Stranger: Dan S. (born in Lyndhurst, NJ)
Breakfast Location: Sherban’s Diner (South Plainfield, NJ)
Meal: No. 7 – The Country Boy

Quote: I don’t want to live how I’ve been told to.  I want to write my own story.

What do you do when you graduate from college and can’t find a job in your field?  Well if you like to organize things and don’t mind manual labor, you might do what Dan did and apply for a position at 1-800-GOT-JUNK. 1-800-GOT-JUNK is a national (they also call themselves global) junk removal business that thrives on the tendency of many Americans to purchase things they don’t need but are reluctant to throw away.  After sailing through a job interview that included questions like” “Who is your hero?,” he was hired as a truck team member in Newark, NJ, one of the busiest areas for this type of work.  Dan, who admits his title was a bit glorified, spent his days going to sites, giving estimates and working with other team members to haul away mountains of junk in a timely manner.  His clients ranged from old couples who were downsizing after living in the same place for decades to hoarders like the ones featured on reality television.  As he went to people’s homes he caught a glimpse of the very private lives of strangers.  He found it interesting.

There is no doubt that there were many downsides to the work: working summers in overheated attics or high rises, breathing in foul odors and toxic chemicals, doing back-breaking labor for pay not much above minimal wage and dealing with gross stuff like a dead cat found under piles of rubbish.  But Dan, unlike many of his fellow workers, also saw entrepreneurial opportunities in the junk he was hauling.  Often times clients would tell team members to feel free to take anything they wanted.  Instead of filling up the landfill with what one person saw as trash, Dan would put aside items someone else might treasure.  In his off time he sold all kinds of things from old records to train sets to vintage cameras and musical instruments.  One time he even found stashes of money (almost $3000) in the piles he was hauling away.  That find he didn’t keep however, after conversations with his father and boss told him what he already knew – he needed to return it to the old couple who had squirreled it away and forgotten about it.

Another opportunity Dan saw at 1-800-Got-Junk was recycling or donating many of the materials instead of throwing them away.  Having taken some time off after an injury, Dan asked his boss if he might explore his idea through the creation of a new position – recycling coordinator.  For six months he focused on dividing the junk into piles, some destine for the landfill, others slated for local thrift shops and others for the recycling center.  While his vision was correct in the amount of material that could be used more productively, the cost, particularly in terms of time spent, made it impossible to pursue the venture in the long run.  Having left that job, Dan is now looking for the next thing that will challenge him.  He knows one thing for certain – he wants to think out of the box and to think big.  Like many of the young people we have met, Dan is willing to take a risk and chart his own course.  He knows, from experience, that life is filled with hidden treasures, you just need to sift through the junk to find them.

What makes you happy?: The search for happiness.  You can’t just flip happiness on and you can’t always keep it.  When something no longer makes me happy, I like looking for the next thing that will.

What would you like to be remembered for?: Many people want to be remembered for being a nice person or a good guy.  I’m a bit different – I would like to be remembered for being a bit oppositional – challenging things.  I want to do it my way.

What do you think about the future of America?: I’m not interested in a lot of the political outcomes and I can’t predict them.  One thing I do think will happen, in part, is ‘The Singularity’ – an irreversible moment of change involving merging of humans and technology. Technology will explode even more in the next 5 or 10 years both nationally and globally.

What is your favorite breakfast?: Pancakes – because it is the dessert of breakfast food and, of course, coffee.

What words of wisdom do you live by?: Be in tune with yourself and aware of your surroundings. Make your own life.

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