A steady stream of drivers pulled into the Mooresville Transfer Station on N.C. 150 to drop off their recyclables one recent morning, but some had an envelope and card in their hands.
They came to offer handshakes and hugs to Doug Fox on his retirement after 101/2 years steering people to the right bins and getting to know them and their families.
"Who am I going to bring my chocolate chip cookies to?" resident Gwen Sink asked Fox minutes before he punched out for the final time, at noon Sept. 30.
I listened in as Sink and a couple of dozen other Mooresville residents wished Fox well in his last hour as an Iredell County employee.
Jenny Butler brought family photos to show.
Her dad, Charles Butler, loved sitting at the transfer station to chat with Fox for a spell. Charles Butler suffered from Alzheimer's the last 10 years of his life, and Fox "was a true friend of my dad," Butler said.
But Fox also knows how to charm the women, she said. He would immediately walk to their cars to help them remove and discard items.
"He has a lot of girlfriends," Butler said with a smile. "He's never met a stranger. He's just a good guy."
Fox, 66, made so many girlfriends that a harem of them later joined him for lunch at the nearby Bucko's Restaurant, which Fox frequents each Thursday for his favorite $3.25 fried flounder sandwich.
There to greet him were Carolyn Gooden, Caroline Zastrow, Ann Goodson, Isabel Landzdert, Laurette Tupper and Lois Ewart.
Ewart gave Fox a fisherman's hat, which he promptly donned and wore the rest of the day. The hat was pinned with various buttons with sayings such as "Expert Napper," "Retired Not Expired" and "I Survived the Rat Race."
Fox told the women he looked forward to taking his mom out more to visit with friends and to shop.
Fox's fan base was no surprise.
He made it a point at the transfer station to learn the names of as many recyclers as he could and what states they're from.
His inquisitiveness, he said, sprang from growing up on a dirt road with few neighbors off Old Mocksville Road, north of Statesville. He just knew there was a world out there, full of people with their own stories to tell.
Before working for the county, he delivered supplies to dairy farms in several states for 29 years. He's also traveled on vacation to all 48 continental U.S. states.
Caroline Zastrow and her family had just moved from Minnesota when she met Doug at the station.
"He pulls out your personality," she said. "All of a sudden, you're talking about yourself, and you don't know why."
Jennifer Hardy, an exceptional children's teacher at Mooresville High School, and teacher's assistant Jessica Davidson pulled into the station with a busload of their students to say so-long.
"He's been their mentor," Hardy said. "He's patient and wonderful with the kids."
Fox preached the importance of recycling to everyone who would listen. He kept careful watch for recyclables being tossed into the wrong bins.
"He is the garbage police," resident Tommy Mason quipped as he bade Fox farewell. "You don't put anything in the wrong bin."
After Fox punched out for the last time, he left the transfer station office, looked around and said, "I'm history."
Just then a woman approached.
"Sir, where do I put these?" she asked.
And Fox led her to the proper bin.