EARLY TO RISE
For The Observer
We all hear it the clanking, the crashing and the loud beeping sound as the truck backs up.
The streets are dark and empty, and most people are protected from the crisp morning air in their warm beds.
Chances are, the driver has woken up almost everyone at one time or another. Most of us just mumble, roll over and go back to sleep.
But he's just doing his job. Wonder who is out working that early in the morning?
The garbage man he's the dedicated worker who is out in the dim morning hours, hauling away the trash. Everybody has heard him, or seen him driving by, but how many of us know his name?
Ron Nantz, 56, has been employed by City Garbage Service for 14 years.
Most of us have probably seen him in his big white truck. But, according to Nantz, most people don't know him personally.
"They see me and wave," he said. "But as far as name-wise, few of them know who I am."
Nantz is a regular guy. He has two daughters both in their 30s and three grandkids. His wife, Cathy, works for the local Training and Employment Consortium.
Born in North Powder, Nantz has lived in Eastern Oregon all his life, working first as a logger and later in sawmills.
Nantz is a member of the local Corvette Club and has been active in car shows. He also fishes a bit but, according to Nantz, "I'm a workaholic, basically."
With 743 customers in La Grande and Island City, it's understandable. Nantz drives a garbage truck nine hours a day, five days a week, with every other week off. He rotates with the service's other two drivers.
However, his route includes places like Camas Court, which is counted as one despite having numerous large trash bins.
He begins his day at 4 a.m. when he pulls out in his truck into the deserted streets. According to Nantz, he doesn't see many people at that time of day.
"Of course you don't have time to visit," he said."You know where you have to be at a certain time.
"Sometimes it gets hectic, but that's just part of the job."
Nantz said he likes it that way.
He glances from the truck's digital screen to the automated arm that picks up the can, while simultaneously pushing blinking buttons and moving levers. The truck jolts and jumps as a bin is picked up and then lowered.
All of that activity, and he still has to drive.
Clad in a baseball cap and sweatshirt, he easily maneuvers the garbage truck through the dark and desolate streets, occasionally hopping out to push a bin up to the truck.
It used to be that the garbage collector could tell a lot about a person from his trash. But according to Nantz, it's not that way since the process became automated. Before, according to Nantz, "I could tell what kind of beer you drank, if you smoked cigarettes."
Now, however, he only has to get out of the truck occasionally. If a can isn't positioned properly, or if it is too close to vehicles, Nantz hops down from his truck and solves the problem.
"Sometimes you have to get out and move them so you don't hit a car," he said. "I'd rather get out than hit a car."
Though most people don't realize he's there, Nantz's job requires him to gain a customer's trust. According to Nantz, "I walk in behind houses and stuff been doing it for years."
La Grande and Island City are divided into five sections, Nantz said. He relies on the route book to inform him of a site's pickup schedule and type of service. For instance, he can look up the name, type of service and roll cart number for a single address yes, those garbage bins are numbered.
"That way we know where it's at, who it belongs to," he said.
The bins are picked up with the automated arm, then dumped into the truck where the contents are compacted with the "plow," Nantz said. He watches all of these actions on the screen as the truck jolts and rattles with the movement.
The garbage has to be collected regardless of inclement conditions, Nantz said.
"It usually just slows down due to the weather got to put chains on, take them off ... go to the landfill and slide down the hill," he said.
Some may not consider the dedicated garbage men when they push their bins out to the curb in the wintertime. Certain customers have their trash collected every other week, rotating it with the recycling collection. Others have both collected each week.
Though it looks as though both bins are being dumped into the same place, they're not. According to Nantz, there are separate compartments for trash and recycling.
If people put trash in their recycling container, they may not see it go into the truck at all. When leaves or garbage are in the recycling can, Nantz simply does not collect it, and makes a note. If that were to happen, according to Nantz, "I'd write their number down and the office would call."
City Garbage Service owns nine garbage trucks, according to Nantz. Five trucks are for big containers, and there are also wrench trucks, front-end loaders, non-split body trucks, and a split-body truck, like the one he drives. To most, the trucks may look nearly the same, but Nantz is able to list their differences.
Nantz drives the same truck, he said, because "the seat feels better."
He tries to hit the areas with the most traffic early in the morning, before people are out. If a can isn't out yet, Nantz said, "I'll come back later and hit it because I want to get my traffic area out of the way."
Luckily, however, most people aren't angry when he gets in their way, Nantz said.
Nantz said he's never had anything particularly unusual happen to him while working, and he's never seen anything too strange in the trash. He doesn't even know any good garbage puns. But he likes his job.
So how does someone end up becoming a garbage man?
As a child, Nantz said, "I always wanted to work construction. I don't know why."
But now Nantz is satisfied with driving a garbage truck. "The job is what you make of it. It can be fun, or it can be miserable."
Nantz prefers to focus on the fun aspects.
"I feel that I'm doing a service for people," he said. "I like being busy all the time which you are. Once you're in the truck you're on the go
Leslie Mitts is a student at Eastern Oregon University.