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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News
Zach Harrison, who is autistic, got to ride in an Allied Waste truck Wednesday with Dan Mills.

Perhaps, for you, a garbage truck is just a noisy, smelly vehicle. But that's probably because you haven't noticed how appealing a garbage truck can be, with its elegant choreography of forklifts and its satisfying clanking of metal on metal.

For Zachery Harrison, garbage trucks are almost as cool as trains. Maybe even cooler. So when he had a chance Wednesday to ride shotgun in the cab of a real garbage truck, he was — as his mom says — "over the moon." He'll probably talk about this day till he's 78, she says.

Zach is currently 15 years old chronologically but about 6 developmentally, says Heidi Harrison. He suffers from autism, mental retardation and a genetic disorder called tuberous sclerosis, affecting his heart, skin and eyes. Just recently it was discovered that tubers are now also growing in his brain and kidneys.

Heidi and Terry Harrison get respite care through TURN Community Services, where family services coordinator Andrea Baugh recently asked Zach what he'd like for Christmas. "Garbage truck," said Zach. One thing led to another, and pretty soon it was all arranged: Allied Waste Services would let Zach have a first-hand garbage truck experience.

Liability issues wouldn't allow Zach to go on a real life garbage pick-up. So the next best thing was to ride along as a real life garbage man

drove a truck in the Allied Waste parking lot, lifting up empty Dumpsters into the hopper, then compacting the fictional garbage in the packer. For Zach, these subtleties were lost in the sheer ecstacy of the moment.

The afternoon, in fact, was kind of a twofer, because as soon as Zach climbed up into the cab of the big blue truck, a freight train happened to appear on the horizon, its whistle blaring.

"A train! I hear it! It's coming! The train!" yelled Zach. He sounded the garbage truck's horn, then began yelling some more. "There's a train!" Then more horn. Then "There goes a train! Here it comes! Dad! Dad!" By now Zach's bright green hard hat was lopsided on his head.

Actually, the afternoon was more of a threefer, because it turned out that the garbage truck driver for one leg of the short journey was the Jazz Bear.

Allied Waste outfitted Zach with steel-toed boots, a bright green vest, gloves and safety goggles, all of which he was allowed to take home. The company also presented him with a toy garbage truck, complete with toy residential garbage cans and a toy industrial Dumpster. Also tickets to a Jazz game.

In one of the two real garbage trucks he got to ride in Wednesday — the residential variety, with the driver's side on the right — Zach got to sit on the left side of the cab, so he had the illusion that he was driving. But he knows that he can't really drive till he's much older, says his mom. "He knows he can't drive till he's 84."

E-mail: jarvik@desnews.com