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It seems in every industry, there’s an icon, someone to emulate, someone whose blinding success impels novices to keep at it.

For real estate investors, there’s Donald Trump. For entrepreneurs, Jeff Bezos of For chimpanzee researchers, Jane Goodall. The list goes on.

Last week, I learned the same goes for can collectors in San Diego. While I was following Tanya Hatch around, we ran into one of her longtime competitors and friends. The two collectors reminisced for a few minutes about the crazy days of picking up other people’s trash.

Then, with starry eyes, they told me about a man they know only as Mr. Leroy.

Mr. Leroy collected cans on Pacific Beach for many years. He was a staple by the time Hatch started collecting 30 years ago. They say he lived in a Volkswagen bus and saved all of the proceeds from his can collecting until, eventually, he had enough to pay for his wife and two kids to come to San Diego from their home in France.

Then Mrs. Leroy and the kids joined his can collecting business. Hatch said she once tried to pick up the same can Mrs. Leroy had been eyeing, but quickly learned to never do that again: Mrs. Leroy slapped her hand.

Now, the story goes, the Leroys live in a beautiful home in La Jolla and don’t have to collect cans anymore.


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