Singing worker gives a full-throated effort

NEW YORK -- As he heaved two heavy bags of garbage into the back of a sanitation truck, Andrew Macchio greeted residents emerging from their Upper East Side apartments with a chorus of his favorite tunes -- his operatic voice resounding up and down East 65th Street.

For Macchio, hauling trash is the required part of his job as a city sanitation worker; singing is the joyful part of his daily work routine.

"Rainy days are tough," he said, interrupting a verse of "Amazing Grace" one recent drizzly morning. "Wintertime is tough, too, but I absolutely love to sing.

"When I do, I get a great sense of accomplishment. My job is not glamorous. If I'm not singing, I'm thinking about what I have to do," he said.

His repertoire includes patriotic tunes like "God Bless America" and standards such as Frank Sinatra's "My Way." Clad in a green uniform and rubber boots, the man with a song on his lips also has a tendency to surprise jaded Manhattanites who don't expect garbage men to entertain as they clean.

"I heard him sing on the street one morning and I thought it was the radio," said Jim Lee, the owner of a dry cleaning business. "He's funny, and he sings directly to people. He should pursue singing professionally."

Garbage collection

Instead, the 57-year-old Macchio has spent the past 23 years hauling garbage. He and his partner collect 13 tons every day from the streets of Manhattan stretching eastward from Central Park.

Residents have come to recognize Macchio's voice -- and wonder. "Many have come up to me and asked, 'What are you doing picking up garbage?"' said Macchio.

Born and raised in East Harlem, he learned to sing hymns in Latin while attending parochial school. But as a child he also developed a stage fright so serious it kept him from pursuing a professional career.

"My mother would ask me to sing 'Green Eyes,' and I'd freeze up," he said. "You'd think over the years I would have gotten over it."

Later, Macchio conquered his stage fright enough to perform in community theater, but he has continued working for the sanitation department.

He said the most meaningful impact his voice has made was during the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack, when he sang patriotic songs while helping with the cleanup effort at Ground Zero.

Macchio's co-worker, Louis Santora, said his partner's voice is inspirational.

"He keeps a smile on my face all day long," Santora said while Macchio belted out a verse of "My Country 'Tis of Thee." "I leave all the singing up to him."

Although committed to his job in city sanitation, Macchio knows retirement is in his future -- and life as a professional singer could be possible.

"All I would like to do are cabaret-style shows," he said. "It's very intimate. But I need a little help getting over my nerves."

Macchio has trained with Manhattan singer and vocal coach Jerry Landon, who says that he has potential.

"He needs some work, as we all do, but he has a lot to say," said Landon. "He's touched people. The person that he is, that's what we hear as he sings."