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Where city trash trucks dare not tread


In winter, a middle-aged man's fancy turns lightly to thoughts of trash removal. One day the great sanitation trucks will arrive, like the swallows returning to Capistrano. But, like the marvelous birds, we wonder if the sanitation trucks will wait until spring for their migration to our little alley of the world.

It is now three weeks since the cans have been emptied in my alley. And, unlike the husband of the lieutenant governor of Maryland, who was famously accused of throwing a little weight around to get a snowplow on his block, I have not attempted to gain public service by my own piddly name recognition.

But I, like many others in the city of Baltimore, am left to wonder: After three weeks, when will the trucks arrive?

The animals of the neighborhood also want to know. I have taken a poll of the crows, and the raccoon family that resides in a sewer at the other end of the alley, and various domestic creatures let loose upon the land, and they are fattening themselves like crazy on the overload.

So, for some time now, my wife and I have been calling City Hall. We only wish to give our address, and not cause commotion on the basis of having a name in a newspaper column. We are citizens, like anybody else. And here are the results of a few conversations.

On Saturday, my wife called the Office of Trash Removal. Saturday is a regular collection day in my neighborhood. We saw sanitation trucks here and there, but none had come down our alley -- an alley where hearty men who live on our block had shoveled snow to keep it open, an alley that was then professionally plowed, an alley upon which cars had regularly driven since the two snowfalls. But now it was 4 in the afternoon, and no trucks had come to take away our trash.

"I live at " my wife said, giving our street address, "and I'd like to know if our trash will be picked up today."

"Yeah," said the sleepy-voiced young woman who took the call.

"Well, I was just wondering why I've seen trucks in the neighborhood since 9 o'clock this morning," my wife said, "and it's almost 4 o'clock now."

"It'll be picked up today," the sleepy voice said after a few seconds to check, or to catch up on a nap.

"When?" my wife asked.

"Today," the voice said.

It wasn't, and so my wife called on Sunday and spoke to a representative at the Mayor's Office of Constituent Services.

"It's been more than two weeks," my wife said, understating the case.

"Two weeks," a woman replied. "That's ridiculous."

She didn't mean the claim; she meant the city's lack of response. She filled out a complaint form and said it would be handed to the appropriate people.

Finding this not entirely assuring, I called the Mayor's Office of Constituent Services yesterday.

"I'd like to have my trash collected," I said.

"That would be nice, wouldn't it?" a woman replied.

"Oh, good," I said. "A sense of humor. You're getting a lot of complaints, I take it?"

And then came a sigh across the telephone wires, a sigh that said, "Mister, if you and I could only sit for a few hours, the stories I could tell you of human frustration, of a city with good intentions which nevertheless cannot seem to get out of its own way, a story of "

"Yes," the woman said firmly. "A lot."

"Hundreds? Thousands? Millions and billions of calls?"

"I don't know," the woman said. "I'm taking addresses and phone numbers, but I don't know why. I mean, I do know why. They'll put it in a newsletter later and tell people what a huge effort the city made, but "

"You see, I have five trash cans behind my house, but in three weeks there's too much trash even for five cans, and there are crows out there pecking at it now, and animals are having a feast."

"I know," the woman said. "I know."

"So, you'll look into it?"

"Yes," she said, "I'll look into it."

While she looked into it, I called the city's sanitation collection office for my district.

"We'll pick it up," a man said.

"I'm glad to hear this," I said, "but my wife has been calling for a few days and hearing the same thing, and it's now about three weeks we're waiting."

"Well, they told us not to go in the alleys," the man said.

"Except," I said, "this alley was plowed. Professionally. More than a week ago."

"It was?" the man said.

"Yes," I said, "and trucks have been through the neighborhood, and all they had to do was look and see that the alley was passable."

"Well, we'll pick it up," the man at the collections office said.

I trust him. I trust them all. I have faith in them all. For what else is a citizen of the city of Baltimore but a person of faith -- faith that the future will be better, that the streets will be plowed, and that the garbage will be collected one day soon, before the swallows fly back to Capistrano, with never again a three-week delay, which is ridiculous under any circumstances.

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