Like a neighborhood hero with a green cape, local kid-done-good Anthony Williams hauls Brooklyn trash by day and delivers Therapy by night.
Williams is probably the happiest “garbage man” in the city. He works in the sturdy Bed-Stuy neighborhood that he grew up in.
“It doesn’t get better than that,” said the seemingly permanently beaming father of five.
He lives in Long Island now, “but I am in Brooklyn everyday both with my job with the Department of Sanitation and the wine bar I opened up in Bed-Stuy in the heart of the recession in 2009.” So if you need some mellow, after-hour downtime, get you some Therapy—the wine bar, not the chair.
The East New York-Brownsville-Bed-Stuy alum has to be the happiest sanitation worker on the planet. Garbage pays, he says. He can be seen swinging New York trash—neatly bagged or otherwise —into the back of his truck with his partner Doug. They smile at neighbors, holla at friends made on their route and chat with drivers as they wait behind yellow school buses loading up kids.
“I have worked for the Department of Sanitation for 20 years,” said Williams, smiling. “I am about to retire. Being a garbage man is the best kept secret in the city. When it is time to hire police officers, you see all these ads in The New York Times. Or firemen, you hear these commercials—‘You can be a fireman’—or the Department of Corrections—‘The boldest want you,’ in the street fairs and the park. Sanitation test—if you didn’t know about it, you missed it. It’s the best kept secret, because the qualifications are low and the pay is high. That means that everybody can get the job. Some of them don’t want you to know. So once they get that quota, they immediately went back to not us in again. There’s about 6,000 of us. We are the smallest uniformed force, with about a thousand Black and Latinos.”
The Department of Sanitation employs predominantly white men, “and that’s just what it is,” said Williams. “And they kept it that way too until the laws were passed and they had to bring some in after the lawsuits back in the 1980s. So they let us in, and once they got that quota, then they said, ‘Oh, now you have to have your CDL before you get here,’ so the minute you do that, there goes us again, because you need money to get your CDL, but that’s why you want the job—to get money—so that just knocked us out.
Hauling trash all day is a “great job because it is an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay! How about that.”
And dealing with the early morning public? “That’s the best part of it, dealing with the public. The number one thing that most of the retirees say is they miss the people. You have these relationships. You end up getting to know people over time.”
He has been doing his Bed-Stuy route for 16 years. “I know people who I used to see doing double Dutch, now I see them walking with their husband and kids. I’ve known people since they were 12, and now they are 30—here they come with their kids, the strollers—and they are driving now.”
So what’s the winter like for him?
“I love coming down the block and seeing the lady trying to get out, and we help her get out. I love it. That’s when we make a lot of money. We work these long hours in the winter. You have a sense of accomplishment for what you are doing, especially in my case. I am from Bed-Stuy, and I work in Bed-Stuy. I love it. You’re serving your neighborhood, so it doesn’t bother you that you’re picking up trash. That’s what some people seem to think— that it denigrates you in some kind of way. If I was in Williamsburg, if I was in Brighton Beach, I might feel that you were looking down your nose at me, but I have never felt that way. I am serving my own people. It just feels like we are hanging out together.”
And the community come bearing gifts, sometimes soup, cake, coffee, water or chocolate. “People on your route become your friends over time.”
And what’s with the trucks with the teddy bears strapped to the front?
Williams laughs and says, “It’s just personality, people pick things up. Some people collect knives, some people collect dishes, antique stuff, beds, chairs.”
Got to ask about the stink in the summer.
“When I first started working there, I never figured how can you eat and be on the truck. I’m telling you, after a while, you don’t even smell it anymore.”
Then there is his community work with Therapy Wine Bar.
“I have a partner, Angela Terry. Recently, we did a suit drive with a childhood friend of mine, Gerard Kersey, called ‘That Suits You.’ His mission was to collect suits and train young men how to interview, and at the end of that training process, give them the suit for that interview. I thought it was a great idea, and we got behind it, and it was a really great turnout.”
He also gives back through Therapy Wine Bar, which is co-sponsoring a breast cancer event with Bedford Academy High School. This Friday, Oct. 18, they will be teaming up together to raise funds for Breast Cancer Awareness. Then there was the back-to-school shopping event for parents.
“We wanted to do a backpack drive, but because we are a bar—and we didn’t want to marry our bar to children—because of the negative connotation, we thought we’d do an after-school parents’ night. So after they have gone through all the stress of back-to-school shopping, they could come in for a drink and we gave them parent-focused goodie bags.”
Therapy is four years old. It sits on the pretty Lewis Avenue in Stuyvesant Heights—the posh part of Bed-Stuy. “We opened in September 2009, in the heart of the recession.”
It is very Brooklyn. The crowd can be a little artsy, and sophisticated, with professional, city-working, easygoing folk.
Whether it is providing suits for the unemployed or hosting a breast cancer fundraisers, Therapy Wine Bar (364 Lewis Ave., Brooklyn, 718-513-0686) “wants to keep it community-orientated. I love what we do, and I love my community,” said Williams, the coolest sanitation worker in the tristate.