Maurice Queen, who joined DC’s Department of Public Works in 1969, is the city’s longest-serving trash collector. But not for long: The 72-year-old District native plans to retire in January.
How have you liked being a trash collector?
Let me be honest and truthful with you: I love this job. When I was a little boy, we used to throw trash at garbage trucks. Look at me now. I am a senior trash collector.
What time do you start your day?
I get to work at 5 am, so we get to laugh, joke, and kick it every morning with my brothers. My shift starts at 7. You can’t collect trash in the dark.
Do you have a favorite piece of trash that you found?
People have the tendency to throw away good stuff. My favorite piece I found in the trash is a black leather lounging chair. I found it 25 years ago. I still have that chair. It’s in my man cave.
Do people know you on your route?
Yes, people wave and come out and speak to you. Collecting trash is a service job, and a lot of people appreciate good service. People bring you water in summer and tea in winter.
Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised on Howard Road in Southeast. I went to the Washington Technical Institute, UDC now, and wanted to become an architect. After two years at the school, nobody would give me an apprenticeship because I am African American. The opportunity came along to work with the sanitation department, and I took it. I am not mad at nobody. I thank God for what he allowed me to do. Learn to be humble and life will go on anyway.
What have you learned about people?
Everybody is not the same–you have to learn to adjust to them.
I have ten horses and ponies at my farm. I am a retired rodeo cowboy.
Did you ever have an accident on the job?
In 1970 or 1971, I fell off the truck and spent 17 days at Sibley Hospital with a head injury.
Any advice for dealing with rats?
You let them run where they want to go and get out of their way.
Do drivers get mad when you stop the truck?
People cuss you out. They will come up to you and give you the finger. It does not even bother me. I am here to serve the public, and you’ve got to take that in stride. There are only two things I want to do: serve the Lord and ride them horses.
Yeah, I have ten horses and ponies at my farm in Maryland. I am a retired rodeo cowboy. I rode bulls for seven years on a professional circuit.
Why are you retiring?
I think 50 years is enough for anyone.
This article appears in the January 2020 issue of Washingtonian.