Picking Up The City Along With Stale Bread
Trash Worker Who Quit Fires Into Boss’ Empty Van The Clifton Heights Man Had Resigned After Having Friction With His Supervisor. He Fled To Upper Darby.
September 18, 1996
Unlocking The Past In Manayunk Canal Amid Boutiques, This Symbol Of A Vital Industrial Past Lies Fallow. A City Grant Aims To Change That. and the stench isn’t too bad yet. Brian Purnel rolex watches for sale l is flinging garbage bags into the hopper of the truck with the same accuracy that Dr. J showed flinging basketballs through hoops. Only Dr. J got $1.5 million a year, and Brian Purnell earns $18,000 a year.
Purnell, 26, hits one from 10 feet out. He pulls a handle. The bag disappears into the maw of the hopper, where a big blade descends with enough power to flatten a refrigerator into something shaped like a two by four.
Purnell walks behind the truck like a soldier following a tank to battle, and, in fact, collecting trash and garbage in a place like Philadelphia is a battle. A battle that is largely won, if seldom acknowledged, because the carnage is great and constant.
As he stops for a load, he explains the difference between trash and garbage.
“Garbage is food,” says Purnell. “Trash isn’t food. It’s supposed to be packed in separate bags neatly, but it’s never neatly. I don’t know why. I don’t think they care.” He says this in a detached sort of way, without anger. Two years he’s been picking up the most disgusting things human beings can produce. Nothing has changed. What are you going to do beat people up
because they don’t tie their bags?
Next to Brian Purnell is Hattie Lane, 50, almost 51. Around her middle she wears a leather weightlifter’s belt to keep from popping a hernia. How strong is she? Lane, usually reserved, stops what she’s doing, pulls up the sleeve on her blue work shirt, and flexes a biceps. There’s not much there. You wonder how she does it.
It is the beginning of their toughest day a Monday in one of the toughest parts of their route in Southwest Philadelphia. In a few hours, the temperature will exceed 100 degrees, and the smell will make you wish you had a sinus condition.
Hattie Lane and Brian Purnell are the grunts of sanitation work. The garbage they get is the worst, and it isn’t gift wrapped. During the course of a day, the bags and boxes they touch contain more than j rolex watches for sale ust eggshells, coffee grounds and grapefruit skins. How about a bag containing a live rat? Zillions of maggots? A junkie’s needle that might have the AIDS virus on it? There are acid, cockroaches, broken bottles, nails, battery acid. Stuff that will wreck your back, make you sick or give you cancer if you touch enough of it.
On this day, Hattie Lane and Brian Purnell will pick up two truckloads’ worth of trash and garbage. Each load will weigh seven tons. Over a year, they
average 10 tons a day. In one year, then, skinny Hattie Lane and accuracy shooter Brian Purnell and their driver, Robert Johnson, will relieve the people on their route of 5.2 million pounds of waste.
For this, they are pretty much faceless and nameless people. The stuff is neat, tied up, in cans and loaded wi rolex watches for sale th treasure. People in the Northeast buy a lot of things. When they do, they put the old stuff in the trash.
So if you’re a sanitation worker in the Northeast and you need furniture, a suit, a TV, you name it, all you have to do is wait. Eventually you’ll find it on the curb. Down in Southwest Philadelphia, where Hattie Lane and Brian Purnell work, the stuff is about as used up as stuff gets, because the people down there live close to the edge of no tomorrow.
On a block that shall remain anonymous because somebody stole the street signs, Lane picks up a box, unglued rolex watches for sale by the previous night’s rain, full of LP records scratched to death, worn out children’s clothes and unidentifiable food. Swish. Into the hopper it goes, and behind it a plastic bag clawed full of holes, from which drips some unknown liquid.
At the next stop, on the curb, are two chairs, a pile of untied lumber, a refrigerator and a destroyed table. Like some stupid alligator, the hopper eats it all.