Gomi-san

Oi! Gomi-san. Gomi-san da!”

This shift, Tomás Montalban was a gomishuushuusha, A garbage truck. He swiped the screen that swiveled his right-hand camera and surveyed the sidewalk. There was a little boy waving at him, smiling.

Tomás smiled back, although the kid couldn’t see him. Tomás was in Manila and and the boy was in Tokyo. Tomás needed some other way to express himself.

His pressed the “horn” button and tooted out “shave and a haircut.” The kid grinned and waved even harder. “Gomi-san saikou!”

Tomás wished his kids respected his job like that. Maybe he needed to fly them to Japan so they could see him in action. A gleaming, four-wheeled, three-armed teleoperated robot. Not a fat old man in a control booth.

A light over Tomás turned orange and his smile evaporated like cola on asphalt. He was running behind. A swipe of the thumb switched his view to the trashcans behind him. He jabbed at them with an index finger and the robot arms did the rest, grabbing and lifting the trashcans before dumping them into his central container.

The light turned green. Tomás switched his view back to forward and touched the center of the street. His garbage truck spun up its motor and slipped in with the rest of the robot traffic.

Swipe, jab, jab, swipe. More trashcans. All of the interesting parts of the job — driving, lifting the cans, and whatnot — that was all handled by the algorithms. Tomás had heard a rumor that the only reason Tokyo garbage collection wasn’t fully automated was that they needed a human somewhere in the loop to blame when things went wrong. He believed it.

Gomi-san’s home was a garage where they replaced the machine’s batteries and did repairs. The first job happened automatically as soon as Tomás parked in his spot, but the second took more finesse. And a human operator.

“Pst. You going to the union meeting?” That was over his private line, not external mics.

“No damage to…uh… to report?” Tomás blinked at his screens. What was this guy doing off script?

The repair robot robot dropped, spider-like, onto his hood. “I said,” whispered Tomás’s earphones,  “are you going to the union meeting?”

“The meeting isn’t until June.”

“Not your meatspace union in bangladesh or wherever.”

“I live in the Philippines.”

“Right. No. I mean here. In Tokyo, where we spend most of our lives. Don’t you think we deserve to vote here too?”

 

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