While you’re at work

Between 6:00 – 9:00 AM your middle class neighborhood clears out. Or so you think. The vast majority of residents wake up, make a cup of coffee, put on morning radio, and drive to work.

But what happens while you’re away? Have you ever wondered? Probably not. We live in an out of sight out of mind culture so chances are high you have no idea what happens during the day at your house while you’re at work.

An Army of Workers Arrive

Here’s what happens: While you sip your coffee in traffic on your way to work somewhere else an army of workers are waking up, making coffee, and driving to your neighborhood for their days work.

Unless you spend time observing you are left to assume that nothing much happens in ‘the hood while you’re away. But if you open your eyes you’ll see it.

Here are some categories of workers who come into your neighborhood while you’re at work:

Domestic Workers

A lot of people have people whom they’ve hired to come to their homes while they are away. In Southern California the number one domestic worker you see is the landscaper. In our neighborhood I’d say 65% of homes have a landscaper who comes to “mow, blow, and go.” They also trim the bushes and trees, and if you pay a little more they take care of the flowers. (We let our gardener go… a shock to the neighbors!)

But there are also house cleaners, dog walkers, yard clean-up people since landscapers don’t do dog poop, pool guys, and a huge variety of contractors and handyman types all of whom quietly come and go while you’re in that big important meeting.

They come and go all day long while you’re away. With your permission they go on your property, depending on what type of work they’ve been hired to do, some go inside your house. You probably get a bill for their services and just pay it… but they are very real people doing very real work.

Civil Servants

You know about the postal carrier. But they are just one of several civil servants working in your neighborhood every day. There are people who come to empty trash cans and clean sidewalks, people who mow or clean-up the public parks and other areas the city is responsible for.  Then there are the public utility workers who read meters, inspect the power and gas lines, and work on various maintenance-y things during the day. While the gas, electric, and cable companies aren’t truly public utilities in most places we’ll go ahead and lump those folks in this category, as well. You see a lot of utility worker vehicles in the neighborhood during the day.

Did you know they trim trees around power lines or just general trimming of trees on the right of way? You probably don’t notice that as it happens while you’re checking Facebook between very important meetings at work.

And don’t forget the police. They make patrols while you’re at work, respond to calls, do police stuff.

And then there are a variety of city workers who do stuff in your neighborhood all the time. Maybe they are measuring stuff for a future project? Making sure your curbs are painted or re-painted? Or repairing a pothole.

And, of course, there’s the trash pick-up people. Here in Southern California there are actually three different ones… trash, recycling, and yard waste.

Delivery Drivers

I’ve already mentioned the postal carrier. That’s just one of several delivery drivers who have routes in your area. UPS and FedEx come through twice– first in the morning for early drop-offs, there are people like me who work from home that get stuff delivered, you know. And once again in the afternoon for regular delivery and pick-ups. Of course, Amazon has their own delivery company now so they deliver packages, too. Then there are other courier services that deliver everything from medical equipment to purified water. An increasing number of people get groceries delivered… even if you buy it on Amazon that’s a different delivery person, too. Who buys from the Schwan man? Somebody does because that yellow truck comes all the time.

That’s not even mentioning food delivery people who tend to come after work. You know, when you get home from work and just want take-out. There’s a person who does that– but you probably don’t notice them either.

And don’t forget the people who deliver people. People come to pick-up the elderly to take them to the doctors. People take shuttles to the airport. School buses drop off and pick up children. And there’s an army of Uber and Lyft drivers who pick up or drop off people all the time.


And then there are the people you’re worried about. Not everyone in the “other” category who is in your neighborhood while you’re at work is a crook, but there are some. Most burglaries happen during the day… because you and your neighbors are at work. (Don’t worry, they’ll steal your gun.) But there are also people who case the neighborhood, looking for things which might be easy to grab or easy to gain entry to your backyard or a car that never seems to go anywhere.

On trash day there is an entire different crew of low-level crooks who go through your garbage or recycle bin, looking for stuff they can sell.

What’s the point, McLane?

The point is two-fold.

  1. Just because you’re away from home all day doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot going on. Your neighborhood is a buzz of activity. It has a rhythm all it’s own and working from home I now only notice when things don’t happen on rhythm.
  2. These are the working poor. Rich people don’t work for your landscaper as a mower. Rich people don’t clean middle class people’s homes. Rich people don’t walk 15 miles per day reading water meters. Rich people don’t deliver for UberEats. But, for the most part, the army of people who work every day doing things you only notice if they don’t get done? These are the working poor. Many of them make just enough money to get by doing work you don’t want to do.

What if you took the time to see the things you aren’t meant to see? What would you see? 

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in Ahwahnee, California.

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