About 30 years ago, when I did mornings at WHCN/Hartford, we did a promotion in which I swapped jobs with a listener for a day. They got to come in and do the show with me, then I went out and did their job with them. The winning entry was from a garbage man, so I spent a couple of hours on his truck picking up cans and dumping them in the back.
At first, it was fun and good exercise. But by the second hour, my back was killing me from lifting some of those heavy cans (no plastic barrels in those days, and no automated arm on the machine to help!). That's when I gained some respect for the people who pick up our trash all day every day.
Robin Nagle did, too. She is a professor of anthropology and urban studies at NYU, who spent time on the streets and inside the trucks as a New York City sanitation worker for her book, "Picking Up." Today on America Weekend, I asked about her experience and her view of trash as a career:
How hard is the job, and what about the smell?
Are there many women doing it?
Did you find anything really valuable or incredibly gross in other people's trash?
Which season is the worst time for sanitation workers, winter or summer?
What's the difference between trash pickup in the city, suburbs, and country?