Shorty usually doesn't work Mondays, but he showed up yesterday anyway, guessing correctly that a hot and sunny summer weekend had left Montgomery County's Rock Creek Regional Park worse for the wear. Despite his 74 years and 49-mile ride from Thurmont, he was the first employee to punch in--an hour before sunrise.
"It's better than sitting at home," he allowed (as laconic as his nickname, which he prefers to his real name of Leon Printz). "I've done did everything I could do there."
At 4:45 a.m., he unlocked the park gates. He watched TV in the maintenance yard office for a little while. Then, about 6:30, he headed out on his first cleanup reconnaissance, friendly and chipper in his green work shirt and even greener work pants.
Not too much company in the park at that hour, though. Some geese. A bowman practicing at the archery range. A solitary fisherman at the lake.
Still, the quiet allowed Shorty to tool along the park loop without worrying about traffic. From the wheel of his sized-down John Deere, a pair of slightly dinged silver trash cans in place behind him, he surveyed the damage of nearly 4,000 visitors on Sunday alone. He circled from Picnic Site 3 by the archery range to Picnic Site 2 by the stop sign to Picnic Site 1 at the lake. All told, that's 18 picnic shelters and 36 grills.
"I figured these grills would be a mess and they are," Shorty said, but not by way of complaint.
By 8:30 a.m., he was methodically cleaning up. A lean-to-slight man, crevice-faced, with a tattoo on each arm, he held a scraper in one hand and a plastic bucket in the other as he loosened the fire-burned grit and collected the powdery ash.
The details of his job are straightforward: "I scrape 'em, clean 'em off, get 'em ready for someone else."
About 9, maintenance chief Rob Triplett stopped to help because the park crew was short-staffed. Triplett is 41 and stands 6-foot-1, compared with Shorty's 5-foot-6. The two are neighbors in Frederick County and years ago nearly were killed going home together when Triplett's Pinto was broadsided by a truck on Route 15 and flipped 360 degrees off the highway. They can laugh about that now.
"Was it trashy down here?" Triplett asked, his eyes sweeping over Site 1.
"Number 3's worse," Shorty answered. "There was a bunch of children in there."
He's hardly surprised by trash these days, having picked up everything from human excrement to rubber "protectors" (and having seen couples in the act of using those devices).
"You ought to see--they get right on the [picnic] tables," he said with amused incredulity.
Those folks don't stop to chat with him. In fact, sometimes they don't even stop what they're doing.
But others are friendly, and Shorty is happy to keep the park pretty for them. "You meet a lot of nice people."
Each week throughout the summer, Metro reporters will offer a taste of the season across the Washington region. Today's installment: bathing suit feuds and Rock Creek Regional Park's picker-upper.
CAPTION: Shorty surveys damage done by park visitors from behind the wheel of his John Deere.
CAPTION: Shorty, 74, picks up trash after a warm, busy weekend at Montgomery County's Rock Creek Regional Park. "It's better than sitting at home," he says.