Dave Franzoia, 54, offers simple advice to collecting garbage from San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill: "You just put it out of your head, you just do your job," the veteran Recology garbage collector said sagely.
The advice doesn’t fully illuminate much of the cliffhangers of Franzoia’s job - hauling trash bins up and down sprawling stairways on the city’s famous hill - where roads sometimes don’t reach.
"These stairs here," Franzoia said, peering up toward Coit Tower, "you’ve got to be very careful."
Twice a week for 21 years, Franzoia has maneuvered up and down these steep stairways with the deftness of a mountain goat, which is appropriate since Telegraph Hill was once known as Goat Hill. Groceries, the mail, appliances, all come in and out by the stairs.
"This is one of many unique streets in San Francisco that are built on steep hills," said former San Francisco Supervisor, and longtime Telegraph Hill resident Aaron Peskin. "Streets were never built."
On old brick stairways, Franzoia and other Recology garbage men shoulder blue plastic trash bins, metal cans and occasionally old world technology like burlap sacks to load the trash. Franzoia said when he was first started on the route, garbage collectors would haul off sometimes 200 burlap sacks, which are a little more merciful on the back than the cans.
Franzoia’s history is hip-deep in garbage; his great grandfather emigrated from Italy in 1909 and helped found the Sunset Scavangers. His grandfather, father-in-law and uncle all worked in the business.
"My father-in-law told me this is a hard job," Franzoia said. "After two or three weeks, I told him 'I’ll be just fine."
Franzoia has outlasted many others who weren’t as enthusiastic, or as in-shape for the treacherous route.
"There’s been a few people overweight and smoking cigarettes,” laughed Franzoia. “Half way through the route they’re dying."
It’s not that Franzoia hasn’t had his own ups and downs. A missed step on Russian Hill put him out of commission for six weeks. And though he stays in shape, with an occasional trip to the gym, the cans seem a little heavier and the stairs a little steeper these days.
He’s now counting down to his retirement in about ten months. An avid walker and hiker, Franzoia said his body is sending him the memo, it’s time to quit.
He figures he’ll have 30 years in garbage and seven in construction by the time he hangs up the burlap sack.
"That’s 37 years and ten months of hard labor,” said Franzoia. "I think that’s enough."