Equipment Operator Larry Grider grips the steering wheel with a leathery fist, the morning sun glinting off his wristwatch as he works the wheel back and forth watching carefully through the bubble-dome mirror as a rotating brush behind him kicks up a cloud of dust from the street gutter.
For 15 years, Grider has crawled along the streets of Cortez in a street sweeper, hovering around 5 miles per hour, with only the radio to keep him company.
The worst part of it is, youre here all by yourself, he says. That starts to play on you after 15 years. I listen to the radio. Thats probably the only thing that keeps you sane and awake.
In the street gutters, Grider finds garbage, wallets, purses, knives, hubcaps, gas caps, road kill and the occasional unconscious pedestrian.
We call law enforcement, he says. Well pull up and wait for police to get there so they dont get run over.
When it comes to road kill, Grider sweeps up smaller animals such as prairie dogs, but reports dead cats, dogs and skunks to animal control.
Although most people are glad to have him there sweeping their streets, some are not so appreciative.
You get a honker and a finger once in awhile, but most of them are pretty used to it, he says.
It is different in residential areas, where people occasionally come out of their residences upset about the dust.
All I can do is say sorry, theres going to be some dust for a while, he says.
Most public feedback is positive, Grider says.
While the dust kicked up by the sweeper might afflict a passerby for a moment, Grider endures it all day as it seeps into the cabin of the vehicle, despite a water-mist dust suppression system. At the end of every day, Grider scrapes out the compartment where the dirt is stored and hoses down the sweeper.
Its a dirty job, not a hard job, but a dirty job, he says.
It can take a month for Grider and one other full-time sweeper to clean all the paved streets in Cortez. By the time theyre done, its time to start over.
High-traffic streets, such as Montezuma Avenue or Main Street, take priority and are swept three times a week.
Residential streets are not swept during winter, when streets are sanded to provide better traction and snow melt. Grider says he is bracing for the spring cleanup of those streets.
The city invests significant resources in street sweeping to improve ascetics and safety, Grider says. Vehicles can lose traction with sand and gravel on dry pavement.
I ride a motorcycle, and I think its important for the safety of it, he says.
Street sweeping prevents storm drains from becoming clogged with debris particularly in the fall when leaves threaten to clog gutters and drains, Grider says.
Now starting his day at 7:30 a.m., Grider formerly worked a shift that began at 4 a.m.
Theres a lot of people running around at 4 a.m., he says. Theres kids out skateboarding or biking you think should be in bed.
Grider once witnessed an alleged burglar stealing a bicycle from a broken store window.
The steel wire brushes on the sweeper have a life span of five to seven weeks before the bristles become too worn down and a new brush must be installed.
Grider pulls a dusty manual out from between the seats of the truck entitled Street Cleaning Practices.
According to the book, Benjamin Franklin was the first recorded advocate of street sweeping. In his 1790 autobiography, Franklin wrote that he saw dirt accumulating in the street, tracked in by carriages. He decided to hire a poor man to sweep the street twice a week. Franklin said he printed an essay on the benefits of street sweeping and delivered it to his neighbors who agreed to contribute to the sweepers six-pence-per-month salary.
The practice first became widespread in New York City during the 1890s, and the first mechanical street sweeper was used in Boise, Idaho, in 1914, the book states.
In his spare time, Grider rides all-terrain vehicles, is a recreational shooter and member of the Montezuma County Sheriffs Posse.
He dumps his morning load into a pile of dirt the size of a garbage truck with bits of garbage poking out, which he says is the accumulation of a month to a month-and-a-half from the streets of Cortez. The pile will eventually be hauled to the landfill.
People dont see what you pick up, he says. They just see what you leave behind.
Reach Reid Wright at [email protected]