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Cooking With Myra: Appreciate those who do the little things in life

By Myra Starkey
Nov. 6, 2012 at 5:06 a.m.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Tart Cherries, Apricots and Pecans

Everyday, we take people in our lives for granted.

There are folks all around us who make our lives easier, and we don't even notice who they are. Sometimes, it is the grocery store stocker who works all night to make sure the product is on the shelf by the next morning.

Do we ever stop to think how all that stuff got there?

Maybe it is the man in the utility truck who comes out to restore power in the dead of night because a transformer blew out.

Twice a week, crews of guys come to our houses to take away what we call trash.

Most of the time, all of these people performing these necessary tasks are invisible to us until someone stops to tell their story.

Taylor and I went to a film festival last weekend. On the first night, a large screen was set up outside to view the first film. Everyone sat around in their lawn chairs. The temperature was in the high 70s, and there was just enough breeze to keep the mosquitoes from landing, but not so much wind that it would disturb the screen.

The movie was called "Trash Dance." It is a documentary, meaning that the people in it are not actors, but the actual workers.

An Austin choreographer had the idea to go to the local solid waste department and put on a production, that highlighted their activities.

This cute gal appears to be about 30, and at the beginning of the film she is shown trying to convince these workers to be a part of this event in which their movements and their vehicles will be choreographed and put to music in front of a large audience.

They appear very skeptical. They see little glamour in their jobs and can't quite understand how they could be a part of this artistic endeavor. They basically just go to work day after day to get the job done.

The story unfolds as the choreographer gets up before daybreak and works along side these men and women doing their job with them. She wants to get to know everyone and become familiar with the equipment to get ideas for the show. If she was creating a dance with swans then she likely would have been out observing swans wherever swans swim and frolic, but this was not the case.

Anyway, she works side-by-side with them and listens to their stories, their hopes and dreams. It takes her several months, but eventually she convinces 16 of the folks to be in her show. They practice after work, but remain skeptical, sometimes laughing at her and sometimes with her.

Very little of the movie has to do with them practicing for the event. It mostly involves her getting to know each of these workers as regular sorts of folks who, for whatever reason, ended up working in that field.

Some chunked cans, some picked up limbs or abandoned furniture and one guy even disposed of dead animals. All of them seemed very conscientious about what they did.

It talked about their families, the second jobs they did to make ends meet and their hobbies. One of the guys was a part-time youth minister and explained that all of us go through things in life for a purpose, yet few truly understand why or what it all means until it all comes together at the end.

She perseveres and eventually, despite rainy weather and government setbacks, she puts on the show. The crowd of about 2,000 people gathered one evening and sat in bleachers on a large stretch of abandoned runway that was to be the stage. They watched as the trucks drove about in coordinated paths as might players in a Friday night football marching band. The workers spun and dumped their carts in precision moves.

Another group danced to a solid-waste-themed rap song that one of the workers composed and sang.

A highlight was when one of the skilled operators gracefully spun the boom and opened and closed the jaws of the knuckle-boom loader to an orchestral arrangement.

I know it is difficult to picture all of this in your mind, but it was a sight to behold. At the end, the crowd cheered and the employees of the Austin solid waste department lined up and bowed as do actors at the end of a play. It was obvious the pride they felt for carrying out the event and for receiving recognition, as only people could do who had remained unrecognized and faceless for too long.

All of us are guilty of undervaluing the lives of others, often because we are so focused on ourselves. That's natural.

The movie helped me to realize that both the joys and struggles that I go through are shared by others who wander through life as I do. I just need to do a better job of being aware of those around me who make my life easier.

Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email myra@vicad.com.

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