I’ve been employed with Austin Resource Recovery for sixteen years. I’ve always wanted to work for the city. It’s good benefits: it’s a job that a lot of people want. It’s steady, and you know it’s something that you can depend on and your family can depend on.

The hard thing right now is just having to work through all this, and just being scared. That’s all. Being an essential worker, in a business that can’t stop, we’re working to serve the public and keep everything clean. It’s scary, but needed. We’re risking a lot.

A lot of people just don’t see that. We’re here every day, basically. (And we have people that work the night crew.) We start at six o’clock in the morning, Monday through Friday. This season is the peak for organics—there’s a lot of leaves and stuff—so we get off pretty late. We’ve been working over fifty hours a week.

We all have a family to go to when we get home, and this is our job. This is what we signed up for. We’re just trying to do the best we can, like always, but it’s not normal. It’s not like a storm. Whenever we have storms in Austin, we help, but this is something that’s new to everybody.

We’ve even dealt with a lot of hurricanes, like Hurricane Harvey. We went to Houston for a couple of months and cleaned up over there, but it was nothing like this. This ain’t normal to nobody.

Now, nobody is really on the road. It’s like a ghost town.

There are a lot of downtown stops in the area that haven’t been putting out as much, maybe because they went home to their families.

A lot of people are putting out more, because they’re at home all the time. A lot more people are at home eating, and a lot more people are cleaning in their yards, just trying to stay busy. That’s really heavy right now: a lot of bags of leaves, a lot of grass. And there’s a lot of produce, spoiling after being in the refrigerator too long because they bought too much.

It would help us a lot if customers bagged all their trash and organics. It makes it easier, because it just goes straight into the truck and nothing falls out. If something falls out, we have to pick it up. And customers can wipe down the handles on their can lids, because we touch everything that you touch. 

I’ve never worried about getting sick before. It’s never been on my mind. But being out here—it’s not normal.

Right now we’re really trying to keep up with sanitizing our work area, making sure we’re wearing all of our PPE (personal protective equipment), and washing our hands constantly. We’re wearing gloves, glasses, and masks—we wore the gloves and glasses before, but not the masks. And we have a lot of hand-washing stations. A lot of our employees are giving their own free time, by getting to work early and making sure they’re cleaning our office to get ready for the day.

We just started checking employees’ temperatures, which is new to me. It’s kind of crazy. We get a little bit of a later start than normal, because we’ve got over 350 employees in the building. It’s a good thing that they’re checking temperatures, but it’s still kind of scary. Some employees might not show symptoms.

In the truck, we make sure that we’re both wearing our protective equipment, and we make sure we’re sanitizing our truck daily. After we’re done with our shifts, we clean our trucks inside and out again and get them ready for the following day, especially because sometimes we’re not in the same vehicles. You’ve got to make sure you’re covering each other and washing everything after you use it.

The truck is like our office. We’re in it all day long. At stores and businesses you can’t sit down and eat anymore, so if we don’t eat standing up outside, we eat in our work vehicle too. So we’re careful.

When I get home, I take my clothes off in the garage, before I go in. I make sure I spray them down before I go into the house, and I leave the boots in the shade outside. Then I’ll grab everything later on in the evening and wash it all together.

Usually my favorite part of the job is serving the customers, and feeling appreciated. Sometimes we go unnoticed, but it feels great when our customers wave or leave notes. That means a lot. People have been doing that more often, because they’re at home now. All the kids are out looking at the truck.

I just can’t wait for things to get back to normal—I can’t wait for family gatherings. I’ve got a birthday at the end of the month, and it’s not going to be the same.

If you’d like to share your story, please reach out at tips@texasmonthly.com.

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