Chasing Sanitation

Falling in Love with New York's Strongest

:: What You Don’t Know by Looking at Them ::

They are family.

They love fast and just want a fair shake.

They chose to take the test. They passed the test. They showed up.

They keep showing up.

They are the oldest green-collared profession.

They see the housing market change, the effect of slumlords and fancy real estate developers.

They feel the Recession happening in throwaway Ikea furniture and forced evictions.

They hate the rain and cold. The rain’s the worst, though.

They know what they do is important.

They recognize you on the street and never expect you to recognize them back.

They have a mercurial wit.

They have problems that they’re working on.

They have problems that they’ve gotten through.

They have this job that helps them to keep their lives together.

They have more racial and off-color jokes than Richard Pryor and Bob Saget put together.

They have psychology degrees.

They have been to art school.

They are in school now.

They’re thinking about their retirement now.

They are practicing their bag pipes now.

They have not always gotten their due.

They have not always been lucky or made the best choices.

They have fathers and grandfathers who have seen worse, less respected days at the job.

They have books they’ve written and published.

They have plays they’ve written and produced.

They have bands they play in and Harleys they ride through the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.

They have photos in their phones of the collection truck, locker room pranks, Derek Jeter and their children.
They show up at the funeral for a coworker who lost a spouse.

They have wives and girlfriends they’d do anything for.

They have sons and daughters that they wish they were better parents for.

They have friends at work to remind them why they do what they do.

They have people that give them hell for not being a doctor,  lawyer or banker.

They have kids that wanted nothing more than to ride in the truck.

They have regret for lives lived outside the work.

They have kids, dogs and old men in the neighborhood that look forward to their arrival the same time every Monday morning.

They have mothers that drive them nuts.

They have sick wives that they take to the doctor all the time.

They have better halves.

They lost too many fellow Sanitation Workers to stupid accidents on the route.  A name on a building will never be enough, but they’ll take it.  And they’ll remember.

They have seen combat days in all the wars in recent memory.

They took this job because they got their girlfriend pregnant.

They took this job because some guy left when they said they were pregnant.

They miss the New York before Giuliani.  Life was more fun, and you wouldn’t get arrested for hot-wiring a street lamp for a dance party.  Sure, it’s safer, but it’s a little sterile.  Yep, that’s right – they miss a dirtier New York.

They hit on my friends now, because my friends are no longer looking away when they pass a Sanitation Worker on the way to the train.

They hate bureaucracy but believe in the union.

They just want to keep moving and then do nothing but sit on the beach or on the porch in the sun.

They are the brawny receptacles of New York’s stories and streets.

In their minds are our histories and secrets.

In their muscles, the weight of our lives destroyed, discarded and discontinued.

In their hearts, quiet, simple hope.

They are the caretakers of all we let go.

And they’re not perfect.

But their hearts and minds are full and passionate.


::: ::: :::

Responses (16) to “:: What You Don’t Know by Looking at Them ::”

  1. Joanna says:

    Wow! wow! WOW! Sensational work — great images and poetry! Total Congratulations! Well done! And here’s a few more exclamation points in case you run out….!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. frank palmieri says:

    lisa lisa lisa, this was awesome!

    can’t wait to see more as you continue to tweak it!

  3. rob copeland says:

    great stuff!!! I really enjoyed checking it out!

  4. Rod says:


  5. Turk says:

    Congrats! Nice site ! Great work !

  6. Jill says:

    I LOVE it Lisa, truly wonderful!

  7. Kevin says:

    This website is awesome! Phenomenal pictures and just a pretty website overall. I’m a san worker from BK 10 (the garage connected to BK7, you’re neighborhood’s district, saw you guys there the other day btw) and I really appreciate all the effort you made making this. Good to know somebody likes us, I’m used to just getting honked at and almost ran over ;). Thank you guys!

  8. Maryb says:

    Love this site! My husband is a San-man and I love that there are people out there noticing the hard job he performs day in and day out (He also went to Art school AND is in a band!) Good for you and Good Luck!

    Mary from Brooklyn

  9. Jean says:

    Love the site. Great pics and writing. I have two sons who are San-men and many, many friends. People have no idea of the work they do, including the danger.

    Jean from Queens

  10. Rob says:

    I’m a San-man from Q6, i just wanted to say i really enjoyed this. It’s nice to know that there are people out there who appreciate us and the work we do. Thank you. Keep up the good work

  11. Carmine Vitale says:

    Hello, Just wanted to wish you luck in your endeavors, and hope this comes to life. I am a sanitation worker for almost 23 years working in queens, and have seen alot change on this job. From 3 men down to 1 ( in some areas of the dept). There is a saying in this department that “they love is in the winter and hate us in the summer” and I believe that. from people jumping curbs in their cars trying to get arond us, to cars coming within in feet of us honking their horns because we don’t move fast enough. winter comes and it’s the waving and the thumbs up from people because we just opened up a street or hauled away tons of snow. We do so much that people take for granted. I wish for an instant someone off the street worked with me for a day. Then we will see what they have to say about our job. NY’s Strongest…Amen!!!

    Sanitation Worker C. Vitale QE10

    PS…stop by our neighborhood anytime

  12. Diane Montemarano says:

    Hat’s off to Joey Affe, the best san man by far, bar none!

  13. Joanna V. says:

    All I know is I am sooo happy that someone finally gave NY strongest some recognition!! This site is awesome. Sanitation men just might be becoming NY sexiest (sorry N.Y.F.D.) I have a huge crush on a 6’5 hot boy from M7..shout out to M7 haha u know who u are hunny xoxo. By the way green looks so sexy on you..yummm

  14. Joanna V. says:

    Oh yea one more thing..I think they call him big meech and I know I know its F.D.N.Y my bad but who cares you’re still sexy hunny!

  15. jose vazquez says:

    hey just wanted to thank you for the love,im a san man from Q12 and its good to finally be recognized and admired by someone other than your own family,cause they are really the ones who know what it takes to do what we do. we do this in the rain sleet snow and hail,when its 100 degrees out or 10 below we are NY’S STRONGEST for a reason….so thank you from myself and the brothers at Q12. good luck with the site and all your future projects we love it. JVQ12

  16. Rose Ann says:

    My son is a sanman and he works very hard in snow & rain. I didn’t think they got enough of recognition when they cleaned up 9/11 and alot of them sustained lung problems. Thank God they have great insurance. Love you boys.

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