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Cambridge Graffiti Removal Team Works In The Dead Of Night

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In Cambridge, like most other cities, graffiti is a daily problem. When it comes to cleaning up graffiti, the job is usually handled by two men in the city's public works department: William Hannafin, 58, and Richard Soderberg, 31.Each day, Soderberg, left, and Hannafin, right, remove somewhere around 10 or 15 works of graffiti across Cambridge.Most scrawls in Cambridge are considered "nuisance tags" -- quick hits or scribbles on parking meters, street signs, bus stops, or park benches.Other tags are much larger, covering entire walls of buildings in Cambridge. Hannafin and Soderberg route each day based on reports from home owners or local businesses. Any vulgar graffiti is painted over immediately.Hannafin and Soderberg travel around Cambridge in a Chevy truck loaded with a 300-gallon water tank, buckets of chemical solvents, and a variety of colored spray paints. The first step of any job is dousing the wall in solvent.After about 15 minutes, the solvent and the graffiti is washed away with a power hose.When a graffiti removal project is done, all that is typically left is a faded patch of brick.Hannafin calls the work, “erasing the chalkboard ... We take it off, they put it back on."Five years ago, Hannafin started taking photos of graffiti in Cambridge. Those photos now make up a digital database the city's police force uses to connect so-called taggers with their work.Hannafin says he's never met a "tagger" whose work he's removed. If he ever does, though, he says he'd like to ask them what they get out of it. After five years on the job, he says he still doesn't understand.

Those of us who live in Boston, or other urban landscapes have grown used to graffiti. To some, the tags are artistic statements, to many, a relentless blight. Removing them can be an expensive headache for property — and business-owners.

Some cities have squads devoted to the challenge. In Cambridge, that burden falls on the shoulders of two men. Correspondent Caleb Daniloff recently joined the duo on one of their shifts.

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