Chasing Sanitation

Falling in Love with New York's Strongest

:: A Woman Works ::

She’s been on the job for 19 years.

She had a certain heaviness about her. Liz didn’t see it. I couldn’t help but see it. Liz chided me about seeing only this part of people’s lives. To watch myself. Liz saw joy and strength. I saw something else … not sure what yet.

Maybe it was strength … but at a cost.

Strength at a cost.

We chased her and her partner Kenny for about an hour. We came up to a huge pile of garbage and I watched her walk up to it and paused momentarily. I asked her,

“Hey Mary, so everyday, you see this big pile of trash, right?”

She said, “Unh huh…”

“And so, everyday, do you just look at it and go ‘Oh. My. God.’ ?”

She laughed and said, “Yeh, Every day, that’s right. ‘Oh Lord!’”


She has two sons. One that just got married. She wants that marriage to go well – she’s waiting and watching … We followed her for a long time in a pretty nice area of the Bronx – Riverdale. Cars would come up and honk and threaten and hassle her and her partner.

She held up her hands and said, “I can get you a pair of gloves and this’ll go faster.” And that would shut them up.

She kept saying to us, “I can’t believe this is what I do everyday. I never saw my life as being like this.”

Does any of us? Does any of us see our lives turning out the way they do?

She’s retiring within the year. And she’s going to relax.

This is Mary. Mary Russell.

::: ::: :::

Responses (2) to “:: A Woman Works ::”

  1. Ms. Russell is just one of the dedicated Women of San-workers. I live with a female san-worker of over 10years on the job. The stories she and other co-workers (Ms.Russell) tell me, I can’t believe they go thru. One of thier stories is what I see on my block every week, people in cars see the truck on the block and follow them instead of going down another to go around them. The purposely go behind them to complain. I witness a lady and a man on different occassions, before turning, spotted the San-truck and conitued down the block. Once they see the San-workers doing there job, they start yelling at them to move instead of choosing another block. One lady in the cars wanted them to move because she wanted the parking spot where they were at removing about 8 bags of heavy garbage. People think Sanitation workers are stupid. “They pick up garbage. How much brains do they need for that?” I hear that all the time. I am proud of them for doing a job that alot of us would not do. Dealing with rats,raccons,maggots, uneducated people etc. Picking up things that would turn the noses and stomachs of those people who think they are stupid. I wear a Sanitation shirt everyday, just to represent them. I love to see other worker (Sanitation) think I work with them. I wish I did. Hats off to the Men and Women of Sanitation. Much Respect.

  2. Tia says:

    I have to say I am happy to have read this short sweet article as a fellow sanitation worker. It makes me feel proud when I see other females who can handle working behind the truck.

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