Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Cleaning Up This Town

We've had some of those warm, clear days we seem to get every February in Issaquah, the days that sucker you into thinking spring is just around the corner and then the cold rain returns for many more weeks. But for now, it's wonderful. I'm out running a bunch of small errands on my bike when I see her. She's walking her dog, but stopping every few feet to pick up trash and shove it in a big plastic bag. She's got one yellow plastic glove on her garbage hand. This is obviously not some random action. This is pre-meditated.

I'm the kind of guy who talks to strangers and I guess a forty-eight year old dude on a tiny bright red Dahon folding bike isn't too threatening a figure to a woman walking a large, friendly dog. At least she doesn't pull out any mace or anything when I ride up and say "Hey, are you picking up garbage because you're a cool person or...?" I kind of let the thought fizzle out as I realize I don't quite know how to end that sentence. I said I'm a guy who talks to strangers, I didn't say I was any good at it.

The woman laughs and says she has to walk the dog anyway, she might as well pick up some trash as long as she's out. "That's awesome," I gush. I introduce myself and she introduces herself and the dog. I have a mind like a steel sieve and manage to forget both names while I rummage through my pockets for the pen that is usually there but today is back home on the kitchen table. "Can I take your picture?" I ask while doing a bad job of explaining about GAIT and my blog. Somehow she decides that this penless blogger on the funny little bike is probably mostly harmless and agrees. I give her my card and if she emails me, I'll point her to this blog entry.

It doesn't matter what her name is, what matters is that she's doing something to make her town a little nicer. And if she can do it, heck I can do it too. Not every day perhaps but maybe a bit now and then.

The next day is another sunny day and I have to run some more errands. I grab a bag on my way out the door. It doesn't take long to fill it up.

Gandhi said we should be the change we want to see in the world. I'm glad the lady with the garbage bag and the yellow glove and the big black dog reminded me of that.


Dan Gurney said...

Hey Kent, I ride bikes on the playground with the kindergarteners in my school, and that's what we do: pick up the garbage. Yesterday I did a very brief post on my blog mentioning it. Down here in California we're having that same seductive weather.

JuliaR said...

When I had a dog, I would often pick up garbage while out walking, mostly to keep the dog from eating it! I still pick up garbage but not as often without the incentive of the dog. Maybe it's time to get another dog.

Anonymous said...

"Hey, are you picking up garbage because you're a cool person or...?"

Sounds like a pick up line from 1972. Peace and love brother.

Yr Pal DrCodfish

Anonymous said...

Ya know dad, if you're so into picking up trash (damn hippy), you might want to start with all your bike crap that's piling up in the house. Just a thought. Save the living room, save the world.

Anonymous said...

i admire the altruism but doesnt that just encourage people to litter? isnt someone more likely to toss trash on the ground if they know someone else will come along and pick it up? not dissing the girl i think shes cool. just sayin.

Anonymous said...

one other thing. why is it considered socially acceptable to toss cig butts on the ground? i bet half that girls bag was filled with cig butts. theres prolly a trillion cig butts littered on our planet. seriously!

Dan Gurney said...

Chatty Cathy,

I can't speak for Kent's lady, but...

When the kindergarten started picking up litter at our school we'd get more than 100 pieces a day (we counted).

The older students saw the little ones picking up after them and they simply stopped littering so much. I'm not aware of any lecturing to them. Littering just tapered off. It was an instance, I think, of simple human decency arising naturally.

Our litter load is much less. Big pieces of litter are much rarer. A lot of the litter we pick up now is really small: Capri Sun straw wrappers, yes, cig butts, a corner torn off a Doritos bag.

It ain't exactly altruism. More like an Easter Egg hunt. They enjoy looking for and finding the now much=harder-to-spot litter. Not to mention, the place looks so much better all picked up.

We enjoy taking care of our world.

Cyclin Ninja said...

mr midergarten...you da man...half full is right, brother.

Keep the hippy peace and love flowin. Someone has to do it.


gwadzilla said...

I try my best

everyone could do to pick up some trash

while for some other people
they would do well to not toss their trash on the street or on the curb

Revrunner said...

Now that's someone I would call a real bona fide hero.

Frederick Ingram said...

i started the altruistic trashpicking trend in sandy, utah in 2001 but no one blogged about me

gpickle said...

I recently finished reading The World Without Us and it talks about the many many many plastic bags and containers and the like that are floating around in the oceans right now. Estimates are that the worlds commercial and pleasure ocean fleets toss over 500,000 items a day(!) be they water bottles or bags or candy bar wrappers. Most of these wind up floating around in these continent sized super slo-mo whirlpools in the center of the oceans created by the natural currents.

Turns out people that are studying this stuff have found that the bulk of what is floating around out there came not from the ocean users and abusers but from land-lubbers littering on solid ground. Our storm sewers, streams and rivers and the winds see to the rest.

Nice to hear that folks are still trying, even if it is a straw that might save the camels back situation.

And Kent, to ease family tensions if you need help with bike crap storage I am able to offer you an "active" long-term storage solution. What have you got piling up?

Or should I ask Eric?

Tour de Cure said...

Chatty Cathy,

Actually there are several studies that say people are less likely to litter when no litter is visible, and inversely more likely to litter if they see it has already been done as evidenced by the litter left on the ground. It's a lot like graffiti, if it get's cleaned up right away, it will spawn less graffiti. If it is allowed to sit, more taggers will see that it is common and spray more surfaces. Plus quick action keeps the place looking aesthetically nice.

YuriB said...

I bought one of those 3 foot grabber things. Easier on my back and no touch with the hands.
I walk the hood with the kids in the morn and eve and clean up to help teach them.

Peter McKay said...

Kent, Thank you for capturing and sharing this moment of this seemingly ordinary individual doing a simple act of kindness and love. Extraordinary!

Anonymous said...

Nice post. I don't know about other cities, but here in Tumwater, the city will bring those big orange trash bags right to your house, then will also come pick them up and discard if you like. My wife and I also put a broom and dustpan in our xtracycle bags so that we can sweep broken glass off the bike lanes as well :) I'll take some pics of our next outing!

nollij said...

What incredible timing. I spent 3 hours the other day cleaning up trash (mostly about 10 broken bottles). I call it "road angeling". It was funny... people kept mistaking me for a CalTrans worker except for the fact I was riding a bike. (could it be the orange and neon green vest with reflective stripes all over and the bright orange helmet with reflective stripes?) I got sick of seeing all the busted glass on my bicycle route to my kids school, so I got a metal dustpan and brush and I've started cleaning up the broken bottles on my routes. I ride an Azor Oma with a huge front basket, so I threw a 2G bucket in there so I could collect glass & trash. On the back of the basket I mounted a 5" piece of 3" ABS Pipe (with a hose clamp) to stick my folding Gopher grabbers in. I can quick-draw and snag trash as I ride if I slow down just a bit; it's become a fun game. I second the notion that cigarette butts are the most common trash. (I've spent a lot of time picking up trash at the Burning Man festival for the last 9 years and it's the most common piece of trash out there as well) On the rare occasions that I smoke (usually when I go drink a bunch at the bar and one of my friends is smoking), I make a point of carefully putting out my cigarette and either putting it in my pocket or finding a trash can. I don't say anything to the other smokers and I wonder if people ever notice. I have even picked up other people's butts before (friends) to shame them into not doing it anymore. It works for a while... Anyway, the whole time I was picking up glass and getting all these weird looks (and o think most were from other cyclists and walkers!), I kept reciting the Ghandi mantra to myself "Be the change you wish to see in the world, Be the change you wish to see in the world," et hoc genus omne. I believe in karma, or in this case "tire bikema".

house cleaning said...

You guys are doing really great work! I will also try to start such campaign in my city with my friends.

Maria said...

Very good post. Thanks for sharing it. I appreciate people who pick up the garbage especially if it's not their trash. People should understand that it's very important to take care not only about themselves, but about the planet as well. We want to live in healthy environment, that's why I hope that some day people will stop littering so much.

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