By LESLIE MCMORROW, Editorial Assistant
As part of a new recurring feature, ‘On the job: working for you,’ Peoria Times will be featuring little known or seen Peoria city jobs and workers, in an effort to highlight the employees and departments that strive for excellence with personnel and work hard to put citizen tax dollars to work as efficiently and effectively as possible.
For most of us, it’s easy to see a big blue trash truck driving through your neighborhood and only see the truck as a cog in the machine we call the City of Peoria. But, do you ever think about the person behind the steering wheel of that truck? The one who picks up your trash on a weekly basis, maneuvering through crowded streets and picking up cans from tight enough spaces, they may as well be threading a needle?
The job of a sanitation driver may not be glamorous or cutting-edge, but these public safety employees are an incredibly vital part of our lives. They take away our waste, helping to keep our streets and neighborhoods clean and safe, while working through all weather (rain, shine, cold, and extreme heat). As they work, their heads must remain on swivels, keeping their focus on the truck and its moving parts, as well as cars, pedestrians, children, animals, and other potential hazards along their route (which I can attest to, riding with one of the drivers).
Our drivers must memorize all the routes within the city, so they can help each other and fill in if a coworker is out that day (and believe me, those maps are not easy to decipher). Along with knowing the routes, they must know all their stops, so no cans are left behind (well, nobody’s perfect). Our sanitation drivers also help those in our community who need assistance, by bringing those citizens’ bins to the curb to be emptied.
Beginning their day as early as 3 a.m. and working as late as it takes to finish each route, many city sanitation drivers put in a great deal of time and dedication to their job. Through all this, many keep a smile on their face and wave to those who see and appreciate them.
Willie Townsend, a.k.a. Willie “The Wizard,” is one of these unsung heroes, although you may have heard his energetic voice and contagious laugh on the Tim and Willy radio show on KMLE in years past, as he called in with recycling tips every Wednesday morning. Beginning his career as a diesel mechanic before transitioning into the aerospace industry, Townsend moved up to hydraulics specialist, then senior test technician, before becoming a supervising engineer working on top-secret military projects (he would tell you about them, but…).
When Townsend and his wife moved back to Arizona to take care of his ill mother-in-law and parents, aerospace and military jobs were scarce, so when he discovered Tucson was hiring for sanitation truck drivers, but he would need a CDL, he studied for three weeks and aced the written test. The City of Tucson hired him on the condition he pass the driving test, which he did, with flying colors. He’ll be remembered at that testing location for quite some time, as no one had ever brought a trash truck to the DMV for a road test before.
Peoria has been lucky to have this extraordinary man for the last 10 years. He considers Peoria citizens to be his customers and is extremely generous with his giant smiles and rousing “Yee-Haw!!”s. In fact, if you ever need a pick-me-up, simply type ‘Willie the Wizard’ into Google and treat yourself to archived clips of his radio spots on the KMLE website.
It would take more room than I have to write about this unique gentleman’s extraordinary life – he even saved the life of a coworker Nov. 12, calling 9-1-1 after backtracking the man’s route to find him and seeing him collapse to the ground – but I would like to leave you with this…
It can be quite easy to take Townsend and many more of our city employees for granted. The truth is, every single one of them is a regular person, doing the best job they can for Peoria citizens. When you see one, smile and wave, or thank them for the job they’re doing to keep the city running smoothly and efficiently.
For sanitation drivers specifically, a great way to show your appreciation is quite simple and will make their job so much easier… when putting trash cans out, please remember to keep them at least four feet apart, so they will not be knocked over by the claw arm by being too close to each other. This, in turn, will help avoid unnecessary delays, as well as the potential mess knocked over trash receptacles can make, especially on windy or rainy days. I know they would thank you.
Original source: Peoria Times