Just when you think life in our fair city can’t get any weirder, you hear about something even more weird.
According to a friend of mine who happened to be out walking early one Friday morning on Charles Street, the trash haulers might have a nice little business on the side. Two guys with Capitol Waste Services were picking up the trash along the street. That seemed fine. It was the day of the week that residential recycling and trash is picked up in the Beacon Hill neighborhood.
What seemed odd, however, was that the two guys didn’t throw the bags into the back of the truck and then flip the lever that activates the crusher. Instead, they set the bags in the back of the truck, opened them and rifled around inside them. My friend was taken aback. Why would trash guys go through the trash? Didn’t they want to get home more quickly after their run?
The answer came when one of the guys pulled out a gold color handbag that was in one of the trash bags. He opened the handbag and took something out. My friend couldn’t tell for sure, but it looked like a cell phone. Had this purse been stolen and dumped into the garbage? Were the trash haulers looking for cell phones or credit card numbers or just stuff to take home? It was impossible to tell why they were taking things out of trash bags, but my friend was not about to ask them. Instead she hid in a doorway, surreptitiously taking photos as the guys went through the trash.
Finally, the guys went on, collecting more trash as they went. My friend didn’t stay around to see any more. She was undone by the scene she had already viewed.
But why? Is it illegal for the trash haulers to go through the trash? Is it a problem if they take something from the trash that has been thrown away? After all, the trash is headed toward the dump.
Are these guys paid so little that they are forced to rely on whatever they can sell from the refuse pile for their bread and butter? Capitol Waste Services, their employer, didn’t answer their phone even though I let it ring twice for about 20 times each. No answering machine picked up. (Don’t they want new business? I could have been a potential customer.) But their web site provides some answers:
“Capitol Waste Services, Inc. has an experienced work force of 180+ individuals that are represented by the Teamsters Union, Local 25. Hourly wage rates meet or exceed the prevailing wage schedules issued by the Commonwealth. All applicants are thoroughly screened, including CDL Verification and adequately trained. Capitol provides an excellent benefit package including medical, pension, dental, short-term disability and life insurance. The company provides a positive and safe work environment, job enrichment and growth opportunities and adheres to the strict standards of providing services in a professional and courteous manner.”
I believe them. They probably do pay good wages and offer a good benefit package. And the guys that pick up the trash in front of my house are unfailingly courteous and thorough. They dexterously weave big barrels through parked cars in front of a large apartment building across the street, and their aim is accurate when they toss the bags from the sidewalk in front of my house.
So I talked with Matt Mayrl, chief of staff at the Boston Public Works Department. He said his department’s policy is that no one, residents or trash guys, should be picking through the trash. (I don’t think he had ever heard about such behavior on the part of the trash guys before, although he did say that his job has introduced him to some pretty strange stuff.) But he also said he can’t do anything unless a situation is reported to him.
He reminded all Bostonians to use the Mayor’s Hot Line or Citizens Connect on your cell phone to report incidents. He said he pays attention to both of those reporting systems when it involves a public works problem.
Citizens Connect works, I know, because my son-in-law took a picture of the trash men putting recyclables in the regular trash truck and sent it through Citizens Connect. The next week the same guys kept the trash and the recyclables separate. He also noticed they were looking up at his window and the windows near his since they knew someone had reported them the week before.
My friend has the license number of the truck, but I have no idea if she will report this incident to the Hot Line. On a measure of morality, it’s not clear this even registers.
It’s just another weird thing that you see when you live in a city. It’s what keeps things interesting.
Downtown View is a regular column by Karen Cord Taylor who founded The Beacon Hill Times weekly newspaper in 1995 and served as its editor and publisher until late 2007. She also founded and served as editor and publisher of the Charlestown Patriot-Bridge and The Back Bay Sun weeklies. Her column appears in those newspapers as well as the Regional Review, which serves Boston’s North End. These weeklies are now owned by the Independent Newspaper Group. She is the author of “Blue Laws, Brahmins and Breakdown Lanes: An Alphabetic Guide to Boston and Bostonians” and the co-author of “The Lady Architects,” a book about three women who practiced architecture in New England and elsewhere in the early 20th century. She lives in downtown Boston and blogs at BostonColumn.com.