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29 5 How I Became a Scavenger One person who had a tremendous impact on me as a mentor was a distant cousin, Benny Anselmo Sr., who was on the board of the Scavenger’s Protective Association and in my opinion one of the most forward-thinking people in the solid-waste business. His son, Benny Jr., is now vice president in charge of equipment acquisition at Recology Inc. and is certainly a result of his dad’s influence, love, and respect for the garbage business. Benny Sr., like most garbage men, was a hunter. Italians love to hunt. When I was sixteen year old, we were driving back to San Francisco after a successful hunt at Grizzly Island. As we were driving across the Bay Bridge, just coming out of the Yerba Buena Island tunnel and looking at the broad horizon of the city, Benny said philosophically, “Look at that city, Lenny. The garbage men are like the city’s asshole. If we don’t go to work every day, the city will shut down like you and I would if our assholes didn’t function . It’s our responsibility to the city for allowing us to continue in our chosen business.” I never forgot that. I was not actively employed by the company at the time, but later I did go to work for Sunset and became a Boss Scavenger. How could anyone envision that I would someday be in charge of the entire system? Meeting the President of Sunset Scavenger Company, 1951 In 1951, once the trucks were all out on the street, the company president would drive throughout the city, looking around corners to see if the crews were working as mandated by company rules. Never knowing when the boss was looking at them left an air of paranoia in the crews’ minds, but it was good because the services were always maintained at the highest possible standards. On the rare occasion when the boss caught a crew failing to provide the standard of service expected, the crew might receive a monetary fine or suspension of employment (or possibly both), depending on the severity of the violation. What was interesting is that drinking on the job—that is, stopping for a beer or a couple of drinks at a bar on the route—was 30 How I Became a Scavenger not a violation of the rules. It was considered public relations because we spent money on our route customers. It was not uncommon to see a garbage truck double-parked on a street in front of a bar for a half hour at a time. Scavengers typically loved to stop for a drink. If there were no bars on the route, there was always plan B: buying beer from a grocery store. In fact, one of the posted rules in the company stated, “If for any reason the driver of the truck is determined to be drunk, it shall be the responsibility of the Boss of the truck to bring the truck to the barn [garage].” Once an individual became a Boss Scavenger, he and the company were “bonded at the hip” for the rest of the man’s working career unless he was caught stealing money or committing some other similar violation. If you could not fire a Boss Scavenger, the only means of maintaining discipline was through fines and suspension of employment, thus hitting the worker’s pocketbook. The only real day that I encountered this policy and actually spoke with the company president was when I was about seventeen years old. One of my friends and I were working with Uncle Pasquale on Truck 3 at the intersection of McAllister and Stanyan Streets when the company president, Giuseppe Fontana, drove up in his 1951 green Chevrolet coupe. He immediately asked who I was. Uncle Pas explained, adding, “You know him. He is training to be a scavenger.” Fontana responded in Italian, “Troppo piccolo”—I was too small to work in garbage. (As an aside, he was half-right because I only weighed 145 pounds when I worked for the company at age nineteen. But the training I had with Uncle Pasquale after the boss showed up enabled me to pass the test. When I actually became employed, I’d lost ten pounds, becoming a skinny 135. After six months, I weighed in at 170 pounds—not an ounce of fat.) When Giuseppe Fontana drove off in his Chevrolet, Uncle Pasquale called him “Snuffy...


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