Posts Tagged ‘urban sanitation



Rocks drift to the surface of a field, endlessly. Murder will out. Tires break through the skin of a good old-fashioned garbage dump. Bizarre tidbits of history float up from oblivion in the obituaries.

Bill McCabe

Bill McCabe

By this mechanism, we recently learned that in more exacting times, before we removed unfeeling harshness and unreasonable standards from the landscape of everyday life, it was possible to get your 15 minutes of fame by exceptional performance qualifying as a garbage collector. In June 1940, Bill McCabe,

lifted an 80-pound dumbbell in each hand and hoisted a 120-pound trash can to a 4-foot-6-inch ledge. He lay on his back and lifted a 60-pound barbell placed behind his head. He broad-jumped 8 feet 6 inches after a 7-yard run, dashed an added 10 yards and jumped a 3-foot hurdle.

Continuing a 10-yard run over and around obstacles, he ran another 10 yards on a straightaway and climbed an 8-foot fence. Beyond the fence, he vaulted 4 feet 6 inches and then ran 5 yards to the finish line. The time for the entire run was 10.8 seconds. After a 15-minute rest, he ran 120 yards with a 50-pound dumbbell in each hand in 25 seconds.

And thus he achieved a perfect score on the qualifying test to become a New York city garbage collector—locally known as a san man—as well as gaining the enviable status of “perfect specimen,” at least according to his New York times obituary.

Of all the details of the test, I particularly like the 8-foot fence. Did the Sanitation Department envision its troops stealing into fortified backyards to liberate the garbage that wayward householders meant to reserve for their pigs and chickens? Were the sanitation stalwarts meant for feats of great athleticism or was this just an effort to boost the cachet of an unappealing profession? Maybe, but quite possibly the Sanitation Department got overzealous in the face of 68000 applicants for 2000 positions.

Bill McCabe anyhow was on to bigger and better things before his first year was out, first becoming a policeman and eventually stepping up to be a firefighter. He may have been the world’s one garbage man to wring fame out of his profession, but clearly it was not his dream job.


Secure Trash

I sometimes wish I could have a user manual for urban interfaces in the Netherlands. You run into all sorts of machines all over the place, many of which appear to be designed by aliens with a poor understanding of human cognition and a very poor command of the Dutch language. One example is this garbage container, which I found in the streets of Apeldoorn.

The interface is on the left. The gates of hell are on the right. To judge by the picture on the front of the interface—which shows a rat sniffing around “loose” trash—there is some temptation to just skip the entire proceeding and leave one’s offerings at the gate instead.

How to operate the underground dumpster

How to operate the underground dumpster

Also, of course, it may fail to operate altogether, in which case you have to call someone. The instructions seem to suggest that you will then receive temporary access privileges for a different secure trash can a few streets away.

Or it could be full. For that unfortunate circumstance, I don’t see an instruction.

July 2018
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