The bubbly bath that transforms a plain old slice of potato into a crispy brown french fry requires its very own pickup team for removal. That's where David Martin, age 35, (in front) and David Sewell, age 21, come in. They wheel their giant grease truck around the streets of New York and New Jersey, sucking up the old oil from restaurants and hospitals and hotels, always keeping their eyes open for the next crazy thing to happen.
David Martin explains, "They can't just throw the grease out; it has to be recycled, so we take it to our plant and they recycle it to make soap and makeup; at least that's that's what I hear; soap like Tylol, for mopping up the floor. I'm from Georgia, and my neighbors used to make lye soap, so I knew you could make soap out of oil, but I never knew there was a business like this. And it's a big business!
"I've been doing this for ten years. I was working for a restaurant, doing maintenance, and these guys were picking up the oil from my restaurant. They asked me, did I know anyone that needed a job, and I was like, 'How much do you pay?' And when they told me, I said, 'Hey! I'll join!'
"The restaurants have 55 gallon containers that hold the old oil and also really large containers, that hold 300 to 500 gallons. We have two methods of taking them out: we vacuum them out or we roll them onto a flatbed truck: what we call it a barrel truck.
"Our truck holds 3,000 gallons. Today, I'll probably have about four or five 500 gallon containers to do. And then, all around the city, different stores carry maybe one 55-gallon container, or three 55-gallon containers, so you can just imagine the number of stops I'm going to do today, from 4 o'clock this morning to 3 or 4 o'clock this afternoon.
"When we have the trucks with the open body, sometimes we have to walk on the full barrels to get to the empty ones, and one time I fell inside of one. Waist deep in old oil! I had just started on the job when it happened, and I felt really disgusted. And my partner laughed at me, all day long. It was crazy. Was I set up? Its a possibility!"
David Sewell pipes up. "That never happened to me, but there have been lots of time that oil has spilled on me and I gotta take the train, so I'll be smelling all disgusting on the train, and people are looking at me. And I'll go, 'What's that smell?'
David Martin relates. "That used to be me, when I first started and I was still taking the train. But then I bought a car and I drive to work. And luckily it's a work car, and no one gets in it.
"I love the job. I like getting up every morning and going to work...I'm just a workaholic! In the ten years that I've worked, I've probably only missed about maybe, I would say, two weeks, altogether. I mean, I have a strong immune system. If I was to get sick with, let's say, the flu? Two days, tops, and then I'm back to work.
"I just love coming out and dealing with the people, and talking to my guys that I work with. I can't say it's a thrill, suckin' out oil all day long and rollin' those barrels; that doesn't do it for me. But it's great, just being in the city, waiting for something crazy to happen...at any given time, something just might happen, and then you're laughin' and enjoyin' the day!"