“Waking up waiting to go to work or something wrong”
The streets echo with laughter and grunt as students from Mikkeli gather in the center to celebrate. A student leaps along with the steps, a man wearing an orange safety vest. The gaze runs along the flowerbed next to the street. Quickly, the hand reaches out, snatching the can into the bag.
David Stephens has started his Wednesday night shift. The evening looks promising, with ten bottles already covering the bottom of the bag.
Stephens decides to wait outside the nightclub. Students pass by in a noisy stream, but many stands outside: drinks must be drunk before going to the nightclub. When the can is empty, Stephens is ready.
The home father invented the work in his spare time
David Stephens first got a job when he was 5 years old. He says he grew up on a farm in England where children had to participate in making a living from a young age.
Once winter came early, and I collected potatoes from the icy ground in the snow. I didn’t feel my fingers and cry.
Stephens worked at the farm for 17 years. Working there was a waste of time for him, and he decided to look for something else.
After a brief military service, the young man started his job at a horticultural company. Since then, there has been enough work.
If Stephens wrote down all the work he did, the list would belong. He was very excited about traveling at an early age, while he worked. He says he has done construction work in the Netherlands, painted houses in Norway and sold souvenirs in Prague. That’s why Stephens believes you can always get a job if you are ready to do it.
Stephens also traveled to Finland in 1990. At that time the Finns were more rigid than he is today. Together with their friend, they admired the charming strawberry vendors in the market. However, Finland was only one among many countries.
After two years, the world traveler first came to Mikkeli to see his friends who are all over the world. During his visit to Mikkeli, Stephens expressed his enthusiastic wish to his friend: he hoped to grow older and die in Mikkeli.
I wondered why I said so, he laughs.
Years later, Stephens had a child with a Finnish woman, and they ended up living in Mikkeli. The parents decided together that Stephens would take care of the boy during the day so that the boy’s mother could return to work.
Evenings and nights were free for his father, so he started collecting bottles for his livelihood. In addition to money, a new job gave him a reason to go out and meet other adults. This is where his career as a bottle collector began.
On the street, you can talk about Brexit
On Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, David Stephens collects bottles at night. Summer is the high season, where you can work every day, sometimes for 15 hours a day. He estimates he has collected about 150,000 bottles.
Sometimes someone is horrified at how terrible it is for Stephens to get his money from pledges. However, he likes his current job.
If you can’t wake up in the morning waiting to go to work, something’s wrong. People do jobs they don’t enjoy. When they retire at the age of 65, they wonder what they have done with their lives.
For Stephens, paid employment does not seem to be profitable as much of the income goes to taxes. The earnings from the pledges are so small that he does not have to pay taxes on them. While working in England, Stephens felt that the state was running out of tax money and was supported by people who did nothing for it.
Collecting bottles makes sense for Stephens as many stops to chat with him.
Many want to know what it is like to live as a foreigner in Mikkeli and, of course, what he thinks of Finland. Some will tell about their difficulties, some will want to improve their language skills.
Brexit, the EU, and immigration are also often discussed on the street. Stephens becomes mesmerized when he gets to talk about these topics.
Brexit is a pretty comical affair, even though you know the situation is serious. Britain is leaving the EU, but it doesn’t matter because in a couple of years the EU will be dead. I hope I’m wrong.
In addition to meeting people, it is also important for Stephens that his work does not harm anyone. She’s been working in the advertising industry, and while she enjoyed her job, she didn’t like pushing unnecessary stuff.
In addition to collecting the bottles, Stephens spends time cleaning up the plastic packaging that is thrown into the wild, even though they don’t make money.
Stephens describes his work as perfect because it combines making money, meeting people and exercising. However, collecting bottles is not just nice talking to people.
With temperatures above 20 degrees Celsius and cycling against the backwaters, Stephens is not happy about his outdoor work. Weather conditions can force a persistent man to quit his night job.
Sometimes I haven’t had time to get in when I couldn’t use my key because my hands have lost my senses.
Do you make money collecting bottles?
Doing a job long enough will be good for you, David Stephens believes. Over the years, he has developed a good instinct to find bottles.
I need to know where to look. I once walked with a friend down the street and said, look, there’s a can. He didn’t see it.
Stephens doesn’t want to talk about how much he earns by collecting bottles. Every month is different: sometimes there are dozens, sometimes even a hundred, in your pocket. It has sometimes happened that the catch of the whole evening has been 40 cents.
It’s strange to him that people on the street might ask how much he earns.
Even if the trunk is full of bottles, the amount they get is not very large. According to Stephens, he does not receive any subsidies, but he still has enough money because he lives in a proprietary apartment with his son and mother. They can share costs without having to pay rent. He doesn’t go out very often because the prices are terrible: buying a cup of tea requires bottles of plastic.
Stephens, however, does not think about the cost of things in bottles, but his son has asked how many bottles are needed for the PlayStation.
Low income is one of the drawbacks to work, Stephens says, but still doesn’t consider himself poor.
If I am poor, what others have? One of my friends swore he had three euros in the account. So just three euros worldwide and he’s an adult! When I was a kid, I had some money.
Freedom to speak cleanly
David Stephens thinks he can freely express his opinion when collecting bottles, unlike those in paid employment. Many of them do not want to share their thoughts about, for example, economics, immigration or social benefits because they fear to lose their jobs.
I can’t lose my job because I do it for myself. If a salaried employee expresses his opinion, someone says he is going to tell his boss that he is offensive. What can be said is therefore limited.
Stephens believes that some will talk to him just because he says things others don’t dare.
And he has enough opinions.
Stephens is annoyed that people don’t read books that tell us how to live life. And then, of course, there are opinions about politics. He no longer believes in democracy, because the results are, for example, in Brexit: people voted without finding out.
I am poor and poorly educated. When I listen to what politicians are saying, I think I know more than they do. So where did they get their education?
Stephens’s friend has given him a nickname, WASB, which is an acronym for White Anglo-Saxon Buddhist.
Stephens converted Christianity to Buddhist many years ago. Buddhism means to him that he is trying to be as good a person as he can be.
The man jokes that he is the worst Buddhist.
I spend more time distracting people than meditating.
Stephens also says he often loses his nerves as he gets older.
One thing that upsets the mind is littering. Stephens doesn’t understand why people throw rubbish in the ground. According to him, even millions of euros worth of bottles and cans are thrown into the country every year, not to mention other plastics.
I grew up not littering. The farm grows for nature. I grew up thinking that the townspeople were enemies. I still think so.
It is a contradiction that Stephens makes his living from the bottles that people throw. However, he hopes people will stop littering, even though he will be unemployed as a result.