Steven Salustri and Matthew Purner see a side of the Coachella Valley lifestyle that stays hidden to most of us. And although they’ve lived here only since last spring, they’re frequently recognized when they go out to eat and shop. If their names don’t come immediately to mind, that’s OK; they’re used to being called “the junk guys.”
Since July 5, Salustri and Purner have been driving one of their two 1-800-GOT-JUNK? trucks around the valley to haul away “anything that’s not hazardous that two people can lift.” About 70 percent gets recycled (i.e., appliances, wood and green waste, concrete, and nonworking electronics) or donated (i.e., home furnishings and clothing) to Angel View Crippled Children’s Foundation or Revivals (Desert AIDS Project) thrift stores.
Sometimes, Salustri and Purner have to do “cleanouts,” especially for estates. In one instance, after a woman in her 80s had died, they discovered “two full drawers of adult toys.” Another time, they had to don masks to pick up 12 to 15 jars of olives being pickled in a bathtub. They’ve hauled away a 14-foot aluminum fishing boat, the hardtop of a vintage Jaguar, 30 nonworking TV sets from a timeshare property, and the recently replaced Palm Springs Air Museum sign.
Most of their jobs involve people cleaning out yards, sheds, and garages.
“It’s always interesting what people are keeping,” Salustri says. But they have learned to be sensitive to customers’ definition of “junk.” Instead of saying, “What about this?” when they see something they expect would be part of the pile, they say, “OK, is there anything else in the garage you would like us to take?”
Sometimes the answer turns to yes when people regain space. “We may start with a quarter of a truck [they want picked up], and we will leave with a full truckload,” Salustri says.
Salustri, a former sales manager for a trash company, and Purner, a former consultant to pharmaceutical companies, longed to leave the Los Angeles rat race and move to Palm Springs to start their own business. They discovered the 1-800-GOT-JUNK? franchise offered a Palm Springs territory and went for it.
“It’s the most gratifying job I’ve ever had,” Salustri says, as Purner agrees. “Every customer has just been so completely thankful. Everyone here is nice and so genuine. … I couldn’t imagine doing this in any other city.”