Friday, June 14, 2024

You don’t need to pursue happiness if you’ve already caught it

I was sitting in a micro, which is what they call the small, green buses in San Gregorio Atlapulco in Mexico City. They’re not really “micro” in the sense that they’re tiny; they’re just smaller than a full-size bus.

But they’re bigger than combis, which are the vans that also carry passengers. Why people call these buses micro but the smaller vans combis is one of those questions that sometimes keeps me up at night. 

So I was sitting in this micro when a garbage truck passes us and it happens to catch my eye.

Now, garbage workers in Mexico (or “sanitation engineers” as they were called for about 10 minutes when I was a kid) tend to be fearless. They don’t usually wear gloves or any kind of protective clothing. No masks. Their clothing trends toward the filthy side. They usually cling to the side of a truck as it barrels along.

I often see them eating lunch while standing next to a truck overflowing with trash. How they’re able to stand the smell is beyond my comprehenesion. Clearly, a very tough job undertaken by some very tough people. 

On this particular day, as I’m sitting in the micro and the garbage truck passes us, I notice three people sitting in the very back. As in, the very back where the garbage is stuffed. The truck is full. Of garbage. And they’re sitting right at the edge of the pile, probably on top of some of it.

I don’t know if this was a family, but it could’ve been.

They were two men and a boy: an older man in his late 50s, another man looking to be in his late 30s and a kid around 10. So, yeah, I figure it could’ve been three generations. I like to think that it was. 

What really caught my attention was the kid, who was talking animatedly. He must have been telling funny stories because the other two men were laughing. Hard. This is while they’re all sitting at the edge of a pile of trash in the back of a garbage truck which, I’m certain, smelled awful.

Talking and laughing like they hadn’t a care in the world. Just having a grand old time. And it was impossible to see them and not question just what in the hell the rest of us are doing, especially us Americans who are constantly pursuing happiness.

I had the feeling that those three guys, sitting there in the back of that garbage truck, they weren’t pursuing happiness. Somehow, and I really wish I knew how, they’d caught that son-of-a-bitch.

Joseph Sorrentino, a writer, photographer and author of the book San Gregorio Atlapulco: Cosmvisiones and of Stinky Island Tales: Some Stories from an Italian-American Childhood, is a regular contributor to Mexico News Daily. More examples of his photographs and links to other articles may be found at He currently lives in Chipilo, Puebla.

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