July in Memphis: You need a way to keep cool. At 10:30 a.m. it’s 88 degrees but feels hotter; by 4 p.m., when the crew is done, it will be 94 degrees. Mike Griffin wears a long-sleeved T-shirt under his fluorescent green vest and, under that, a wet towel around his neck that he recharges periodically with water from a bottle in a cooler. His partner, Mike Holloway, doesn’t believe in the neck towel. He likes a straw hat, and keeps bottles of water in his trouser pockets as he hangs onto the back of the garbage truck.
This route, which the men call Alcy after its main road, is humble single-family homes where most residents are African-American. Small churches are seemingly everywhere: Dixie Heights Congregation, New Harvest Baptist Church, Christ Covenant Church International. Griffin drives fast between stops, and sets the brake and jumps out to help Holloway at most of them—the faster they work, the sooner they’ll be done. The streets are lined with trash cans that people have rolled out for this once-a-week pickup. But at one