It's four days until Richard Hernandez retires, but he wagers he'll spend a good deal of the time singing, like usual. Hernandez, Las Cruces Utilities (LCU) Solid Waste Heavy Equipment Operator, drives one of the residential trash trucks that come by your house and has for years. With over two decades of service, he can look back on seeing his home grow and knowing that he helped keep Las Cruces clean.
But his legacy will be engrained in the rest of the crew. With his years of experience, Hernandez has trained most, if not all, of the current drivers on the streets of Las Cruces. There's a lot to adjust to, even if drivers have a CDL, but it's the sheer number of windshield hours alone that is unique to other positions in LCU.
"I do a lot of singing to a lot of different music," he laughed. "It's likely that customers may have even heard me."
Driving these large vehicles through regular traffic takes some adjustment, first of which is that they sit on the right of the truck to navigate to the trash containers; it takes some time for newer drivers to switch their minds around.
“These trucks are huge and it’s up to us to maneuver around cars that might have parked too close, if we can safely,” Hernandez, who explained that sometimes he’ll have to use the camera on his truck to take a picture to show why he can’t pick up a certain container – a car too close or it’s not out by the time he comes by.
Hernandez has a long enough history in trash disposal that he still remembered when Las Cruces had back-loading trucks with crews manually throwing in the trash. Now LCU is much more high-tech, from automatic arms to GPS that can customize routes, enabling them to be balanced in number of pick-ups per day per driver.
"Drivers still have ways of making their regular route theirs," said LCU Solid Waste
Supervisor Philip Glasson. "Some will only take turns in certain directions and know how to get to specific containers in the most efficient way. But before we installed Routeware, some areas of town were more lop-sided for our drivers to get done."
However, when a route is heavier than usual, takes more time, or a driver might be out sick, those on the road can still count on each other to help out at the end of the day.
"It's been my coworkers with whom I've really enjoyed working over all these years,” said Hernandez, “while being a part of a department that really helps out my city.”
LCU – Your Utility Connection. Customer Central can be reached at 575-541-2111 from 8 a.m. - 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. LCU provides clean, safe, and reliable services to Las Cruces residents and businesses. Learn more at: las-cruces.org/180/Utilities
For emergencies, call Dispatch at 526-0500.
PHOTO 1: LCU Solid Waste Heavy Equipment Operator Richard Hernandez trained most of the LCU drivers and found joy in a career that kept his city clean.