Like any government worker, Larry Swindle pushes paper-lots of it, all day long.
He also pushes broken bottles, empty beer cans, hamburger wrappers and all the other trash that society manufacturers.
Larry Swindle is a street sweeper.He is as much a fixture in Adams-Morgan as McDonalds or the Ontario Theater. Swindle has been pushing a broom on Columbia Road NW between Connecticut Avenue and 16th Street for a quarter-century. It's his territory.
This week, shortly before his 66th brithday, he retired. Putting away his cart and broom, he is letting the trash fall to others.
The Sisyphean nature of Swindle's task does not escape him.
"Some places it don't do much good because as soon as you clean the streets, they come out of their houses and throw trash in the street again," he says.
But it doesn't seem to bother him too much. Those are the working conditions.
His efforts have not gone unnoticed, however.
"We would come into the shop early in the morning and see him working," says Chris Smith, of the William C. Smith Co., a property management firm on Columbia Road. "One side of the street would be spotless, the other side would be littered with trash. . . We've never seen anyone so consistent in our entire lives."
"He has his own system. He's very methodical," said Estaban Solis, photographer and Columbia Road resident. "He takes a lot of pride in his work. Usually people in those types of jobs become very bitter and don't seem to have the energy associated with jobs with more upward mobility."
In early spring sunshine, Swindle pushes his cart energetically up Biltmore Street. He starts at 7 a.m. The white-painted cart has a large ring, about chest-height, which holds a brown paper sack. More sacks are folded neatly along one side. A push broom and a hand broom, their bristles in the air, reach above the line of parked cars and mark his progress like flags. An old Washington News sack is slung low across the cart's handle, carrying gloves and other personal items.
Swindle is a man with heavy features, of medium build, a little loose now at the middle. He wears green coveralls, a green visored cap and large oversized gloves to work.
His view of the city is one that few share. He measures its activity in broomfuls. He knows that the first of every month when government checks arrive, the city is dirtier. Mondays and Tuesdays are the worst, when Swindle has to clear the weekend's accumulation of refuse. It takes two days to catch up, he says.
Occasionally he finds valuable items in the gutter-watches, a ring, keys or wallets. If they contain an address, he calls the owner. Once he found $100 in war bonds and returned them to the post office. He said he was told there was a reward, "but I never heard from them again."
"I like to think that when they made Larry, they broke the mold," said Robert Carter, Swindle's foreman, of the Department of Environmental Services. "He's one of a kind. The man knows what is expected of him, and he does it. He's a dying breed, I would say. It's something you are born with."
When Swindle was a young man, he worked loading baggage and sorting mail at Union Station. But better work and benefits drew him to the District's sanitation department. It was a good job, providing enough income to support his wife and daughter.
When he started,Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, $20 was a week's wages, three dollars would fill a gas tank, and 'Columbia Road was a beautiful street,' he said. Swindle lives on Columbia Road not far from where he works.
But now, he says, 'just got into the wrong hands,' and three dollars 'doesn't even make the meter move.'
Swindle says he is ready to quit.'I could have had any job in the government i wanted, but I didn't want them.The more money you make, the more headache you have. You want some pleasure, some enjoyment in work if you want anything." CAPTION: Picture, Larry Swindle, 65, on the last day as a street sweeper. By James A. Parcell-The Washington Post