09/07/09 — On garbage detail ...

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On garbage detail ...

By Laura Collins
Published in News on September 7, 2009 1:46 PM

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Richard McDuffie, left, supervises reporter Laura Collins' use of the trash bin lifter on the back of the trash truck. In addition to the time it takes to get through the route, Laura said she learned just how much strength handling the task requires. Want to see more photos? Click on the Workin' It photo gallery on NewsArgus.com.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first installment of a new series by News-Argus reporter Laura Collins. She will be spending time doing various jobs around the community.

The Company: Goldsboro Sanitation Department

The Job: Refuse truck sanitation worker

The Location: Streets of Goldsboro

My day with the garbage crew of the Goldsboro Sanitation Department started innocently enough. The uniforms weren't too bad -- and my co-workers were welcoming and supportive.

Not so horrible -- and nothing like I thought it would be.

But by 7 a.m., flies and cockroaches had taken over my life.

There were enough flies around me that I could probably star in one of those heart-wrenching commercials about a starving kid in Somalia. A rather aggressive cockroach jumped from the trash, onto me and crawled up my shirt. Fresh little bugger. I did not know they were jumpers.

It was not one of my finest moments. I lost it a bit. I don't know how my co-workers kept a straight face.

Thankfully it was not incredibly hot, but I was sweating while working with one of the refuse, or garbage, crews for the day. And by "working," I mean "trying to keep up." I take my own trash to the dumpster at least once a week. So in my head, it wasn't going to be that hard of a job.

I have since learned that my head was wrong.

These men empty nearly 12,000 trash cans on a weekly basis. They do more physical work before noon than most people do all week. They have their routes down to a science and function as a well-oiled machine. There's even a sense of brotherhood among the 40 men who work for the department, finishing up each other's routes so they can all head back at the same time.

"I'm always impressed by these guys. They take their job just as seriously as a doctor or a lawyer," department superintendent Cleveland McKithan said. "You've got to be motivated to be here at 6 a.m. in all types of weather. They're a good bunch of guys, dedicated and hard-working."

I tagged along with truck driver Demetrius Cogdell, and sanitation workers Richard McDuffie and Charles Morgan, who became Big Papa and Big Brother by the end of the day.

If collecting trash were an Olympic event, there's a good chance McDuffie and Morgan would be top medal contenders.

McDuffie is a 24-year veteran in the department and a second-generation sanitation worker. He's hoping to make it to the 30-year mark so he can retire, although the years of physical labor are starting to take their toll, he said.

Morgan is not what I would have expected. He likes pedicures and tango dancing and spent much of the route singing a variety of favorites from The Temptations' "My Girl" to The Beach Boys' "Kokomo." He took to teaching me the ropes of the job and deemed himself "like Allstate."

"You're in good hands with me," he said. This turned out to be true when I, in a daze, walked under a trash can being hydraulically lowered to the ground and he stopped the machinery without incident.

Working for the sanitation department is only one of Morgan's three jobs. He's a hard worker who said he'd like people to overcome their stereotypes about "garbage men."

"People who don't know us, look at the guys on the back of the truck and they may think that we're not educated or slow," he said. "But a lot of us have degrees, have been to college, are in college or have other trades."

McDuffie added that there is a lot of work that goes into the job.

"I was out there when we had Hurricane Fran," he said. "They had me out there shining the light so they could clean up the city. I stayed outside all night doing that. The streets were so bad we had to clean so traffic could get through."

I learned a lot doing the job for just one Monday in August. To my fellow citizen on Piedmont: Laying a wet blanket on the ground and piling all of your soggy trash in it does not constitute "taking out the trash." Get your act together. Also, entire toilets do not belong in the trash can.

To the elderly man on Willow Plaza who gives them Pepsi every Monday: Thank you, you are amazing.

"The best part about the job is people appreciating the work we do," McDuffie said. "Giving us a cold water or a pat on the back or telling us we're doing a good job. It makes the day."

"Workin' It" is a weekly on-the-job series. If you'd like for Laura to try out your job for a day, call 739-7832 or e-mail her at lcollins@newsargus.com