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Andy Lippman: A Salute to the Unappreciated

I’ve taken the trash collector and mail carrier for granted for too long.
I put out the garbage every Monday morning and by the afternoon, it’s gone.
The mail comes. The dog paces inside the house waiting for its arrival. But every day, there’s usually something that is in my mail slot.
I say “Hi” when I’m outside when the mail carrier or trash collector arrives, but it was the day after New Year’s, that I really came to really appreciate their place in my life.
Dried Christmas trees were lying like knocked over bowling pins on front curbs and Allan Gonzales, my regular trash collector from Athens Services, lifted them over his shoulder and placed them onto his truck.
He’s been a trash collector for five years, three of which were spent in South Pasadena, so he knows what to expect after Christmas and New Year’s Day.
“There’s much more work the day after Christmas,” Gonzales told me after I interrupted his appointed rounds. “There’s a lot more cardboard and boxes that presents come in. My bins fill up a lot faster.”
I asked him if he ever found presents which had mistakenly been thrown out with those boxes, but he said that wasn’t something that he’d noticed.
“It’s a little easier after New Year’s, but the loads are still heavier for the three weeks after the holidays,” he explained.
“The week after Christmas I was exhausted. It’s a lot more hours and a lot more trash. Instead of working 10-hour days, you might work 11.”
There’s a rhythm to a trash collector’s work.
Lift, swing up, dump down, lift the trash can back up and place it back on the ground. I might have four cans, so multiply that by everyone on his route.
Every day, Gonzales becomes someone else’s regular trash collector in another part of town. He might be making one trip for trash and then swing back around the street for yard clippings.
“It’s physically demanding work,” Gonzales explained to me. “Most of the guys on our team are younger. The oldest is in his 40s. And over the holidays, we work five days a week, 50 hours a week, and you have to take into account too that I might be making 120 stops a day.”
Tim Yeh, government affairs manager at Athens, noted that weather (heat, rain and wind) can slow down the collection process throughout the year.
“Some of our collectors have been working in South Pasadena for over 15 years. As a result, they have developed strong relationships with local residents,” said Yeh who asked residents to close lids, break down cardboard boxes and secure them with string, and not to overfill containers.
“Always feel free to give our drivers a friendly wave. A smile will go a long way,” Yeh added.
Athens Services is a local, family-owned waste collection and recycling company that has been serving South Pasadena since 1977.

Athens Services trash collectors are unsung heroes working countless hours and through unforgiving weather during the holidays

My mail carrier sometimes varies, but lately it’s been Erwin Reyes, who has been delivering mail in South Pasadena for over 20 years.
“I think mail doubles between Thanksgiving and New Year’s,” Reyes told me. He’s a friendly guy who was glad to stop and talk about his work. “Sometimes, I have to go pick up parcels and deliver them, and come back, sort the mail and go out again.
“What was an eight-hour day sometimes becomes an 11-hour day over the holidays. By the end of the day, my back is just screaming,” Reyes said.
No wonder his back is screaming.
In addition to more catalogues, and Christmas cards, he has to fit small parcels in that mailbag.
Adding to his anonymity is the fact that during the holidays, he’s usually finishing his rounds in the dark due to daylight savings time.
There’s a rhythm to the mail carrier too, but it might not be as obvious. It is, as a substitute mail carrier described it, as “swing your arm into the bag, pull out and get the right mail box or slot.”
“It can really hurt the shoulder,” he explained.
You might remember that I wrote a column a few years ago about a mail carrier named Dave Ruiz, who had to take off work two years ago to have work done on the meniscus in both knees. He was well-known in my neighborhood for his helpfulness during the pandemic.
Well, he’s back on the job driving a route which he describes as more of a “truck route,” although he still has to get out of the truck, especially during the holidays when he has to deliver packages to someone’s doorstep.
And he still has to carry his bag.
“After Thanksgiving is when the catalogues come out and that part is heavy,” said Ruiz, who has been working for the post office for 24 years. “The first few weeks of December aren’t too hard, but then the packages ramp [up]. This year we seemed to have a lot of parcels and sometimes we have deliveries of those on Sundays. Then you have the cards coming as you get closer to Christmas.”
Ruiz said that when the catalogues are in the bag, he might be carrying close to 30 pounds depending on the neighborhood.
Imagine what it is going to be like this year with all the campaign literature arriving in the mail starting later this month. Ruiz said he’s already seeing some political handouts that need sorting.
“Some days, I’ll go home and don’t eat dinner,” Ruiz said. “I’ll take a shower and go right to bed.”
But mail carrying is in the family genes. His mother was a mail carrier who started when she was 40 years old.
“When you get older, you get a little more tired, but I still can keep up with the best of them,” said the 52-year-old Ruiz.
The post office said its busiest time nationally was no surprise. It peaks two weeks before Christmas, when an estimated 2.5 billion pieces of first-class mail, including greeting cards, will be processed and delivered the week of Dec. 16.
Ruiz said that even though the Christmas rush is over, it doesn’t mean his bag is necessarily lighter.
“It seems like Fridays are a heavier load. Everyone seems to be getting the South Pasadena Review,” he said. An issue of the Review is delivered in South Pasadena on Fridays.
I told him that was music to my ears.

On a personal note: A happy birthday on Jan. 12 to Monsignor Clement Connolly of Holy Family Catholic Church in South Pasadena. His brogue has brought joy to generations. His kindness, compassion and thoughtfulness have made him a special person to me, the parish and everyone who knows him around town

First published in the January 12 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.

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