photo by Rich Oppel

Trip Hamby and his landscaping crew are still working during the coronavirus pandemic

Tripp Hamby's No. 1 priority this time of year usually is finding workers to tackle the peak March-October landscaping season. But in the year of the virus he is focused on one thing—keeping his 25 workers healthy.

I watched (from 20 feet away) as Hamby and his production manager, Martín Ortega, met with a crew of his blue-shirted men at the head of our subdivision.

"I'm trying to do anything to keep them healthy and comfortable ... paying them mileage if they want to come separately in their own cars," said Hamby, 42, owner of Priority Landscaping, which services 45 properties across Austin and West Travis County.


"I ask how they are feeling, how are they doing." Early in the COVID-19 epidemic, most of his employees thought the threat was being overstated. Hamby admits he did too. Not any more.

Hamby employs 25 at the peak of the season. They are all men. Thirteen now on board are U.S. citizens, all of Mexican descent. Another 10 just arrived from Mexico on H-2B visas. The H-2B program allows employers to hire foreign workers for non-agricultural jobs on a one-time, seasonal, peak-load or intermittent basis.

Hamby says he paid $10 an hour in 2013, when he began his business, and now pays $17-18 an hour. For the worker, that translates to about $35,000 if the job is held for a full year. The prices Hamby can charge are not elastic; HOAs, developers and residents push back and may reduce service if the prices climb too fast.

Because of the virus, his commercial customers are canceling or delaying new capital projects, as well as maintenance tasks such as installing new flower beds and spreading spring mulch. In these times, everyone looks for ways to save money.

Priority Landscaping's workers ride in trucks that are wiped down with disinfectants. Their tools are cleaned daily, and the power tools are not exchanged among the workers. Your weed-eater is your weed-eater. If a worker is approached by a customer, which doesn't happen often, Hamby counsels that he back away politely.

It's cool now, but once the broiling Texas summer rolls in, temperatures will exceed 100 degrees. The men work in long sleeves, long pants and with kerchiefs, goggles, ear protectors and hats. Dust and leaves cloud the air, and the noise from the equipment is nearly unbearable.

"We are just trying to find our way through this challenging time," said Hamby. "We want everyone to feel comfortable and keep safe."

We are all just finding our way. As April and May unfold, experts tell us, the COVID-19 numbers will spike fearsomely. For Hamby's blue-shirted men, the coronavirus is just another challenge piled atop one of the most difficult jobs in Austin.

The landscapers keep working to keep Austin neighborhoods beautiful. They have spouses and children too, here or back home in the motherland. Here's wishing that they, and we, stay healthy so that we can all enjoy our families for a long, long time.

Next time you drive by a cluster of landscapers, give them a salute from behind the windshield.

(Willard's Brewery Instagram)

As the weather cools off, it is prime time to get out and enjoy a new local brew—especially in a time when bars need support the most.

Keep Reading Show less

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 oz Tito's Handmade Vodka
  • 1 oz lemon juice
  • 3/4 oz simple syrup
  • 1/2 oz pomegranate juice
  • 1 maraschino cherry
Directions: Add Tito's Handmade Vodka, lemon juice and simple syrup to a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a chilled martini glass. Sink pomegranate juice by pouring slowly over the back of a spoon into cocktail. Drop in one maraschino cherry.
(Joe Shlabotnik/CC)

A test run of a candy chute.

Families are being challenged to think outside the box this year with Halloween and recreate the holiday to be fun and safe.

Keep Reading Show less
(Stephen Spillman/CapitolPressPhoto)

Longhorns fans sing 'The Eyes of Texas' on Nov. 9, 2019.

More than a century after "The Eyes of Texas" was written, Natalie Wright entered the University of Texas for her freshman year.

Keep Reading Show less
(Capital Metro/Twitter)

Austin is making public transit electric by introducing the first interoperable charging buses in the country. In partnership with Siemens Mobility and Proterra Inc., Capital Metro now has 12 zero-emission electric buses on the roads.

Keep Reading Show less

The roar of Austin FC fans will be heard soon, as the newest Major League Soccer member looks to kick off their season in a brand new stadium in 2021.

Keep Reading Show less
(Bob Daemmrich)

Decision time

You've seen and heard messaging from the city, transit opponents, and the big money PACs. You've probably read Emma Freer's in-depth, multi-part series, a fact-based exploration of Project Connect—and the tax rate election proposal, known as Proposition A, that would fund it—from multiple perspectives.

Keep Reading Show less