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My experience on the garbage truck certainly supports the adage “one person’s trash is another’s treasure.” I’m sure I’ve tossed hundreds of items for potential episodes of the “Antiques Roadshow” into the garbage-truck “hopper.”
Their fate was not to be appraised on TV as a huge windfall for some lucky pack rat, but rather to end up buried with tons of real trash at the Miramar Landfill, never again to be a dust catcher on the family shelves.
Never again to be packed into a cardboard box and stored for decades in someone’s closet or garage.
I’m sure I’ve thrown out thousands of dollars worth of collectibles: Aunt Bess’s hand sewn heirloom quilt; Uncle Boyce’s $5,000 collectible dime; grandpa’s irreplaceable scrimshaw charm; yellowed 17th century original drawings that were being used for bird-cage liners in a North Park bungalow; hand-woven 100 year old Turkish rugs with distinctive animal caricatures that someone probably replaced with a new 100 percent Olefin area rug from Home Depot; Elvis Presley 45 recordings of “Love Me Tender” and “Hound Dog” in the original covers; numbered and signed prints of Andy Warhol’s Tomato Soup cans (I always thought those were over-rated anyway), an inscribed gold-tipped fountain pen used once by Teddy Roosevelt. The list goes on and on.
Yes, these were somebody’s treasures, but unfortunately, not the resident who left them curbside on trash day to be grinded up by the giant steel packing blade.
Other things have ended up in the trash that I wished I had not seen.
Maggots never really bothered me, however. It’s amazing how numb a sanitation driver can get to some of the daily unpleasantries like the piles of maggots on hot summer days even in the alleys of some of the richest neighborhoods of Mission Hills or Point Loma. I guess flies aren’t that discriminating — don’t care whether their eggs are deposited on the garbage of a wealthy, middle-class or a poor person.
But surprise visits from rats, possums, skunks and rattlesnakes are kind of unnerving. It’s not so bad when they’re already dead (not that I don’t feel sorry for them). But have you ever rescued a hissing possum by grabbing it by the tail for relocation purposes to the nearest clump of bushes? Have you ever had a rat jump onto you and go inside your work shirt before you could free it? Or dumped what you thought was a dead skunk into the hopper only to see it start to move and lift its tail?
As far as normal trash goes, sanitation drivers really don’t think of it too much as dirty or smelly. We’re mostly concerned with the weight and how to get it to the landfill as quickly and safely as possible.
I guess garbage is to a sanitation driver what money is to a bank teller.
There is a lot of it, and you handle so much of it, you almost forget what it is. Collecting garbage doesn’t mean you’re trashy; anymore than collecting money means the bank teller is rich.
Collecting “greenery” (and I’m not talking about cash, but about yard wastes) is a very popular program, but probably the most difficult of our jobs. Nothing is heavier or stinkier than a can full of wet grass clippings.
And there is nothing interesting to look at when it comes to greenery. It all pretty much looks and smells the same. Messy, thorny, sometimes nasty.
Some gardeners will fill up a half-dozen or more cans of yard clippings that we dump for free, regardless of whether the resident is paying the gardener for the service through their monthly bill.
Something called “wedging” is the bane of a greenery collector’s existence. The worst offender is Bougainvillea. From a distance it’s gorgeous and showy. Up close its vicious thorns can tear through shirts and leather gloves. Prickly cuttings shoved into the can stubbornly stay wedged inside when we try to empty it.
It takes a lot of energy to bang, pull, yank or do whatever it takes to force out the pointy limbs. At the end of the day — after lifting tons and tons of greenery — that energy is hard to come by. Technically, we are allowed to “red tag” the wedged cans, but mostly we empty them as a matter of pride at work.