Trash collectors just want a little respect

August 30, 1997


Staff Writer

Any given day on the job, LeRoy Hose and Charles Smith might have cars speeding toward them, eggs hurled at them and garbage spilled on them.

All the while, they are chasing down a 28-ton truck.

Such is the life of the trash man.

As Labor Day approaches, the BFI workers ask people to remember seven little letters the next time they see a garbage truck: r-e-s-p-e-c-t.

Yes, there are some people who give the trash man his due.

Those people slow down when they see a trash truck, don't use cheap trash bags and don't hide their trash behind parked cars.


But there are many who don't appreciate the seldom seen hard work of picking up 13 or 14 tons of garbage on an average night.

"People ain't watching for us. They're just out there for themselves. People speed by us like they're on the interstate," said Hose, 38, of Hagerstown.

Just a few months ago, Smith, 44, of Mercersburg, Pa., was hit by a car on his route through the city of Hagerstown.

Luckily, it wasn't serious and he was back to work the next day. Now, he tries to be even more careful when he steps into the road.

"I learned my lesson," he said.

Labor Day is supposed to be about taking a break from work, but to these men any holiday just means more labor.

Like the mail, the trash never stops coming.

They will have off Monday, but they'll be greeted with heaps of trash at promptly 12:01 Tuesday morning.

Tuesday they will cover Monday's route and Wednesday they will cover Tuesday's route.

Wednesday's yard waste collection is canceled, which means they can expect double the tree limbs and grass clippings the following Wednesday.

They usually work about 10 hours a day, but sometimes put in as many as 14 hours.

"You gotta be a tough one," Smith said.

Some of their pet peeves:

* Customers who try to sneak trash in the yard waste pickup or yard waste in the trash pickup.

"They think we're half asleep, but we're wide awake. We know what we're doing," Hose said.

* People who throw eggs on them.

* People who are in a hurry and try to drive quickly around them.

* Animals who break open trash bags. The men have to clean up the mess.

* People who try to stuff cat litter and other heavy trash into weak trash bags.

Despite the headaches and hard labor, Hose and Smith said their work is satisfying. They get to be outside and, for the most part, be out of the boss' sight.

Before he became a trash man six years ago, Hose was a demolition worker for 13 years.

"I lived dangerously. I still got all my fingers and all my toes," he said with a smile.

Smith, who has been a trash thrower for four years, worked at the tannery in Mercersburg before it closed and also was a farm worker.

The two men start their day when many people are asleep.

They work through the night and get their first break on the way to the landfill about 5 a.m., stopping first at Sheetz or 7-Eleven for food.

Ordering subs and quarter-pound hot dogs at that hour draws some pretty strange looks.

There are some perks.

Sometimes they get tips, which they split between the driver and two helpers.

Around the holidays, they are extra careful about looking at the trash so they won't accidentally throw away a gift.

They get candy, cookies and money, among other things.

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