Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
A cowboy’s got to make a living and mine was garbage. For nearly 25 years, which is most likely a record, I was Aspen’s garbage man – although the true originals, my aunt and uncle Vic and Eileen Goodhard, were in business for at least 22. I considered it a part-time job in the summer (although it was my major source of income) as there was hay to put up and cows to move, but there were winters I skied very little for it is a demanding business on ice and snow.
Seldom did we have any competition for, as I unabashedly claim, our service was good enough to keep anyone foolhardy enough to try merely salivating at the impossible likelihood. Oh, a couple of guys made the effort, but we dusted them in short order and either hired them or helped them move.
Back in the early days of Aspen Trash Service Inc., business relations with our clients were much different than they are today. The “new money” had yet to move into downtown Aspen and most two- or three-story buildings housed employees. We started our early-morning runs at 6 a.m., which was hard on a lot of folks who worked the night shift at bars and restaurants. On the upside, we picked up the entire downtown core between 6 and 7:30 a.m., something that would be impossible today with multiple competitors and moneyed folks who think their sleep is more important than the timeless march of industry in a ski town.
It was not uncommon for a yelling match to erupt at dawn with someone upstairs in the Gallun Building or above the Red Onion or the Brand Building. Four-letter words were aggressively exchanged with great flourish; sometimes trash cans were dumped on our heads, and oft times, buckets of water rained down in our direction, if not half-full beer cans. Just the same, we didn’t have much sympathy for we figured any poor bastards like us who had to be working at that time of day deserved some kind of consideration.
We managed to accomplish a day’s work in record time, even in the winter, and given a hard-working crew, our trucks would be parked no later than 2 p.m., but usually between 10 and 11 a.m.. That left a lot of time for, well, you know, skiing; or sometimes, we made opening call at the Eagles Club or the Red Onion.
The city had given us special dispensation to start work at that time of morning, which didn’t matter much to those opposed to being disturbed. The day eventually came when people with sensitive hearing and big pocketbooks moved into the building above Pitkin County Dry Goods and the noise complaints from that quarter soon approached deafening decibels. One morning, my good friend the mayor, Bill Stirling, called me at home around 6:15 a.m., just to let me know angry constituents had once again awoken him to complain about the sound of my trucks in the alley. The circle was tightening, but we held our ground.
Over the years, I’ve had a couple of girlfriends who didn’t particularly cotton to my self-styled description of “garbage man,” thinking “business owner” or anything else would have been more appropriate. But you’d be surprised how many eyes used to sparkle when they heard my occupation, for they’d seen the light and wisely invested in a business that is forever picking up. Besides, I never heard any of those gals complain about the size of the ring-finger stones garbage can offhandedly produce.
Hauling garbage is an honorable profession, and even though one now-defunct Aspen businesswoman refused to sit next to me at an ACRA luncheon, rudely displaying her displeasure by holding her nose and stomping off, I clearly understood her sentiments. Garbage does smell, and that’s the truth. Like money.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has caused untold amounts of suffering and disruption, and we’ll probably tell those stories for the rest of our lives.