FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Mark Hardesty hauls 15 tons of garbage a day from Fairbanks, Fort Wainwright or North Pole. He fell into the job after graduating high school, and he now earns more than $22 an hour.
''I don't think I'd be good at an office job,'' the 41-year-old garbage man said. ''This job, you get to drive around all of the time. You get to see a lot of people.''
On a recent day, his morning route in his MAC 20-ton commercial trash hauler consisted of emptying trash bins in downtown Fairbanks, including at the restaurant Desserts First, the Ambassador Apartments, Williamsburg Condominiums, Fairbanks Resource Agency, the Mary Siah Pool and Hunter Elementary School.
The inside of Hardesty's truck smelled surprisingly fresh -- thanks to the liberal use of air fresheners.
When Hardesty first started in the business, his mother worked as a secretary for the company, which at that time was Far North Sanitation.
Jeff Riley, district manager with the company, said Hardesty's mind has been Waste Management's de facto back up system. Five years ago when Waste Management upgraded its computers, some information was lost in the transition.
''If we don't have the information in the computer, we'll call Mark because he'll remember,'' Riley said. ''He's our resident guru.''
When Hardesty hauls commercial trash, he often doesn't have to leave his truck. Forks that stick out of the front of the truck, sort of like a woolly mammoth with tusks, slide into slots on the trash bins and hydraulic arms lift the can and dump it upside down so the trash falls into the back of the truck. A packer blade smooshes the garbage.
The garbage man who lives in North Pole hauls a lot of residential trash as well. He said he most often sees bicycles, old wheelbarrows, antiques, couches, beds, plastic toys and broken fishing poles in people's trash.
''Some people you see a lot of pizza boxes, and some people eat a lot of crab,'' he said. ''You see a lot of good stuff but you don't know where it's been.''
His truck full of trash bags, Hardesty headed to the borough landfill.
To enter, he punched a code on a keypad, then he drove up a hill to the trash dumping area. What looks like a gravel hill is actually 30 to 40 feet of layers of trash and gravel.
He emptied the trash onto the ground where a loader would later push it into a pit.
After dumping his load at the landfill, Hardesty returned to Waste Management's garage to switch trucks so he could go on his residential route.
Empty Dumpsters and garbage trucks filled the garage.
Hardesty said the smell doesn't bother him.
''Like anything, I got used to it,'' he said.
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