Behind the Scenes with NYC's Garbage Collectors

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This live interview with Robin Nagle originally aired on March 19, 2013. An edited version was aired as part of a special episode of The Brian Lehrer Show on July 5, 2013. 

NYU anthropologist Robin Nagle is a big fan of NYC’s garbage collectors and makes the case that theirs is the city’s most essential and most dangerous job.  She is a clinical associate professor of anthropology and urban studies at NYU and the Department of Sanitation's first official "anthropologist-in-residence".  She shares the inside knowledge she picked up studying and working as one of "New York's Strongest" in her new book: Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City.

→ Event - Booksigning: April 4th, 12:30-2PM at CityStore Books in the Municipal Building at Chambers & Centre

How to Speak Sanitation: A DSNY Glossary

air mail: Garbage thrown at the truck from windows above.

baskets: An assignment to empty public litter baskets along a defined route. It includes no truck money (see below). When you finish the route, you go back to the top and start over. It's one of the least popular assignments; junior workers are stuck on baskets.

blood money: Overtime for working snow once the novelty has been replaced by the relentlessness of too many hours and no days off.

board: The assignments board, which changes from day to day. Sanitation workers scrutinize it at the start and end of their shifts; it tells them what they are doing and with whom they are doing it. It is ruled by seniority.

disco rice: Maggots.

export: What happens to New York City's municipal waste now that there are no disposal options within the city's boundaries.

gate work: Lifting garbage cans and garbage bags over the gates that stand between a home and the street.

mongo/mungo: (N .) objects plucked/rescued from the trash; (v.) to take objects from the trash.

picking up: Where you work. Someone working in Greenwich Village around the university would say, “I pick up NYU.” Someone working in Brooklyn 6 would say, “pick up Park Slope.”

truck money: The extra pay a sanitation worker earns when assigned to collection or recycling. This was negotiated as part of the deal with the city when crews went from three- man to two- man in the mid- 1980s.

Excerpted from Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City by Robin Nagle, published in March 2013 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright (c) 2013 by Robin Nagle. All rights reserved.