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Queen Of The Hill: Garbage Collector Throws Self Into Job

Tue., March 14, 1995

Garbage collecting.

Sure, it sounds like a monotonous, thankless, underpaid and smelly job.

But that’s only because you’ve never felt the thrill of having your spleen bounce three feet each time the garbage truck plummets into one of Spokane’s 8 million potholes.

Only because you’ve never survived a near hernia wrasslin’ a bucket of concrete some sadist left out.

Only because you’ve never tasted the invigorating spray of a fish-slimed, garbage cocktail.

Until you’ve experienced these things - as I dared experience - you can’t fully appreciate what an adventure it is to be a professional trash master.

My quest to find a collector worthy of national honors put me aboard a city garbage truck the other day with a real pro named Moe.

When it comes to wading through the egg shells and cantaloupe rinds of our lives, Moe Kenney, 43, is Queen of the Heap.

Moe, short for Maureen, is one of the city’s few women garbage collectors. A former construction worker, she has worked for Solid Waste Management for seven years.

“I just love it,” she said. “Most people dread coming to work, but I still get there 45 minutes early. I can’t wait to get started.”

Hefting cans made this enthusiastic woman a lot of fans. She won by a landslide when I asked readers to name a garbage person they thought should be entered in the Ruffies Sanitation Worker of the Year award.

Even an Elvis impersonator left a pro-Moe message on my voice mail: “That Moe Kenney don’t let nobody touch the jelly doughnuts,” he drawled. “She lets ‘em decompose so ol’ Elvis can enjoy ‘em up here in heaven.”

The Ruffies winner, to be decided in August, takes home 10 grand. Cash. First runner-up wins a cool $5,000. Whoever nominates the winner receives Ruffies garbage bags for life.

Here’s the best news of all - the city where the winner lives gets $2,500.

We need that money to patch some of the moonscape that passes for our streets. Garbage trucks must have pogo sticks for shocks. Rumbling around town with Moe, for example, was like sitting on a undulating trampoline.

My admiration for this unsung profession also has grown in direct proportion with my dry cleaning bill.

I took my befouled baseball jacket to the cleaners after a short stop at the loading dock of a fish market.

Moe tossed a block of seafood ice into the back of the truck, which already was filled with a swamp of garbagemarinated rainwater. The ensuing backsplash baptized me from neck to shoes in the First Church of the Evil Drool.

“Get a little on you?” said the ever-cheerful Moe.

Moe is an ambassador of good will wherever she goes.

Dennis Hein, director of Solid Waste Management, calls her “an excellent employee, bright and hard working” in a profession that is tougher than most people realize.

New garbage workers must complete a one-year probation to see if they can survive all of Spokane’s distinct seasons.

“No excuse is satisfactory for not getting the job done,” says Hein, a third-generation garbage worker. “It takes a special person.”

Like Moe Kenney. Not long ago, she pulled one of her legendary practical jokes on a naive new dispatcher.

“A garbage truck just ran over my husband,” said Moe, making an anonymous call to the dispatcher from a pay telephone.

The horrified dispatcher could barely speak. “My gawd,” she finally squeaked, “should I call an ambulance?”

“Not yet,” answered Moe. “He’s still moving.”

Following are other nominees for the Ruffies Sanitation Worker of the Year contest: Steve Weatherman nominated by Charles Olton, Charles Porter nominated by Vicki Sellers and Joel Forrester nominated by Dewey Strauss. Workers must have five years experience in the field to enter.

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