Talkin’ Trash

Like many of the kids he meets along his route, Daniel Washington was fascinated by garbage trucks as a youngster. “They were my heroes,” he says.

It’s 9:30 on a Friday morning. Normally Daniel Washington would be on his way home. After all, his day starts early – very early.

“My alarm is set for 3:04,” he says.

Those four minutes of extra sleep are a gift of sorts. As Washington scrolled through the clock settings, he accidentally skipped past 3am. He just shrugs at the mistake.

“Close enough,” he says with a grin.

Washington is a driver with Monterey City Disposal Service, running a route that takes him from the facility at Ryan Ranch in Monterey, along Fremont Boulevard, as well as the apartment blocks along Casanova and Ramona avenues, and eventually to the landfill at ReGen Monterey in Marina – about 100 stops each day over the course of four hours or so.

“When you’re done, you’re done – that’s the beauty of it,” Washington explains. “Once you finish your route, that’s the day.”

Even though he obeys the alarm, the Seaside native is on his own for the rest of his stint. Drivers get an early start, but they are not ruled by the clock. “You set your own pace,” he explains.

He has been collecting garbage in one role or another with Monterey Disposal for 33 years, which is hardly unusual – at least at this place. Washington is one of seven drivers who have been with the company for at least 30 years. The average tenure is 20.8 years.

Monterey Disposal’s general manager, Tom Parola, can’t explain the longevity.

“It’s tough for me to answer because I haven’t worked for another garbage company,” says Parola, who started in 1988. “A lot of us have been here a long time.”

One could easily imagine that after so many years of early mornings, Washington would head home for some rest, and he does take a break. In the afternoons and evenings, however, Washington coaches youth basketball in Seaside – boys and girls, 12 and under, in the Police Activities League. With his wife, Claudia, Washington also oversees the youth football program in the city. Some 200 kids and 35 volunteer coaches take part.

He remains involved, even though his own children – two boys and a girl – are grown. It’s his way of giving back.

Hauling trash is not glamorous. Residents pay notice only when trucks rumble through the neighborhood or when drivers momentarily stall traffic to collect curbside bins. Yet with Americans tossing almost five pounds of waste material per person per day, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, it is one of the most important tasks.

Still, Washington was reluctant to become a garbage man. After graduating from Seaside High School, where he played football, basketball and ran track, he spent a year at Monterey Peninsula College. But he was not a serious student and felt guilty about his father shelling out for more education.

Deciding he should find work instead, Washington took a job with what was then Carmel Disposal.

“I figured I’d do garbage for a couple of years,” he says with a laugh.

Collecting refuse is an elaborate operation. Monterey Disposal employs 39 people. Drivers are the most visible, detailed to commercial or residential routes, devoted to either garbage or recyclable materials. To keep trucks on the road requires a team of mechanics and fabricators. Other staff sort the recycling. And there are people doing accounting, payroll and necessary office tasks.

Trucks may roll through neighborhoods once a week, but garbage is collected every day, even on weekends and holidays.

“I wouldn’t say it’s clockwork, but it’s fairly smooth,” Washington says.

Over the years, Washington has seen change – no more working in teams with a collector or two riding on the back to hoist the cans into the truck, and trucks now have cruise control. But there is a constant, besides the 3:04am alarm. And it solves the question of why so many trash collectors stay on the job for decades.

“You’re always going to have trash,” he says. “It’s good, steady work. What more could you ask for?”

(1) comment


Roll on, trash and recycling trucks.

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