Photo by John Rizzo
So, do you ever become used to the smell?
How do you get rid of it on your clothing?
As soon as I get home, I take off my clothes and take a shower. And I wash my clothes separately from the rest of the family’s.
How did you get into this kind of work?
After high school, I started out as a driver for a local delivery service and then had my own company. Then September 11th happened and it destroyed my delivery business. The sanitation department was hiring and I got very, very lucky. That was twelve years ago.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about sanitation workers?
That we don’t work hard enough and we go home early. We have a route to do every single day and, when you are done, you can go home. You wouldn’t want the garbage trucks out on the streets just to be out there unnecessarily.
It looks like a very strenuous and physical job.
No question. I’ve already had three shoulder surgeries.
How heavy are the cans you’re lifting?
They can be anywhere from ten to a hundred thirty pounds each. Sometimes, gardeners or residents will load up a garbage can full of grass that can weigh two hundred pounds and you’ll need three guys to lift it.
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Do people get mad at you for blocking traffic with the garbage truck?
Every day. But you’re told two things when you start: You’re not a traffic director, and don’t talk back to any residents, no matter what they say.
What’s the best part of your job?
Besides job security, it keeps you in shape. If I wasn’t doing this, I’d probably have another fifty or sixty pounds on my body.
And the most difficult?
Being in the elements—torrential downpours, one-hundred-degree heat, or unbearable freezing cold; we’re working outside every day and in every condition. We’ve never cancelled a pickup due to weather.
What’s the most unusual thing you’ve seen that someone has thrown out?
I’ve seen everything imaginable—from toupees to adult toys.
What kind of garbage do you find most disgusting?
Dog poop is the grossest. Also, baby diapers.
Have you ever brought your work home with you?
Like they say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. I’ve had a twenty-three-inch Panasonic flat-screen TV in one of my boy’s rooms for a couple of years that I got from a curb on a bulk pickup day. It still works perfectly.
What percentage of households tip you at the holidays?
About half, with the average amount around thirty dollars for the truck crew of three people.
What’s the biggest tip you ever received?
Eight hundred dollars to be divided among the three of us. We didn’t do anything special. The guy just liked us.
Who takes out the garbage in your house?
I do—and I make sure it’s all tied up and in black bags so you can’t see what’s inside.
When you see a piece of litter on the street, do you have an urge to pick it up?
Without hesitation, I pick it up. I’m used to keeping the streets neat. But in my own house, my wife still yells at me to take out the garbage.