Joe Garbarino

 

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La Voglia Recollections of a Recycling Trailblazer Joe Garbarino

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Contents Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Appendix Foreword vii No Turning Back 1 The Calcagnos and the Garbarinos 5 The Early Days in San Francisco 13 Meeting Sally 69 Moving to Marin 85 Joining the Movement 115 Keeping Up the Pace 127 “When I Think of Joe . . .” 193

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Prologue No Turning Back n December 1955, I came up to Marin County to join the garbage company, and it rained every day that month. You cannot believe how miserable it was. It rained so hard and so much in central and northern California that rivers and creeks overflowed their banks, and there was massive, record-breaking flooding. People had to be evacuated from their homes. Roads were underwater. Bridges washed out, and traffic backed up for miles. Marin County was declared a federal disaster area. And in the middle of this soggy mess, I was picking up garbage. We didn’t have garbage trucks back then like we do today. There were no automated arms to lift the cans and dump them. We did the lifting and dumping ourselves. It was backbreaking work in any weather, and the heavy rain and flooding only made it more brutal. I was used to hard work. I had started working as a garbageman in San Francisco for Scavengers Protective Association when I was 16, and I had worked weekends, holidays, and summers all through high school and college. But that first month in Marin was tougher than anything I’d experienced in the City. It was unbelievable. I was just about to turn 23. Sally and I had gotten married the year before, and our first child, Patty, was five months old. For a time, I had been planning to become a pharmacist. I had taken all the pre-pharmacy courses at City College of San Francisco and had started pharmacy school 1

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at the University of California, San Francisco, four months earlier. But on Thanksgiving Day in 1955 my plans suddenly changed. That day the whole family had gathered at my mother and father’s flat in the City for a big meal as we always did on holidays, and my first cousin—who also was named Joe Garbarino—was there with his wife and kids. Joe asked me that day if I wanted to become a partner in the garbage company in Marin that two former Scavengers had started in 1948 and that he had joined in 1951. Joe and his partners were looking to expand their company. For $20,000 I could buy into the partnership. I would be making a salary of $1,000 a month right off the bat. That was about triple what the average worker in the City was making at the time. If I stuck with my plan to become a pharmacist, I was looking at four more years of school. And I had a family to support. I went to my father, who had spent his entire working life as a Scavenger, and said, “Papa, what do you want me to do? I could finish school and become a pharmacist, or I could go be a garbageman in Marin.” He didn’t hesitate for a second. “Go be a garbageman,” he told me. So I started work that next month, and on January 1, 1956, I became the eighth partner in the company that became Marin Sanitary Service. Moving up to Marin turned out to be the best decision I ever made, but I certainly couldn’t see how good it was that first month when I was picking up garbage seven days a week for 12 to 13 hours a day in the pouring rain. In San Francisco, when I was working for Scavengers, my entire route would take me five or six hours from start to finish. But in Marin, our customers were scattered across a large area in and around the city of San Rafael, and that meant a much longer workday. And instead of having five guys to a truck, the way we did in the City, we had two guys to a truck. Each workday in Marin was like putting in two days back-to-back in the City. We started work every morning at 3 a.m., and we didn’t quit until the last guys came in from their route, which often was around 4 or 5 in the afternoon. After work, I went straight home, took a shower, and ate dinner, and by 6 or 6:30 p.m. I was sound asleep. By 3 the next morning, I was starting all over again. 2 LA VOGLIA

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That first month, my partners were waiting to see if I would break down and quit. Other Scavengers who had come up from the City to give Marin a try had left when they found out how tough it was. Even my cousin Joe had said, “Forget it!” after his first week in Marin and had headed straight back to San Francisco. Later, he gave it another try and stayed. I came up to Marin and never left. I would not quit. But never in my wildest dreams could I have foreseen how well everything was going to turn out for us here. At first, we were eight guys with eight open-bed trucks working out of a rented Quonset hut. I could never have imagined that one day we’d have 250 employees and 100 trucks, and that we’d own 92 acres of land and three integrated companies—Marin Recycling Center, Marin Resource Recovery Center, and Marin Sanitary Service—along with a dirt, rock, and concrete reprocessing facility, a household hazardous waste consolidation facility, and pigs and peacocks! All I knew back in December of 1955 was that I had a chance to earn the money I needed for my family, and that Marin County was growing. There was opportunity here. The work was hard, but I was young enough to handle it, and I had the desire. In Italian we call it la voglia—the drive or the desire to do something. That’s what you need in life—la voglia. If you don’t have that, you can forget it. NO TURNING BACK 3

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chapter two The Early Days in San Francisco hen my parents met, my father was living with two guys from Scavengers in an apartment right below Coit Tower on Filbert Street, and my mother was living with her sister and brother-in-law. I don’t know when or how my mother and father met, but they were married in Saints Peter and Paul Church on Filbert Street on November 5, 1928. Their first home together was an apartment they rented at 402 Lombard Street, near Grant Avenue. My parents’ first child died at birth. He was a boy whom they had named Joseph. My mother was delivering him at home with the help of a midwife. Apparently, the baby was big, and something went terribly wrong. That’s probably why she went to St. Francis Hospital to deliver me and later my sister. I was born on Valentine’s Day in 1933. My sister, Rosaline, was born when I was 5. I have no memories of my parents’ apartment on Lombard Street because when I was about 3 years old, we moved two blocks north to a flat that my parents bought in a two-story building. My parents owned the upstairs flat—223 Francisco Street—and my uncle, John Joe’s father, Gianni Garbarino (on left), and uncle, John Fanzago. 13

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Fanzago, owned the downstairs flat. The address of his flat was 221 Francisco Street. It was around the time that my family moved to Francisco Street that my aunt Maria passed away. She had had a terrible life. My uncle John had started out in San Francisco as a painter and then later worked in the Purity grocery store warehouse down the street from our house. But he also drank a lot. My aunt and uncle had two daughters; the elder daughter, Elizabeth, died of a childhood heart ailment, and the younger one, Clara, who was born in 1919, contracted polio at age 3. Clara recovered, but she was left with a lifelong limp. I suppose the sadness of my aunt’s life was too much for her to bear. She died while visiting one of her brothers in Portland, Oregon. After her mother died, my cousin Clara, who is 14 years older than I am, moved upstairs to live with us. Eventually, my mother found the right specialist, and Clara Joe’s parents’ marriage license. had the surgery she needed to relieve her of the leg braces she had worn since she was 3. I have no memory of Clara’s mother. I don’t know exactly when she died. I learned about her death years later, but nobody wanted to talk about what had happened. As far back as I can recall, we were living in the upstairs flat and Clara was living there with us. Clara and I lived together like sister and brother. She always was—and still is—a great gal. Despite the many problems she’s had to deal with in her life, she’s always smiling and happy. She’s 95 now, and still as sharp as ever. She’s an inspiration. With Clara living upstairs with us, her father had extra rooms in his downstairs flat, so he took in two renters—single guys who needed a place to sleep. To make an extra buck, my mother took in my uncle’s renters as her boarders; she served them lunch and dinner every day around our dining room table, and she washed their laundry, made their beds, and kept their rooms downstairs clean. Along with Clara’s father, who boarded with us, and my uncle’s two renters, my mother also took in a fourth boarder who lived elsewhere in the neighborhood. 14 LA VOGLIA

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Baby Joe at about 3 months. The Christmas cards Joe’s parents sent in 1933, featuring baby Joe. T H E E A R LY D AY S I N S A N F R A N C I S C O 15

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Joe, age 4. Baby Joe. Riding a pony in North Beach. 16 LA VOGLIA Rosaline and Joe.

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Joe with his mother and Clara, showing off their noses at the flat in North Beach, about 1960. One of my mother’s longtime boarders was my godfather, Domenico Craviotto. Another was a Scavengers mechanic named Benny Damele. After World War II ended, there was a succession of as many as 50 Italian immigrants who boarded with us as they were getting settled in San Francisco. Almost all of them came from the same area of Italy my parents had come from. And since we all spoke the Genovese dialect, they felt comfortable in our home. I never minded having the boarders around. I grew up with them, and that was the only life I’d ever known. They were like family to me. There was no distinction in my mind between people who were our own true blood relatives and the others who were not really members of our family but with whom we were closely connected. My uncle John—Clara’s father—was originally from Venice, so he didn’t speak Genovese. He understood what everyone around him said, but he didn’t talk much himself. He’d had a hard life, and he wasn’t the talkative type. With the boarders coming and going several times a day, and other neighbors always dropping in to visit, our flat was always full of conversation and laughter and the comforting aromas of my mother’s delicious cooking. Some of the boarders were especially fun to have around. There was one boarder from Cogoleto named Giulito whom I particularly T H E E A R LY D AY S I N S A N F R A N C I S C O 17

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enjoyed. Giulito ended up marrying a lady who had a job delivering the mail back in Italy. She was delivering the letters he wrote home to his brothers, and she started writing to him herself. He eventually brought her over to America and married her. He was about 50 at the time and still single. Marrying her was the best thing that ever happened to Giulito. His wife was a hustler and a hard worker; together they bought some property up in Sonoma County and did very well for themselves. Another of my mother’s boarders was Franco Montarello, who later started Little Joe’s Restaurant in North Beach. No One Like Rosie My mother was known all over North Beach for her cooking. She made the best pasta, the best gravies, the best sauces. And fabulous roasts and potatoes. She made the most delicious fried chicken you could ever want to eat. Her raviolis were outstanding. I don’t know how she did it. I’ve been trying to duplicate her ravioli recipe for years and haven’t quite gotten there yet. And she made everything from scratch—even her pasta and raviolis. She made a fabulous sauce with porcini mushrooms that was so good she even sold it to restaurants in North Beach. (In fact, my mother was so well-known in North Beach for her salsa di funghi, or mushroom sauce, that one time when the whole family showed up at North Beach Restaurant for a special dinner, they couldn’t find our reservation on their books because they had listed us not as Garbarino but as Funghi.) My mom was also a wonderful baker; she was invited to every party, every wedding shower, and every baptism because the hosts knew she’d bring her delicious butter cookies and biscotti. Her Easter cookies were also especially good. Every day she went out and shopped for fresh ingredients. We didn’t have a car, so she walked to the markets in Chinatown and to the Napoli Market on Stockton Street to get her meat and produce, and then she carried the bundle of all that food on her head back up to our flat—three blocks up Stockton to Francisco and then a couple more blocks up Francisco to our house. She did all this on foot, and she was a big woman; she weighed 250 pounds at one point in time. If you were sick, she would take three streetcars to get to where you were to bring you bananas, grapes, 18 LA VOGLIA

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and apples, and the soup and cookies she made while you were in the hospiT hese biscotti are incredibly delicious and softer than store bought. T hey will keep tal. The foods she delivered were made for some time, but because of their populari t y, I’ v e never discovered how long. with love and considered part of the treatment and cure. 6 heaping tsp. grated lemon peel (1 lemon) All day long she cooked and 4 cups flour 3 1/2 tsp. baking powder 1 1/2 cups sugar 2 eggs + 1 egg yolk cleaned. That was her whole life. My 2 cubes butter 1/2 cup milk mother never cared much about dress2 tsp. vanilla 1 1/2 cups walnuts (bits and halves) ing up; unless she was going out to a 1 1/2 tsp. lemon extract egg white baptism or a wedding, she wore sim1T bsp. olive oil ple housedresses and cardigan sweaters that she could work in. And while she 1. Put flour on a wooden board. worked, she’d listen to Italian music and 2. Add sugar to flour on board and make into a circle. the news in Italian that was broadcast 3. Melt butter and add to circle. by the radio show La Voce del Popolo. 4.  A dd to circle (one ingredient at a time) vanilla, lemon extract, olive oil, grated The radio that we had in the kitchen lemon peel, baking powder, 2 eggs + 1 egg yolk. 5. Mix all together, adding milk slowly. was usually on while she worked. 6. Mix in walnuts. My mother wasn’t a great house7. Divide into 6 parts, rolling each part into 16- to 18-inch strips. keeper; she didn’t care about keeping 8.  Put strips on cookie sheet (ungreased) and gently roll down. Brush with egg white. everything shiny and polished. But she 9. Bake at 350’ for 18 minutes. Cool for 60 minutes. 10. Cut into 1-inch diagonal strips with a serrated knife. was always doing something. Most af11. Lie strips on side and return to oven for 7 more minutes, each side. ternoons at around 2 or 2:30 she took a little half-hour nap on the couch, and that would recharge her so that Rosa’s biscotti recipe. Rosa never wrote down recipes, so when the family wanted her biscotti recipe, Rosa laughingly told the she could stay up until 11 at night or recipe to Patty. even midnight, baking cookies and panettones and assembling care packages to send to the folks back in Italy. And in her spare time she made fitted flannel diapers of the highest quality. That was what she did to relax. People loved those diapers. She would crochet all around the edges. You name it; she did it. She was a phenomenal woman. My mother, my sister Rosaline, my cousin Clara, and I ate our meals together with my mother’s boarders like a big family. Twelve people could fit around the rectangular table in our dining room. Whenever we had more than 12 people over for a meal—say, for holidays—we’d pull in the table from the kitchen that my mother used to roll out the dough for her raviolis, and we’d set up folding chairs. We’d squeeze everybody in. Rosa’s Biscotti Ingredients Directions T H E E A R LY D AY S I N S A N F R A N C I S C O 19

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