New York City is notorious for gatherings of people in a square every year to collectively crap their pants, mountains of trash on the sidewalks, and a rigorous and punitive alternate-side parking schedule to keep the streets clean. Here’s a first-hand look at the sanitation professionals who get to drive the cool street-sweeping machines that handle tons of New York’s famous trash.
(Editor’s Note: Justin Gets A Real Job was inspired by Justin’s friends and family, who don’t think reviewing cars counts as a real job and want him to get off his “lazy ass” and “do some actual work.” To find out if Justin can do any work, the editorial team at Jalopnik have decided to let him explore new roles to see if he can be of any use to somebody. This episode was filmed in October of 2019 before the Covid-19 pandemic.)
To make sure there’s somebody actively thinking about what to do with all the street trash collecting in one of the largest, most visited and most populated cities in the country, I visited the New York City Department of Sanitation’s Upper West Side Manhattan depot — a specialized garage of traditional garbage trucks and street sweepers, officially referred to as “mechanical brooms” in the biz, tucked away off the West Side Highway. It’s just one of many garages like it located among the five boroughs of New York City.
My “day on the job” paired me up with Kristen Shalbinski, a Manhattan broom operator who listens to movie soundtracks when she’s alone in her cab scooping up trash deposits, not bothered in the slightest by the road rage of illegally parked cabs and aggressive cyclists. Her pet peeve is having to feel bad for pedestrians who don’t bother to get out of the way for her mobile dustbowl headed their way.
While I was not allowed to drive anything, I did get a ride in the mechanical broom. The raised seating position of the attention-grabbing loud flashy vehicle is addictively empowering. After a shortened route assigned just for Jalopnik, I got to witness the beautiful dumping process and then they “let me” use the hose to wash out the filthy street sweeper.
I can now confirm with certainty the city’s mechanical brooms do indeed pick up quite a lot of the street trash, and everything that comes with it. A lot.
The most illuminating moment of my “shift” was that, despite my initial expectations, mechanical brooms typically just end up dumping their mini buckets of street trash directly into the back of a traditional garbage truck headed for a sanitation facility. After all of that cool engineering involved on these machines to get trash off of the street, you’d think the climactic dump would be a little more satisfying. Perhaps I’m getting too romantic and should recognize the trash for what it is.
In the near future, a newer, specialized hybrid-powered mechanical broom model dubbed the HySweep will begin replacing the city’s fleet of 450 traditional sweepers at a retail price of $358,800 per unit, according to manufacturer US Hybrid and Global Environmental Products. These new hybrid vehicles, notably designed and ordered by the city after the impact of Hurricane Sandy left a need for increased emergency infrastructure, will also be capable of operating as mobile generator units for city and emergency small power supply usage. There are various convenient output connections built into the body already.
New York City’s trash is no different than any other city’s trash — trust me, I was right there up close. What’s different and special is the sheer volume of dirty people in the city requiring such an intensive infrastructure setup, hundreds of bespoke vehicles and a highly trained, motivated, early-rising workforce who were delightful to work with, despite the smell.
If you watched the video, let me know what you thought of it below, and tell me what sort of jobs you’d like to see me work in the future. You can check out last month’s first episode of Justin Gets A Real Job right here.