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20 years later, still picking up after Baltimore County Street sweeper 'last of dying breed'


Bill Utz likes fine dining, gourmet coffees -- and litter-free streets.

He's a "hokie" man, Baltimore County's only remaining street sweeper.

"He is the last of a dying breed," says Butch Pfarr, a superintendent with the county's Department of Solid Waste Management.

Over the years, budget cuts, retirement and attrition have whittled the number of white-wing men who took to the streets of town centers, wearing their white uniforms and pushing trash carts.

Today, Mr. Utz, a charmer with impeccable manners, tackles the gray corporate streets of Towson in a Day-Glo orange T-shirt and vest, and blue jeans.

But he still has the rattling cart filled with a garbage can, brooms and a shovel -- he grumbles that he has no rearview mirror or brakes to slow the cantankerous equipment.

Mr. Utz starts rolling weekdays at 6 a.m., when the birds are barely awake. The roads are eerily quiet, except for an occasional bicyclist or a newspaper delivery truck.

Even at this hour, he waves to passers-by. "I thought people would shun me because I pick up trash, but they don't," he says, adding, "It can't hurt to be friendly."

And that's what makes him so popular among those who work in the county seat.

"He does a wonderful job every day. He's always hustling. Everybody likes him," says Al Lloyd, who is in charge of maintenance at the Mercantile building in Towson.

"Bill gets along with everyone from store owners to politicians," Mr. Pfarr says. "He'll do anything in the world to help. He's very conscientious."

Mr. Utz, 39, has been a garbage man for 20 years. After graduating from Parkville High School, he couldn't find a job and ended up in the county unemployment office.

A refuse collector soon was born. He started as a street sweeper, then moved on to bulk trash collection, and sorting bottles and papers at county recycling centers.

He was happy to get back to the streets a year ago. "I get paid to exercise," he jokes.

On the job, he's constantly moving, squeezing under a bench to grab an empty paper cup and bending to scoop up innumerable cigarette butts.

By 7 a.m., after a swipe by the county courthouse, his shirt is soaked with perspiration.

Still, there are seven, sweaty hours to go on a searing day with temperatures headed toward the 90s.

"It's hard to do this job weatherwise," says Mr. Utz, taking a brief break to try the butter-rum coffee at Wolford's bakery.

By afternoon, he switches to cold sodas from a nearby fast-food restaurant, and is wearing a cardboard crown from the establishment to shield his head from the blistering sun.

But the muscular, blond man, who lifts weights, swims and plays basketball at the Towson YMCA, keeps going in his battle to keep Towson litter-free.

"Glass is the worse thing, for bicyclists, dogs, people in flip-flops," he says, sweeping up shards from a broken bottle near the county library. "I gotta get this glass."

"He's proud of what he does," says Susan DiLonardo, executive director of the Towson Business Association on Chesapeake Avenue, where Mr. Utz often stops to say hello and to ask about any trash trouble spots. "I know I can get him to take care of it."

But doesn't Mr. Utz ever get exasperated picking up after other people's sloppiness?

"Nothing ceases to amaze me now," he laughs, detaching a decaying banana peel from a plant. "You can't let it bother you. It's only eight hours."

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