He’s known as the unofficial mayor of downtown Chilliwack.
Harold Zinke, street cleaner with the Downtown Chilliwack BIA, has been picking up what others leave behind for a long time. And today, May 10, marks 20 years to the day that he’s been at it.
“First and foremost he’s a great ambassador for us. Officially his job is to go out and pick up garbage off the street — not a very glorified position — but he does it with such enthusiasm and pride and he always does it with a smile on his face,” says BIA executive director Kyle Williams.
“When I got this job I was so happy,” says Harold. “I’m the garbage police.”
Anyone who’s walked or driven the streets of downtown Chilliwack is almost guaranteed to know Harold… or at least know of him.
There he is, Monday to Friday, rain or shine, pushing his cart along the sidewalks of downtown Chilliwack, snapping up trash left and right. He has a huge, toothy smile and waves to everyone who says “hi” him.
Recently, The Progress joined Harold for a walk-along. He’s just finished lunch and he’s continuing his route on Yale Road.
|(Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)|
On his cart is a tan-coloured, plastic garbage can, a standing dustpan, a broom, and a sharps container. In his right hand is a trash grabber, or as Harold calls it, a nipper. He parks his cart at Five Corners and makes his way east, using his nipper to grab discarded cups, plastic straws, wrappers, broken glass, and even dentures from the streets and sidewalks, plunking them into his dustpan. Once he’s gone about a half a block, he turns around and walks back to his cart, grabbing trash from the other half of the sidewalk along the way.
“I’m a garbage can on wheels,” he says.
Harold is fast. Very fast.
As he picks up garbage, he doesn’t stop walking. He walks and grabs, walks and grabs, along the length of the street. He’s like a trash-grabbing ninja — so quick, the rubbish doesn’t know what hit it.
But that’s what it’s like when you have 20 years experience, he admits.
He’s also extremely accurate.
He picks up hundreds of cigarette butts every day with his nipper, and every one of them Harold nabs on the first try. He could probably snap up a grain of rice with that grabber — his aim is that precise.
“I never get all the cigarette butts, there’s way too many.”
Every day, Harold walks about 10 kilometres and fills up two or three garbage bags of trash on his route. And along the way, he’s constantly looking up to say “hello” to people passing by him on the street, drivers honking at him from their car, and merchants waving from their storefronts.
People of from all walks of life — business people, folks living on the streets, RCMP, children and seniors — acknowledge him as he makes his rounds. A bus driver flashes him a peace sign, a pedestrian gives him a fist bump.
He stops to chat with several people a day.
Harold always knows the latest news. He reads The Progress front to back every issue and watches the news on TV daily. Bump into him on the street and you’ll get a status report on low-income downtown housing, find out how the local sports team is doing, be made aware of when Party in the Park starts this year, and be informed of the newly opened restaurant in town… all in about a minute.
He gets called “buddy” and “sweetheart” and “Mr. Mayor.” One person even said: “I should adopt you as my son to keep my place clean.”
“Half the people, I don’t even know by name,” he admits.
Regardless, he’s polite with everyone.
“People say to me ‘Harold, you’re always so friendly.’ But that’s the way I am, that’s the way I was brought up.”
|“When I got this job I was so happy,” says Harold. “I’m the garbage police.” (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)|
Harold was born here in Chilliwack on Aug. 3, 1962. The year 1999 was significant for him. Not only was he hired with the BIA, but both his parents died within 30 days of each other.
“The day I got hired in 1999, I fell in love with this job because I like to keep our streets nice and clean so that people, when they go for their walk, they see that everything looks so nice,” he says.
It was Lesley Anderson who hired Harold 20 years ago. She was the executive assistant and event coordinator with the BIA from 1996 to 2000. At the time, they were working closely with Chilliwack Employment Services which paired the BIA with Harold who was the “perfect” person for the job.
“He’s a positive person with a positive attitude who wanted to do a job that not many people want to do,” says Anderson. “He loves doing what he’s doing, he’s good at doing what he’s doing, and he’s reliable. He’s got a great memory, a fantastic memory, plus has phenomenal skills and abilities.”
“The biggest thing is his big smile,” Lesley Anderson recalls. “He was so happy and so proud being able to do something to help. I really feel [hiring Harold] is one of the best things that the downtown ever did.”
Anderson is now with the WorkBC Centre in Chilliwack, coincidentally helping people with disabilities find work.
“I would like this to be an opportunity for a lot of employers to look at hiring people who have disabilities. A lot of people can offer so much to many employers.”
“I like working for a living. I like making my own money,” adds Harold.
Some of Harold’s paycheques are put towards sneakers.
“I go through a lot of shoes,” he laughs. “You guys are paying money for gas, I spend it on footwear.”
He buys new runners every two to three months. Stands to reason since he walks approximately 10 kilometres during work hours alone. Harold also walks to and from work, the grocery store, church, and the mall.
“By the end of the day, your feet are tired.”
On Saturdays when he’s out and about, he can’t help but pick up garbage sometimes.
“On the weekends if I have a coffee cup, do you think I’m going to throw it on the ground? No. I’ll walk with it for two blocks and put it in the garbage can.”
|(Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)|
“My apartment is nice and clean, too. On Saturdays I get to vacuum… if stuff needs dusting, I have to do that too,” he adds. “Same with dishes, after I eat — because I do a lot of cooking in the evenings — I wash them right away and put them away. I won’t let them build up.”
People have been known to bring Harold doughnuts, pastries and coffee. He never worries about what he eats because he’s simply going to burn it off walking.
He even receives cash tips. On this day, a man gives Harold a smile and then tosses a $20 bill into his trash can.
He’s been acknowledged in other ways, too. Harold was named “Employee of the Year” at the 2007 Chilliwack Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Awards, and for the 2006-2007 year, the Optimist Club of Chilliwack recognized Harold as their “Citizen of the Year.”
READ MORE: Unofficial “Mayor of Downtown Chilliwack” honoured by MLA in legislature
He pops into Chris Franklin’s business, Michael’s on Main, every day.
Harold is “a little ray of sunshine,” says Franklin.
“Downtown Chilliwack would not be the same without him. No one works harder than this one,” she says.
And at the end of the day?
“I feel very happy. The job is well done and it all looks so nice,” says Harold. “I always get people saying ‘thank you for all the hard work you do downtown,’ and I say ‘you are welcome.’”
READ MORE: Harold Zinke reads holiday safety message for Chilliwack Fire Department
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