CITYSCENE A CONTINUING SERIES ABOUT THE PEOPLE AND PLACES OF THE CAPITAL CITY
JEFFREY B. COHEN
December 10, 2009
HARTFORD - — Horace Hicks wore out the rubber soles of his black work shoes in just five months, walking the city's downtown streets each day, looking for trash.
"At 6 o'clock in the morning, I'm out here by myself," Hicks said. "Ain't nothing out here but the birds and me."
That's how he likes it. Getting started any later would mean the morning rush would be littered with everything from feces to small dead animals to run-of-the-mill trash. The worst mornings are Thursdays, he said, when the city's streets show signs of a hangover from clubbing the night before — unwanted fliers, tossed drink cups and discarded underwear.
"Around by the clubs and bars, there'd be a whole lot of underwear, ladies underwear," Hicks said. "It's not abnormal at all."
Hicks, 61, is from Richmond, Va., but has lived in the city since 1966, when his father got a job at Underwood Typewriter.
Hicks has done some work as a school bus driver, but he has been cleaning city streets since 1996. One of several people on a cleaning team, Hicks' latest employer is the Hartford Business Improvement District, an organization run and financed by the city's downtown property owners.
He starts his mornings at Church Street armed with a lobby dust pan, a mini-broom and a yellow trash can on four wheels. The average lobby pan can hold 5 pounds of trash, the average trash bag holds 50 pounds of debris, and on an average day Hicks fills 10 bags, which he brings to a dumpster in Bushnell Park.
As he moves carefully through downtown, he sees what most walkers might overlook — hawks nesting atop buildings and training their young with daily rodent catches, men urinating in the street, drunks hiding their bottles in flower planters and people stealing the flowers.
He sees himself as a proud protector, keeping kids on afternoon strolls safe from "something nasty on the ground," keeping adults unaware of the messes they leave behind.
"I say, 'Damn, man, these be some nasty people,'" Hicks said. "But that's OK. Whoever writes my check, that's why I'm here. They can be as nasty as they want, and I'm here to clean it up for them so they don't have to worry about it."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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