Photo by Sandy Huffaker, Jr.
Lee Adams of Metro Vacuum and Cleaning Supply: "What we see is a lot of dog hair, a lot of feces, vomit, and I’ve got to clean it up..."
- I would like to sing the praises of Lee Adams as one of “San Diego’s Best” at doing the dirty work. Daily, he cleans the dust, dirt, grime, gook, food, and feces (yes, feces, believe it or not) from those magical devices that make all grode “disappear” from beneath our feet — our vacuum cleaners. (Yes, feces.) Lee is the premier vacuum cleaner mechanic.
- By the time most vacuums reach us the bag weighs almost as much as the machine and is dogged from top to bottom with absolute ick. This appliance is the garbage disposal of floors. After picturing such a scene one doesn’t generally think of the phrase, “So clean you could eat off it." Yet that is exactly Lee’s goal. Even those “dog vacs,” as we call them, that smell like Fido himself had been sucked up weeks ago come out fresh as a daisy.
- Lee is excellent at his job (not just cleaning, but repairs too) and a very valued employee. I truly believe he is one of San Diego’s Best at such very dirty work, and he has a long line of customers who think so too.
- Heather Roberts
Owner, Metro Vacuum and Cleaning Supply
Lee Adams unscrews the cover from the bottom of a black Hoover upright in the backroom workshop of Metro Vacuum on La Mesa Boulevard in La Mesa. “The vacuum is the most widely abused appliance in the home. You’re supposed to change the belt every three months. You’re supposed to change the bag when it gets to a fill line. But some of the vacuums come in and the belt is the original belt and the vacuum is five years old. The bag is like a pillow, completely packed.”
Adams, a wiry five-foot-nine with short brown hair’ and gray-green eyes, takes out the last screw and pulls the cover off. “This one here is a pretty clean unit, but I can see some food right there.” He flicks a bite-size morsel of something covered with fuzzy mold onto the workbench.
What do they usually look like?
“What we see is a lot of dog hair, a lot of feces, vomit, and I’ve got to clean it up, which isn't so bad because I’ll put it in the deep sink.” Adams points to the vacuum motor, which is about the size of a coffee can. “Once I found a whole mouse right here in the intake. I find all kinds of neat stuff. I’ve found a whole necktie stuck inside there. I’ve found pieces of a mouse up inside there; you know, mice-in-a-blender type of thing.
“You find some stinky stuff in vacuums too. Some of these vacuums I open up, the smell would make you sick. People with dogs come in and say, ‘Gosh, I pulled out the vacuum today and it smells so bad,’ Well, for five years, it’s been vacuuming up dog! I’ve gotten to the point where I can tell you what kind of dog you’ve got by your vacuum."
Sometimes the source of the odor is not a dog. “Somebody vomits at a party,” Adams says, “and they don’t want Mom to find out so they vacuum it up and then bring the vacuum to me and say, ‘We had a party the other night. There’s some booze and stuff in there. Can you clean it up before my mom gets home?’ That happened to me. I opened it up and it was, Ohhhhh no,” he scrunches his face and turns away as from a foul odor. “These are paper bags — you’re not supposed to pick wet stuff up with them. They break and all that stuff goes into the compartment.”
In his four years of working on them, Adams has grown accustomed to handling filthy vacuums and says he never feels nauseated, though he does admit to avoiding “the real gross ones right after I eat lunch.” The one thing that does get to him is bugs. “One of the grossest ones I ever had came from a restaurant. When I opened it up like I just did, bugs crawled out. I’m not talking about a couple hundred, I’m talking about zillions of little mite things. It was a soft bag and when I unzipped it they came crawling out. I was like...” he makes a retching gesture. “The worst part of the job would probably be bugs. One bug, ten bugs, couple cockroaches coming out of a vacuum, that’s one thing. But when you’ve got ten zillion living in rotten food matter and they think you can clean all of that stuff up out of that porous bag —not the paper bag, but the ones like that one right there,” he points to an old Kirby with a zip-up bag.
“Those are probably the worst ones, without a doubt. Vomit and that kind of stuff, you can hold your breath and you’re washing it real fast, and it’s not like you sit there and pull it apart and play with it. The hair and stuff, that might gross a lot of people out. If I have hair in my food, that makes me nauseous. But if I have hair on my hands or right here on the table, I don’t care whose hair it is. But all of those bugs, that makes me a little grossed out.”
The best part of his job, Adams says, is “when somebody brings in a vacuum that another vacuum shop has given them a real high estimate on, or said it’s not worth repairing, and I fix it for a minimal charge. I’ve got quite a clientele coming back just from people walking in who have never met me before and I fix their vacuum and they say, ‘It works as good as the day it was made.’ When you see them come back in here and say, ‘Hi, Lee. I’m back,’ that’s definitely the high point of my job.”