“Sometimes I like to give them a little head start,” Hansen said, shifting the truck into neutral. “No more than ten seconds.”

Heart pounding, Rebecca Swain leaned forward in the passenger seat to peer down the hood of the truck. Hansen gently lowered the scoop of the plow, then pressed the accelerator with his boot, revving the engine. The tent on the sidewalk began to shift.

Hansen checked his watch. “Seven, six….”

The tent flap opened, and a grizzled head poked out, eyes blinking against the truck’s penetrating high beams.

“…two. One.”

Hansen floored the accelerator. Rebecca gripped the handlebar on her door frame, her stomach leaping into her throat, as the truck roared forward.

The homeless man’s eyes went wide. He made a desperate, scrambling leap for safety, but the truck was on him like a pouncing tiger. The teeth of the plow ripped through the tent, plunging into the homeless man’s writhing body; a single, piercing scream and it was over.

“See,” Hansen explained. “We gave him fair warning.”

Rebecca’s mouth dropped open. Cold sweat dripped down her arms.

“Let’s see if we can get the whole mess,” Hansen said, backing up the truck. The plow rumbled over the asphalt of the sidewalk as it scooped up the homeless man’s tent, shopping cart, corpse, and assorted possessions. Hansen jerked a lever and the plow began to rise, hoisting the whole caboodle over the cab, dumping loudly into the truck bed.

Hansen lit a cigarette. “That’s all there is to it.” He pointed at the sidewalk, where the homeless man’s few remaining possessions lay strewn across the ground. “There’s some shit left, but so what.”

Rebecca took a deep breath. “Don’t you feel…bad?” she asked.

“About what?”


“I’d feel worse if I was unemployed.”

Rebecca knew the feeling. After a slew of menial, underpaid, soul-sucking jobs back east, she’d moved to Portland, Oregon for a fresh start. Found an overpriced apartment, and searched desperately for a job. Any job. About a month into her new life, Portland passed City Ordinance 534. The city budgeted an obscene amount of money to address its homeless problem—which problem could also be described as obscene. Rebecca became a sidewalk reclamation engineer.

“18 bucks an hour, plus benefits,” Hansen said, as they cruised up Sandy Blvd. toward the 205 interchange. “Finally, I can look myself in the mirror. Call myself a man again.”

Rebecca had learned, riding in the truck since midnight, that Robert Hansen had been laid off from his factory job at Nike five years earlier. He was divorced. He had nicknamed the truck Celeste, after his ex-wife. He smoked Eagle 20s.

“They like to camp out on the grassy slopes beside the highway,” Hansen said, flicking his cigarette butt out the window. “But the company had this bad boy fitted with off-road semi-tires. We could drive up Mt. Hood if we wanted to.”

To prove his point, Hanson thumped over the curb of the freeway onramp, lurching onto the triangular grassy knoll between the onramp and the freeway. Several tents and tarp-shelters slouched amidst a few short trees.

“Not sure all four of these camps will fit in the bed,” Hansen said. “But we’ll sure as hell try. Come on, Celeste, you rusty old bitch, do what you do best.”

Rebecca closed her eyes as the truck catapulted across the knoll. The first tent crunched beneath the tires like twigs under a hiker’s boot. Hansen ran right over it and squashed the next tent, explaining that in the case of several tents in a single encampment, he preferred not to give them a sporting chance to escape, since one or two usually did.

“They’re crafty fuckers, they are,” he growled, in a slight Irish lilt. “They learn how to survive, living on the street.”

The screams of the dying woke up the man and woman in the last tent, and they lurched outside, sprinting away in different directions. Hansen went after the woman, who was obese. The man was skinnier. His knobby knees kicked high in the air as he ran for his life.

The thump the woman made under the plow was surprisingly soft, reminding Rebecca of a raccoon she had once run over. She had felt terrible. Now she felt nauseas.

The truck stalled over the fat woman’s corpse, her entrails muddling the wheel bearings.

“Shit, the dude’s going to get away,” Hansen muttered. He picked up his radio. “Eagle to Hawk, over.”

A scratchy man’s voice came over the radio. “Hawk here. Go ahead, Eagle.”

“Jeffrey, we got a runner on 205 northbound, and I have four sites to clean up. Number one male, blue jeans, long hair.”

“I got him.”

Hansen replaced his radio. “Let’s take a look at the wheels,” he said.

Rebecca shakily stepped out of the truck. Hansen crouched beside the wheel wells, directing a flashlight beam into Celeste’s undercarriage. “Yup. She was a big girl,” he said.

There was blood everywhere. Rebecca wanted to throw up.

“I’m just gonna back ’er up,” Hansen said. “Stand out here and watch, if you want. Stand clear of the bucket.”

“The what?” Rebecca said.

Hansen pointed at the plow, mounted on the front of the truck. It was a huge yellow steel scoop, hard-set and uncompromising, like the jaw of a G.I. Joe. Rebecca took a step backward. Hansen backed up the truck, lowered the plow, and scooped up the homeless woman’s remains.

Up the highway, Rebecca heard the squeal of tires, and faintly, a man yelling “Fuck you!” She turned just in time to see another of her company’s trucks careen across the freeway median, crunching the skinny homeless man like a paper doll.

“Good work, Jeff!” Hansen shouted.

It took them half an hour to shovel the four homeless camps into the truck bed. When they were done, there was still an astounding amount of trash lying around: empty bottles, shopping carts, trash bags full of clothes, flattened cans. The homeless were dead and gone, but their legacy was hardly invisible.

“We have a full load,” Hansen said. “We’ll hit the transfer station before we head back out. You falling asleep yet?”

It was pushing 3AM. Rebecca shook her head, unconvincingly covering a yawn.

“You’ll get used to working nights,” Hansen said.

They cruised west along Columbia Blvd, past the airport, past the village of St. Johns, to the industrial no-man’s-land beyond Smith Lake and Bybee Lake. The night was quiet and cool. Rebecca sipped coffee as Hansen told her about his pet macaw parrot.

“They live forever,” he said. “Someone’ll have to take care of him after I’m dead. But they’re great pets, once you get used to the smell of bird shit.”

They turned off Lombard Street into a vast parking lot. A faceless gray building stretched out into the long shadows of the night. Another company truck passed them leaving the transfer station, and Hansen honked, waving at the driver.

They drove around to the back of the building. Several loading bays stood open, like hungry mouths. Hansen backed the truck up to the nearest bay. The transfer station smelled like what Rebecca imagined Hell must smell like.

“Now you get to meet Munchausen,” Hansen said.


“The night shift guy. Only dude I know who loves his job more than I do.”

Once the truck was backed up to the loading bay, a short, skinny man with Buddy Holly glasses and a green jumpsuit came outside to greet them.

“Rebecca,” Hansen said. “Dylan Munchausen.”

Munchausen looked a little bit like a ferret. He grinned with a mouthful of coffee-stained teeth.

“Rebecca’s the new trainee,” Hansen said.

“Hello, Clarice,” Munchausen whispered.

Rebecca got out of the truck and paced in circles, trying not to vomit, while Hansen dumped the contents of the truck bed into an incinerator located inside the loading bay. Flesh and blood and canvas all went up in shit-smelling brown smoke.

While Rebecca crouched with her head between her knees, taking deep breaths, Munchausen told her about his life. He had moved to Portland from Buffalo, New York, where he had worked at the city morgue.

“This job is much better,” he said. “I’ll show you why.”

He disappeared into the transfer station, returning a few minutes later with a fire hose.

“Give her a clean sweep, Munchy,” Hansen said. “We’re heading back out for another load.”

Munchausen climbed onto the roof of the truck cab, cranked the nozzle on the fire hose, and unleashed a torrent of water. Blood and grime cascaded out of the bed, swirling into a nearby drain. Munchausen grinned like a kid who had found his dad’s gun.

The truck bed was clean in about five minutes. Hansen smoked a cigarette, checking Facebook on his phone while they waited. Munchausen hopped off the cab of the truck, slinging the fire hose over his shoulder. He walked proudly up to Rebecca, his glasses beaded with water.

“Do you like sushi?” he asked.



“I’m not hungry.”

Rebecca and Hansen got back in the truck, and headed out into the city. They murdered a few more homeless people, then stopped at the 24-hour Burgerville for their lunch break. Rebecca watched the sun come up over the distant looming behemoth of Mt. Hood.

“I’m not sure I can do this, Robert,” she said. “I need a job, but not this bad.”

“I know it’s ugly,” Hansen said, punching his chest to clear a belch from his throat. “But this is what happens when society ignores a problem. The homeless situation gets worse every year. The streets are unsightly. Downtown Portland looks like the apocalypse. Thank God they passed Ordinance 534. Finally, we have a solution.”

“Couldn’t the city just provide housing for them?” Rebecca said.

“With my tax dollars? No fucking way.”

“Services, at least?”

“We are providing a service,” Hansen said. “A service to the community.”

Rebecca stared at the sunrise. Sunrises were supposed to be beautiful, but this one burned her caffeinated, bloodshot eyes.

“There has to be a better way,” she said.

“We get six weeks’ paid vacation,” said Hansen.

“Holy shit, really?”

“I used to work in an Amazon warehouse. Now at least I have some dignity.”

Rebecca sipped Coke out of a 64-ounce cup. She thought about six weeks of vacation. She could rent a condo in Seaside for the month of August.

“So,” Hansen said, “you ready to drive the truck?”


It took her a few weeks to overcome her conscience, but soon Rebecca adjusted to her new job, diligently reclaiming the city’s sidewalks. At first, she followed Hansen’s example, offering the homeless a chance to clear out, before she bulldozed all their worldly possessions. She rustled tents in the middle of the night, pleading with the indigents to move. But then one night a toothless crazy woman called her a “fat, bowlegged cunt,” which Rebecca felt was not an accurate description of her physique, and after that, Rebecca rampaged through Portland, pancaking tents without mercy.

In August, she was able to rent a condo on the ocean for the entire month. She spent every day walking on the beach, proud that she finally had a job that paid well, and served a greater good.

Portland began to look much cleaner. Without tent cities and tarp compounds clogging every unclaimed inch of public property, the Rose City began to bloom. Which became a problem for the sidewalk reclamation engineers. By autumn, all the homeless were dead, and all of their trash piles had been bulldozed and swept away. This created strife within Rebecca’s company.

“I don’t see why we should lose our jobs for over-performing,” Hansen complained at their monthly company meeting.

Harvey Carignan, Director of Operations, pointed out that there were simply no more homeless, that Ordinance 534 had accomplished its mission. There was no longer demand for so many full-time reclamation engineers.

“There are plenty of people in Portland who look homeless, but might not be,” pointed out Dick Ramirez, another driver. “Maybe we should start running them over, just in case.”

“I’d like to run everybody over, believe me,” said Carignan. “But the money is drying up. Our trucks guzzle a lot of gas. Maintenance bills are through the roof. We can’t continue to justify the costs.”

“Surely there must be some residual demand for our services,” said Rebecca. “Given the cyclical nature of unemployment and the long-term volatility of the economy, won’t there always be new homeless people?”

“We’re going to keep a skeleton crew,” Carignan said. “City Hall has promised us just enough dough to keep the lights on. But what can I say? We did a fantastic job.”

“Then why are we being punished?” asked Ramirez.

“Who’s getting laid off?” Hansen wanted to know. “I think job security should be based on seniority.”

Several of the other drivers agreed. One man, Pete Kurten, had been killing people for so long, it was the only thing he knew how to do. “Only thing I’m qualified for,” he said.

Cold fear squeezed Rebecca’s guts. She was still the newbie, and she could not afford to be unemployed. Rent in Portland was astronomical. Someone should start running over landlords, she thought, for the public good.

“What if we all agreed to work reduced hours,” she said. “That way everyone could keep their jobs.”

Hansen scoffed. “My alimony doesn’t pay itself, while I’m out at the bar every morning.”

Rebecca, too, was divorced, but she chose not to mention it. One more reason she did not want to move back east.

“I’m sorry, folks,” said Harvey Carignan. “The hammer’s gonna fall. You’ve all done a fine job, and you should be proud.”


On Rebecca’s last day with the company, there was a pizza party to celebrate the hard work of those reclamation engineers who were losing their jobs. Rebecca noticed that Hansen and Kurten, who were keeping their jobs, ate the most pizza. Dylan Munchausen showed up, and meticulously picked every single mushroom off his pizza slices, then built a little pile of mushrooms on the table, which he placed in a plastic baggie, and later took home.

Rebecca filed for unemployment, but the bimonthly checks were not enough to cover her rent and living expenses. She spent all day, every day, during her last month before eviction, desperately scouring the Internet for jobs. All she could find were openings for part-time baristas at Bikini Brew or Amazon warehouse jobs. Torn between selling her body or her soul, she applied for both positions. The 22-year-old baby girl who interviewed her for Bikini Brew informed her, not very politely, that most of the baristas were younger than Rebecca. At the Amazon interview, Rebecca asked the interviewer what the job posting meant when it said “you will work alongside robots.” She was not hired for either position.

Her life soon came down to a hard choice: pack up and move back east in shame or embrace the frontier ideology and move into a tent, filled with all her possessions, on the sidewalk somewhere.

The one advantage Rebecca had, as a newly homeless street-dweller, was that she had worked as a sidewalk reclamation engineer. She knew how to escape the murderous crush of the plows. You simply had to find a place where the trucks could not drive. Down by the river, under a bridge, was probably the safest place.

She hiked downtown with her tent and a shopping cart full of her remaining, un-pawned possessions, and selected a piece of waterfront property under the Hawthorne Street Bridge. It was rocky beside the Willamette River, but Rebecca only planned to live there until she found another job.

All night long, she heard the rumble of the trucks on the bridge, surging into the city to slay the newly homeless.

Her third night down by the river, she was awakened in her tent by a tremendous beam of light. Covering her eyes, she peeled off her sleeping bag, staggered across damp piles of clothes to open the tent flap.

Outside, a large boat floated in the shallows of the river. It looked like a cross between a barge and a tank, like some Frankenstein monster had escaped from a military facility. On the deck was a mounted cannon which, squinting, Rebecca saw was a high-powered fire hose. A skinny little man with Buddy Holly glasses stood on the deck, manning the hose.

“Munchausen?” Rebecca whispered.

She stumbled out of her tent. A trickle of water dripped from the cannon barrel of the hose. A floodlight on the bridge of the boat lit up her entire camp. Painted letters on the boat’s towering hull read “Celeste.”

Rebecca shielded her eyes and peered into the boat’s cabin. Robert Hansen stood at the helm, his lips moving.

“Ten, nine, eight…”