“When I started here in 1971 as a sweeper,” says building supervisor Rudy Corona, as his flatbed cart zips through the hallways of Qualcomm Stadium, “I made $2.65 an hour. Now I make almost $18.00 an hour. In those days the Padres only had 2000 fans per game, so there were only 12 employees cleaning up the whole stadium. Now I’ve got 50 part-timers and 20 full-timers.” It’s just after six in the morning on the Monday after the Chargers’ loss to the Carolina Panthers. The stadium lights, still on in the early morning half light, illuminate tiny drops of rain falling from the sky. The parking lot and the stadium are full of trash that needs removal. The bathrooms are dirty. The press box is a mess. The skyboxes need cleaning.
Rudy Corona, a short, stout man of 46 years, is responsible for doing all this. How does he do it? “I’ve got a lot of crews,” he answers with a Mexican accent. “I’ve got a crew of about 40 sweepers. I’ve got two people who clean the press level. I’ve got another crew of five for the bathrooms. I’ve got five people working on the parking lot. This way, everybody knows what they are doing.”
Corona steers the cart up one of the spiral ramps on the outside of the stadium,' stops at the top or “view” level, and walks into the stadium. A heavy odor of day-old beer and hot dog buns is omnipresent. Broom-wielding workers ring the stadium, pushing trash down rows into aisles, scooping it into trash cans. “We start from the top and move down,” Corona explains. “It’s just brooms and buckets. It’s going to take three to four hours to clean up this level. Then they go on to the next level and take another three to four hours to clean that level and then they go to the next level. We’ll finish up tomorrow at about ten o’clock in the morning. It’s going to take 16 hours in all.”
Though yesterday’s crowd of 63,000 was one of the biggest in stadium history — but not big enough to lift a TV blackout — Corona says the size of the crowd doesn’t affect his hours. “It’s the same if you’ve got 50,000 or 60,000,” he says, “because the people use the same sections. The Aztecs have 25 to 35,000 and it takes the same time because they use all of the levels. With the Padres, it’s different because you’ve got 29,000 and you close half the view level.”
The trash collected on each level is brought to one of two shoots, just like the trash shoots in an apartment building, where it’s dumped, ending up in a room at the ground floor where, with luck, a bin is waiting. The bin is towed by tractor to the southwest corner of the parking lot where two large trash compactors sit. Corona drives the cart back down the spiral ramp to the ground-floor trash room. It’s about the size of a large master bedroom and it’s half full of reeking trash. “This is just one section,” he says.
From there he heads through the parking lot toward the compactors. Piles of burned-out charcoal left by tailgaters dot the parking lot. Many of the garbage cans are overturned and trash is strewn about. Corona says the tailgaters are messy, but they’re not responsible for the whole mess. “The tailgaters aren’t the ones who tip over the cans,” he says. “It’s the people who come in the night to look for cans. They do it after every game. I’ve tried to lock the gate to keep them out, but you can’t do it. This is city land and it’s supposed to be open all of the time.”
After a three-minute ride, Corona’s cart reaches the compactor area where a portable radio blasts mariachi music. The beer-and-hot-dog-bun smell is ten times stronger here than it was in the stadium. The compactors are each about 50 feet long and 10 feet wide. Eventually, all the trash from the stadium and parking lot will come through these compactors before being trucked to Miramar Landfill. Forks on the compactor lift and dump the bins of trash being towed back and forth from the stadium. One full bin sits in front of a compactor. Corona pushes it onto the forks and flips a switch. The compactor strains to lift the bin but can’t. It’s too heavy. “We’ll have to shovel it in,” he says.
Corona estimates that 40 tons of trash will be removed from the stadium and parking area. “That’s a lot of work,” he says, “but I’ve got a good crew here. I’ve got a team. When you’ve got a team, everything is easy."