Encore: Longtime Partners Find Treasure Among Trash

Aug 31, 2018
Originally published on August 31, 2018 2:10 pm

In a 2010 StoryCorps conversation, Angelo Bruno and Eddie Nieves talk about the bond they forged working together to clear garbage in New York City. Both have since retired from sanitation work, but their friendship hasn't gone to waste.

This story originally aired on Sept. 3, 2010, on Morning Edition. (Watch a video of their conversation, above; read their story below.) Angelo Bruno, now 68, retired in 2010, but he was home for two months before he "got an itch" to work again. He now manages six floors of a New York City office building. Eddie Nieves, now 63, retired from sanitation work in 2016, and occasionally walks their old route to keep in touch with friends. Bruno and Nieves still keep in contact and get together for dinner every few months.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Time now for StoryCorps. As we head into this Labor Day weekend, a rebroadcast of a conversation with two workers who set out to clean up New York City. Angelo Bruno spent more than 30 years as a sanitation worker. He and his partner Eddie Nieves cleared over 14 tons of garbage from the city streets every day. Shortly after Anglo retired in 2010, the two sat down at StoryCorps to remember their days on the route. Eddie starts the conversation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

EDDIE NIEVES: Everybody would just come out just to talk to you.

ANGELO BRUNO: People would say, oh, good morning, Angelo. Good morning, Eddie. You want a cup of coffee? You want lunch?

NIEVES: And the nuns kissing us, too. We had nuns on our route. You know, I never had that before.

BRUNO: (Laughter) The younger guys would ask me, how did you get that? It's just a little good morning; have a nice weekend; hey, you look great today. I could do 14 tons of garbage. I can't lift a baby carriage off a step and carry it down or hold someone's baby when they went to get their car?

NIEVES: The garbage ain't going nowhere, you know? The garbage'll be there half hour from now, an hour, so when we get it, you get it.

BRUNO: He made a statement one day that he does all the work and I do all the talking.

NIEVES: It came out wrong (unintelligible).

BRUNO: Look how he's getting out of this - it just came out wrong.

NIEVES: I deserve it.

BRUNO: When I first came on the job, there was one old-timer - I remember Gordy Flow his name was. One day he stopped the truck. He tells me, Angelo, you look down this block first; see all the sidewalks are all crowded up with garbage? So I think nothing of it. My father always taught me to respect my elders. I get to the end of the block, and he stops me again. Get out of the truck. Look back. Nice and clean, right? People could walk on the sidewalk. Guys could make deliveries. Be proud of yourself.

NIEVES: The day that people learned that you were going to retire, we went maybe a block or two blocks, and six people came up to him saying, you're crazy; what am I going to do when you leave?

BRUNO: I'm a little bit of a marshmallow anyway, but I never thought my last day would be so emotional for me.

NIEVES: He's crying. They're crying. I'm crying watching them cry. And I've been very lucky because he's the best partner I ever had. We used to try to take the same vacation and try to have the same day off. And I miss my partner.

BRUNO: I feel the same way, Eddie. I'll be honest with you, I miss it terribly. I'm like that little kid looking out the window now when I hear the truck. I think I could have done another 31 years.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Friends and former New York City sanitation workers Angelo Bruno and Eddie Nieves. Eddie has since joined Angelo in retirement but occasionally walks their old route to keep in touch with friends. To see this story as an animated short, you can visit npr.org. Their conversation is archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.