When the city garbage truck pulled up at the machine shop on Kings Mountain Street, as it has for more years than anybody can count, Eddie Currence came outside to wave at the big black guy who always drove the truck and tooted his horn and smiled and waved.
Eddie Currence did not know the driver’s name. But he knew the driver always took time for hello, to wave, to ask Currence how he was doin’.
Often times, Currence would walk out with an ice-cold water and thank the driver.
But on Friday, inside the truck was a young guy named Matt Vaughn.
“Where’s the big guy?” asked Currence. “Did he retire?”
“No, I hate to be the one to tell you this,” Vaughn said, in almost the same words he had said to dozens of customers Thursday and Friday, “but Pokey died.”
“The hell you say!” said Currence, not to use bad language, just not wanting to believe. “He was so friendly. Pokey was a nice, gentle man of the South. He was my friend, and I didn’t even know his real name.”
York’s garbage man, Paul Darby – called “Pokey” since childhood and throughout this city of about 8,000 – died Wednesday at 57.
“Everybody knew Pokey, ‘The Trash Man,’ ” said Dexter Burns, a co-worker at the city’s sanitation department for years. “The whole town knew him. I’ve had to tell people, too.
“People just can’t believe Pokey is gone.”
Pokey Darby came to work at the city 17 years ago, hired by Charles Helms, who is now the city manager but at that time was over public works. Pokey was always at work, always on time, worked every holiday and Summerfest and any other time for an extra dollar.
“A hard worker and good person,” said Helms, using words to describe a working man that must be earned.
Pokey had what regular people call “sugar” – diabetes. At 57, the disease finally was too much. He leaves a wife, two sons he put through college on that garbage truck, and three grandchildren.
Pokey Darby was so well-known and loved on that garbage route – a job that is not glamorous and can smell to high heaven in the summer – that people would come out and wait by the garbage bins just for a chance to say “hello.”
Pokey was the garbage man in white neighborhoods and black, among Hispanics and all others. Kids would run after the truck because Pokey would blow the truck horn and make those kids laugh, and who knows how many coins he gave out to kids for treats.
“People who only knew my husband as the man who took in the garbage loved him, so much that many of them came to see him in the hospital,” said Lisa Darby, his wife of 24 years. “Everybody in York knew Pokey. He loved people.”
And people loved Pokey.
Pokey was a garbage man, but at 3 p.m. Sunday at St. Luke #2 Baptist Church in Sharon, York Mayor Eddie Lee will deliver the eulogy at his funeral.
The men had been friends for decades, dating back to childhood in western York County, where both families come from. The men were so close they called each other “Cuz” – but are not cousins at all.
Except in spirit, where it really matters.
“Pokey Darby was a friend of mine, but far more than that, he was a friend to every person in this city through that garbage truck,” Lee said. “He was a legend because he was so friendly. Just like the old gospel spiritual, ‘Sweet Chariot’ – that garbage truck was his chariot.”
Matt Vaughan, driving Pokey Darby’s chariot Friday morning, had to tell more and more people about Pokey’s passing.
“Pokey Darby trained me, and he was my friend and co-worker, and it just don’t seem right or fair that he’s gone,” Vaughn said. “You never met a nicer guy.”
But Vaughn then did something, a tribute, that seemed just about right.
The Darby family, dealing with the loss, did not have a chance to put out the wheeled bin for the garbage truck to pick up. So Matt Vaughn, before heading out on his normal route, stopped at the house again, to pay respects, again.
Then he went and got the garbage bin, got back into the truck, and used the big pinchers that new trucks have to pick up the bin and dump its contents into the truck.
Then he took the bin back to the side of the house and drove off to tell others in his city that “The Trash Man” had made his last pickup.