The Wizards Unleashed
By Vince Basehart
Walking the alley between 4th Street
and the Promenade is like peeking
behind Disneyland’s Main Street.
Instead of a headless Mickey Mouse
taking a smoke break, you find the
heroes who keep Santa Monica’s
shopping, dining and movie-going Eden
pristine, the wizards who keep the
magic alive. Beneath Parking Structure
4 is their barracks.
Every night, when the Promenade
is mostly asleep, the stores are
closed, and the last of the late
night moviegoers trickle from the
theaters, a small army is unleashed.
Mark Anthony Moreno works for the
city. He points to a squadron of
motorized vehicles parked at the
ready behind him. They look like
a cross between golf carts, RVs
and Star Wars hovercraft. Moreno,
burly at age 43, describes their
Motorized street sweepers are the
first to move out. These are the
SUV-sized vehicles with giant swirling
scrub brushes beneath rubber skirts,
scraping away the dust, plastic
bags, paper, leaves, food wrappers,
newspaper and other debris. The
brushes push the stuff into a massive
vacuum at the back of the vehicle
that has enough suction power to
inhale the average kindergartner.
Men wielding push brooms follow
the scrubbing beast, reaching behind
benches and trashcans for stray
bits, and whisking them into the
machines’ all-consuming maw.
After the scrubbers pass, other
vehicles resembling ice hockey’s
Zamboni machines move in. They blast
a combination of water and cleaning
solvents into the pavement at paint-peeling
pressures, and quickly ingest and
recycle the liquid, leaving only
a clean, shining wake in its path.
Again, a platoon of men fans out,
following these machines. They work
hand-held pressure washers, concentrating
a blast of water and solvent mixture
like a chisel onto spots of mashed-in
chewing gum and graffiti, rubber
tire marks, stains and other tattooed-on
blemishes. Delivering 700 pounds
of pressure per square inch, the
solution can cut through a steel-toed
work boot and the flesh underneath
it in an instant.
The cleaners assault the parking
garages and bathrooms, riding a
fleet of nimble motorized carts.
They destroy filth with a swath
of pressurized hygienic foam, and
empty trashcans by hand.
The legendary Ed Greenberg, who
recently celebrated his 30th year
of service to the city, would have
made a great general. He knows his
mission. His men love him.
"It runs like a well-oiled
tank army," he says of his
crew of 20 and their machines. Their
area of operation includes the Promenade
and from Ocean to 5th, Wilshire
to Colorado. "But if someone
calls we'll go out to 6th or 7th
to clear out some debris,"
says Greenberg. "We service
pretty much any place downtown."
The crew works every bit of the
clock but for a small stretch during
the wee hours. Even then, they're
ready to go at a moment's notice.
Greenberg recalls having to respond
at 3:00 a.m. to vandals who'd broken
the glass on one of the fire hoses
and uncapped a torrent until you
could "float a canoe down 4th
Street it was so deep."
They see things Promenade-goers
don’t want to see. They find
syringes used by drug users. They
find knives. They once stumbled
upon a pistol in a parking structure
that became police evidence in a
They find bodies. Moreno remembers
coming upon the corpse of a homeless
woman laying face down in an alley.
“At first we thought she was
just sleeping. We soon realized
she was dead.”
Occasionally there are even “jumpers,”
by which Moreno means the tormented
individuals who take a plunge off
the parking structures. Being a
HazMat certified cleaning crew,
they even know the right chemical
absorbents and methods to use to
eliminate these sad reminders.
They remove feces, vomit, blood,
gum, soda, filth. They use emulsifying
degreasers, environmentally sound
detergents. They know the exact
amount of pressure to apply to a
surface, the right cleaner to use
on any given material. They know
things we don’t know.
But, among all of the hygienic
horrors these warriors combat, there
is one that keeps them up at night.
"Jacaranda season," Moreno
states, as if whispering the devil’s
name. He is referring to the stunningly
beautiful but sticky, stinky, purple
blooms of the ubiquitous African tree
that erupt in their filthy glory in
Spring. “It’s the pits.”