Growing up as a skateboarder, I witnessed and experienced all sorts of odd things around the world. When I moved to New York, I figured the city would seem relatively normal to me—but I now know that word is only appropriate to whatever situation you happen to be in.When I was 24 in 2009, I lived with my dog and a roommate in Chelsea. It’s a colorful and diverse area; nice condos just to the east, government housing just to the west and lots of local bars.
At night, I used to sit on my fire escape and smoke. It was relaxing and entertaining. I saw cab drivers get in a fight when one driver didn’t pull over far enough to let his customer out. I saw people get out of the steamy backseat of a car and adjust their clothes and hair before the car quickly sped away.
But the best thing I saw was two sanitation employees embarrass and rough up two snooty hipsters for honking and yelling at them without remorse.
For some reason, the garbage trucks decided it was a good idea to make their recycling rounds at 3 a.m. There was nothing better than waking up two hours into sleep to the sound of two men with Barry White-esque voices yelling a conversation over the noise of glass being thrown at metal.
Not only was the louder-than-hell work done early in the morning, they usually didn’t bother to pull the truck over, thus blocking the entire street. Drivers who decided to use my street as an early morning thoroughfare would lay on the horn for five to 10 seconds at a time to express their displeasure. This usually turned into a nightmarish opera of the old sanitation workers yelling obscenities at the drivers, with the sound of the honking horns and crushed glass as musical accompaniment.
On this occasion, I figured the hipsters needed to get their dad’s car home and had decided that honking wasn’t enough to speed up the workers. But where the horn didn’t work, rude comments, profanity and slurs reigned supreme.
I guessed the brilliant slicks figured their comments would be so witty (why else would they have been wearing knit sweater vests and loose scarves in July?) the garbage men would laugh so hard they’d have to pull the truck over. Oddly enough, and to the wild shock of the young men in the car, their tactic had quite the opposite effect.
“Get out of the way!” the smaller hipster yelled.
The garbage men stopped, and one of them bellowed, “What did you just say?”
“I said get out of the way! You’re slow as hell and blocking the whole street.”
Damn, either this kid is insane or his scarf is actually a superhero’s cape, I thought.
The garbage man dropped the bag he was holding and approached the car. “Yuppie scum! I’m gonna choke you with your scarf!”
I remember finishing my cigarette, but I continued to watch from my fire escape. The smaller guy, the driver, then decided to get out and help the workers, to speed up the process. Theirs may not be the most dignified job, but the workers still had their dignity and didn’t need or want help.
The moment the young man grabbed a bag of recycling, the workers snatched it back. His slightly larger friend then got out to defend the driver.
At this point, hilarity ensued. The hipsters tried to shove the workers, which worked about as well as if they had tried to knock over the recycling truck itself. This was followed by two light shoves from each worker, which sent colorful scarves flying and limbs flailing. Landing close to their car, they decided it would be best to scramble into their seats and drive onto the sidewalk to get around the truck. Sensing defeat, they parted with one last smart-ass comment.
Sadly, karma didn’t seem to side with the scarf brigade, because as soon as they drove off the curb, they landed on a piece of metal or some broken glass. The noise of their tire popping was only dampened by the bellowing laughs from the workers. By this point, I was laughing so hard it hurt.
After this incident, I frequented my fire escape in the hopes of another stellar performance. I would shoot out of bed to the window any time I heard the garbage trucks being honked at, regardless of what time it was. Unfortunately, it was a one-time-only show.
Thank you, Chelsea. You’ve taught me never to mess with a garbage man.
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