Glenn Smith // The Post and Courier
Andrew Figueroa of Charleston Equine Sanitation finishes cleaning a pool of horse urine from a spot on Meeting Street recently as another carriage full of tourists approaches.
Andrew Figueroa spends his days driving through the heart of Charleston's historic district, but he seldom pays attention to the stately mansions, lush parks or sweeping harbor views.
His mind is in the gutter. Or rather, on the waste products that end up there.
Figueroa works for the Holy City's equine sanitation patrol, which scours Charleston's streets looking for droppings left by horses and mules that haul carriages full of tourists to all the favorite sights.
He and his colleagues know folks prefer the scent of jasmine and salty air to a pungent postcard from a horse's bladder. So they work the streets daily, scraping, spraying and shoveling to rid the historic district of odious sights and smells.
These aroma guardians have their work cut out for them in the steamy summer months when the mercury climbs, coaxing dormant scents from the pavement to mingle with fresh deposits of urine and manure. The Market area, in particular, can grow plenty ripe on a hot day.
"We do the very best we can," said Bob Reed, owner of Charleston Equine Sanitation. "But horses have been here for hundreds of years. Just think how much urine might be in the streets."
Figueroa nodded. "On a real hot day, it's gonna come up."
Armed with shovels, high-pressure hoses and big tanks of detergent-spiked water, the sanitation patrol roams the tourist district in trucks fielding calls and looking for markers tossed by carriage guides to show where a load has gone down. They spring into action when they spot a fresh puddle, dodging traffic and tourists to blast the mess from the pavement, leaving a slick of sickly sweet deodorizer in its place.
Reed's company, based out of Olde Towne Carriage Co., has run the service for several years. The city awards the contract -- worth $166,985 yearly -- and Charleston's five carriage companies foot the bill.
They work some 12 square miles of streets and battle such oddities as tourists making off with the ball-and-flag urine markers to keep as souvenirs of their visit to Charleston.
Figueroa, a retired Navy man, has been with the patrol for a dozen years. He can spot a marker from a block away and knows all of the infamous "hot spots" where the equine crowd prefers to do its business.
There's that one unfortunate house on Tradd Street that gets its street-side parking space doused daily, and the Cumberland Street intersection that seems to tickle the horses' bladders. "These animals are a lot like dogs," he said. "They pick and choose their spots."
The job has taught Figueroa a good deal about equine behavior. He knows horses like to stop in front of the Calhoun Mansion, but for a different reason than the tourists. He knows they swill copious amounts of water during barn stops, with predictable results. He knows pairs of mules never seem to go at the same time. And he knows excited horses will dump their cargo just thinking about the approach of dinner time.
That display will draw grimaces from onlookers and occasional complaints from residents who end up with the results outside their homes. Figueroa simply adjusts his battered Yankees cap, unravels his hose and gets to work.
"I tell people 'I don't control where the horses go and I don't control where the tour guides stop. I just clean the stuff up.'"