Chasing Sanitation

Falling in Love with New York's Strongest

:: The First Shoot ::

Cutting Our Teeth On Mark and Johnny-Dodges-the-Check
August 30, 2008 

We’d been chasing and shooting since 6:30 am on this Saturday morning.

John Hathaway and Andrew Aspromonte had already given us the best of them, and we wouldn’t know just how vibrantly their shots, their laughter, their teamwork would show up in photos until later.

We were on fire, excited by them, thinking this first shoot went easier than we thought. They both agreed to an interview!

Oh, yeh, this was going to be one of the best things I’ve ever done. It would write itself.

Liz and I found a diner in my neighborhood to power down. We burst through the door of the D&D Diner on Ft. Hamilton in Borough Park yapping, giggling and sweating. We had both shown up that morning in the very same outfit – jeans, black shirt, tennis shoes. That was weird. We were pretty nervous. I had no idea what I would say to any of these guys. I knew precious little about hierarchy and titles and garages and routes.

There’s a lot to be said for just sort of chasing after your dream, not knowing too much about getting there.

So, anyway, there at the D&D Diner, we slopped all our gear and bags down in a booth. Liz breathlessly said to me, “You were so right.” About what? “About this – the whole idea – the guys. I mean, I kind of thought when you first asked me, sure. But then my life and workload were so crazy and then you asked about it again, and I said, Sure, Why Not. It’s a big project, but you were so right.”

I’m still not sure exactly what she meant. But we both couldn’t stop telling the stories of just the last hour and a half back and forth to each other. “And Paul, that foreman guy? With the

‘We’re men! Don’t degrade us!’

That was amazing!

‘We don’t stink!!’

And everyone giving him shit. And then that neighbor guy that recognized you from the neighborhood!”

(That’s Hal. He lives on my street. More on him later …)

She’s a morning person. I am not. But I’m ramped up high this morning. Just then, a couple of collection trucks pulled up and parked outside. A couple, like, FOUR. And then they all started pouring in. Sanitation Worker after Sanitation Worker. Who knew we had landed at the routine break on the morning route for Brooklyn 12 Borough Park Garage? That was weird too. A fifth truck pulls up outside the window we’re settled at. Liz looks at me. I look at her.

“Can we talk to them? Do you mind?” I ask her. “Oh yeh! Absolutely!” She’s already got her hands on her camera.

In walks Johnny Doz. He’s on his cell, not even barely through the door when I,

“Hey! Can we talk to you?”

He looks at me with the WTF face. You know that face. It’s a New Yorker face. It’s suspicious, it’s why-ya-bothering-me, but it’s open for opportunities to mix it up.

He looks at the both of us, sees all our stuff. He pauses a little. So I bark up again, “We’re doing a project on you guys – you know – the Sanitation Workers of New York.” 

“I’ll call you back,” he says into his cell phone, and his face softens. “Oh yeh?”

“Wanna sit here?” I gesture to the empty booth next to our table. “Yeh, sure, what the hell,” he shrugs. The tough guy shrug like he’s making a choice to go along with me. “If it’s okay with my partner.”

And so they ordered and we talked. And it was in a few diner orders and a lotta laughs later that I fell in love.

With both of them.

And therefore, with all of them. It was sort of from that moment on that I started hoping I could get my hands on a green DSNY T-shirt of my own to lay around in on Saturday morning writing about them.

Johnny Doz and Mark. It was only about 20 minutes that we spent with them. They started finishing up with their meal, and it was getting to that uncomfortable point of what to talk about next – politics, the weather, the Yankees, the Hasidic bakeries nearby, my frizzy hair, how all the busting of each other’s chops was slaying us.

Johnny Doz gets a call. He excuses himself to take it in the truck outside.
The waitress brings the check, and Mark starts in.

“He gets a phone call every time it’s time for the check. Look at that, he’s out there on the phone and look! The check’s here,” and he holds up to us.

Mark’s bright blue eyes – he’s busting his chops. The guys obviously don’t hate working with each other – they had a sort of honed rapport, which I later learned they all sort of have when they’re partnered with any Sanitation Worker that has the same sort of work ethic and won’t drive them crazy yapping about stupid stuff in the truck.

Mark pays it, and Johnny comes back and asks about it. “Yeh yeh, I got it. I told them you got the phone call when the check comes.”

Johnny says, “Aw, no! The junior picks up the senior check? That’s not right!” Mark laughs. And Johnny’s face mock pouts. He knows he needed to pay. Maybe this is something he does?

I asked Mark, “So who takes out the trash in your house?”

“I do.”

“Really? Seriously? You take out everybody’s trash all day long and someone can’t take out your trash?”

“I don’t mind.” His conversation shifts nervously to telling me he’s having a birthday party for his 1-year-old the next day. “Oh my gosh – congratulations!” I say, when just then, Johnny pops his head in the door from his cell phone call to ask, “Your party tomorrow? What’s gonna be there?”

Without blinking, Mark says, “Pony, chickens, a goat and one of those face painter people. 2pm. Don’t be late … I’m paying the petting zoo from 2-4.” Johnny ducks out again, and Mark leans in to our table, “One of those miniature horses – whaddaya call those things?”

“Miniature ponies?”

And he laughs. “Right! I bust the chops of the short guys at the station about they get free rides!”

So I’m still curious. I force him to go back to talking about taking out the trash at home. I hate taking out the trash. I have my trash issues. Woah, some newsflash.

“So you take out the trash?”

“Yeh, I don’t want her too. She works so hard. Harder than me. Longer hours than I gotta. It’s alright.”

Mark has been with DSNY for 4 years. He used to drive a liquor delivery truck until “something was getting a little fugazi with our pensions disappearing.”

Mark, being a junior to Johnny’s 9 years on the job, was staunch throughout the conversation on “don’t write that down” and “take off that bandanna” to Johnny because it wasn’t uniform code. The juniors are always more nervous about all the rules of the DSNY than the guys who have a few more years on the job. It’s best that way.

Johnny’s got two daughters – a nine-year-old and a 14-year-old. It had to have been a female on that call – he was so serious out there.

Soon, they both were out the door, and Liz right with them. I watched them yapping her up and her giggling and shooting and giggling and shooting, and so I followed. They were setting up a shot. It was Marc’s idea.

“Give ‘em your number – I’m married!” Mark urges Johnny. “Give ‘em your number!” and handed him a pen. We waved them off, promising to call later – for an interview! For an interview.

Weirder still.  And then again, maybe, not so much.

This is Johnny Doz. Johnny and Mark.

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