As Gavin Andrus takes a seat at the helm of a green John Deere tractor, it’s still dark out at the Santa Monica Pier. The stationary Ferris wheel is silhouetted against the city sky, and unseen waves crash against the pilings and lap against the sandy shore. The rhythmic onslaught brings with it the flotsam and jetsam of modern society: plastic grocery bags, cigarette butts, straws. Some of this refuse may have been expelled from the city storm drains. Some of it may have been cast off by thoughtless beachgoers the day before. And some of it may have been borne on the currents, washing in from Mexico or Japan or who knows where.
For the next five hours or so, Andrus’s job is to clean up as much of it as possible before the crowds arrive. He has the south side of the pier. Two other tractors will take care of the north. “Grandma needs a new facelift every day,” he tells me when I hop in the cab with him a little after sunrise. Behind him, the rake attached to the tractor kicks up a kaleidoscope of colored plastic and broken glass, churning in a vortex of liquified sand.