- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 2, 2005

It is cold outside. Do you know where your city’s recycling crew is? This has been one of the Amelia Earhart-like mysteries of Ward 3 the past three weeks, as old newspapers, empty bottles and cans piled up in the rat- and raccoon-infested alleyways that came to have a Third World feel to them.

See that oddly moving newspaper in the dank, fetid thoroughfare? That is the Christian Dior of the Norwegian rat family endeavoring to stay warm in chic outerwear. To hear residents, the Advisory Neighborhood Commission and the chief of staff of D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson tell it, several factors apparently have stymied the recycling process: the dropping of a private contractor that handled the recycling, at least one member of the old recycling staff taking ill and a persistent Arctic chill blanketing the area that apparently undermined the dedication of the underdressed workers.

Who knew, in the era of storm team coverage and hypothermia alerts, that an anonymous but vital part of the work force was braving the bitterly cold air in Bermuda shorts, tank tops and flip-flops? Who knew that recycling crews use cold days the way schools use snow days? No wonder the city is taking over the recycling contract.

When the trash hot line works as efficiently as it does, which is to say about once out of three calls, the city might as well add another chore to its glittering public service record.

Don’t get mad. Just call 202/727-1000, the all-trash, all-the-time hot line.

An operator is standing by to commiserate about the contents of your Super Can, your adopted rat family and your infectious-disease issues.

Seriously, as Washington has been going about its workaday business in recent weeks, the beachcombers entrusted with preserving the sanctity of our alleyways were, one by one, succumbing to the awful elements.

In a recent e-mail, Penny Pagano, Mrs. Patterson’s chief of staff, expressed “sympathy” for those souls who must work in the cold, especially if their uniform consists of swim trunks and a T-shirt.

She balanced her humanity with the revelation that her recycling pickup was missed as well.

“I would imagine, because Waste Management’s contract is coming to an end, along with people’s jobs, there may be a little less incentive for them to be as vigilant as they should be,” she wrote.

This was the educated guess of an educated person of an educated city that often succumbs to the gooey sensitivities of the day. A company that fails to perform its taxpayer-funded job is not at fault, just virtually paralyzed because of the cold.

That is almost as good as telling the teacher that the dog ate your homework.

It has been cold, no doubt, and the last two-flake blizzard to hit the city left the roadways extremely treacherous, almost unusable except for emergency vehicles and essential government personnel.

It really is amazing, given all the helpful warnings of those who command the storm team coverage television desks, that the recycling crews either forgot or missed the advisory to wear the proper articles of clothing.

That information should be made as readily available to them as it is to the public. It is a darn shame, is what it is, when some people are caught unaware of a deadly, numbing air mass coming down from Canada that meets up with a ruler-packing television reporter standing in the middle of Cumberland, Md., and panic ensues over the last bag of salt at a Home Depot near you.

So, in the winter days ahead, you shivering recycling crews, you, please remember to dress warmly, and try to avoid the rats that have been living large in the trash-strewn alleyways of Ward 3.

We certainly were sorry to learn of the fallen recycling person whose absence turned the pickup schedule upside down.

We hope it was not frostbite or the bubonic plague.

We wish the person the best.

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