apply heat to it? Yeah, pretty gross.

8:45: I down a quick bottle of water to hydrate as the wheels keep turning, and we are on to the next street. The average garbage collector riding the back of a truck lifts and loads about 13,000 pounds of trash in a shift -- that's 13,000 pounds of trash and tens of thousands of maggots.

If you have watched “The Morning Show” much, then you know I am hyper clean and a germaphobe. So how and why did I end up picking up waste and riding on the back of a garbage truck? 

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Two words: Jennifer Waugh.

I can't hold a grudge, though, because the sweet smile she used to sell me on this germ-ridden, maggot-infested journey is the same one she shared with Courtne as she paid it forward.

Wait, how did she pay it forward if I did the heavy lifting? 

Well, Jen and Bruce did give the crew a Publix gift card and took them to breakfast at McDonald's. When McDonald's corporate heard why we were there, they picked up the tab. That's just the kind of chain reaction we're hoping to spark!

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Final thoughts on my trash travels: The men and women of Jacksonville's Solid Waste Division are the unsung heroes who keep Jacksonville clean. On behalf of the Solid Waste workers, please do not overfill your trash can and please cinch and seal your trash bags -- or there will be more maggots.

We hope our “Pay It 4ward” series this week has inspired you. If it has, snap a photo of your random act of kindness and send it to jwaugh@wjxt.com or post it to Jen Waugh's Facebook page and tell us all about it.


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