Sunday, March 11, 2007

New York's Strongest

From the Armory Show, a mirror-panelled garbage truck. It wasn't for sale; it was part of the Ronald Feldman Fine Arts booth (it took up most of it). Artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles created it in 1983 with the cooperation of the City sanitation department and its workers; she called it "Social Mirror." The Department of Sanitation says it still uses the truck in parades.

Ironically, the mirrors on the truck almost make it look invisible. Artnet calls it "a metaphor for the interrelationship between “us” whose images get caught in the mirror and “those” who collect our garbage." Ukeles said "I want people to see themselves in the frame of this trash truck. ... It doesn't belong to the sanitation workers. We are all in this together."

Interestingly, Ukeles seemed more concerned with the social side of garbage collecting, rather than the ecological and economic angles that usually get highlighted.

In New York City, garbage trucks do double duty as snow plows, something that makes most outsiders and new-comers laugh. It's quite pragmatic, though.

Most of us know that "New York's Finest" refers to the police, and it's easy to guess that "New York's Bravest" must be the fire fighters, but it wasn't till recently that I learned that the City's garbage collecters have their own nickname: "New York's Strongest."

According to Barry Popik, a New York City parking violations judge and contributor/consultant to the Oxford English Dictionary, the "Finest" and the "Bravest" were coined in the late nineteenth century, the former coming first. Popik says the term "New York's Strongest" probably didn't show up until the early 80s -- the first mention in the New York Times is from 1981. There's one other term: "New York's Boldest," referring to corrections officers. That's the newest, probably mid-90s.

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