Ralph Gardner Jr: Maintaining A Well Groomed Road

Apr 29, 2017

Some of the garbage Ralph collected
Credit Ralph Gardner, JR

I celebrated Earth Day last weekend the way I do every year. By collecting the trash that accumulated on our road over the previous twelve months.

I wouldn’t call it a fun time. In fact, what fuels me is righteous indignation. But on a more positive note, when I’ve completed my mission – it takes about an hour – I’m filled with a sense of temporary well-being. As well as a few deer ticks and a helping of poison ivy.

I say temporary because, if it were me, I’d resist the temptation to litter if I saw a country road free of trash.

That apparently doesn’t stop some of my neighbors.

You can be confident that by the following day fresh McDonald’s French fry containers and Stewart’s coffee cups will be creating new eyesores.

And I know some of them are neighbors. 

I found an empty prescription bottle for oxycontin belonging to one of them among the leaves last year. But most of the cues are more subtle, based on their habits that I’ve gleaned over time.

For instance, there’s a guy – I assume the perpetrator is male simply because I have a higher, though not necessarily justified, opinion of women when it comes to defiling the landscape – who goes to the effort of placing his cigarette butts in a filled water bottle.

You’d think that if he were that diligent he’d take the logical next step, which is to deposit the brown swill in a trash receptacle. Instead, he tosses them out his car window.

I must have collected a dozen such bottles last Saturday.

I even suspect I know his brand – Newports. Because I picked up as many empty Newport boxes.

They’re not the only brand my litterers smoke. There were also Marlboros and USA Gold – a cigarette maker I was unfamiliar with -- but Newports constituted the majority of them.

Sales of beer, especially premium imported beer, seem to be down this year based on the number of bottles Heineken and Beck’s I collected. Also, Arizona Iced Tea and Angry Orchard hard cider seem to be taking a hit.

Come to think of it, I doubt I’ve ever found a bottle from a craft brewery. Does that mean that drinkers of craft beer are also tree huggers? Perhaps.

Also down somewhat are discarded lottery tickets. I tend to think of their purchasers as double losers – the first time because they missed the winning numbers. The second time because they tossed the cards out their car windows.

You’ve probably deduced I have a lot of anger when it comes to litter. I also couldn’t help but feel solidarity with the marches going on around the country, last weekend as well as this one, as I made my solitary trek along our road. The protesters seem to be stating the obvious – that this delightful, hospitable planet isn’t ours to destroy.

We’re hardly even renters. Molecules miraculously coalesced in a certain way that led to us. We’re simply the Earth’s designated drivers until we evolve into something with better road skills. So let’s not crash the car.

I found nothing as interesting as the size 14 stiletto my younger daughter discovered when she helped me collect the trash a few years back. Though I did come across a handsome black ceramic beer glass that I’m thinking of running through the dishwasher and keeping.

The exercise isn’t without risk. I’ll climb up hills and slide down culverts, wade into streams, and battle thorn bushes to retrieve a single eyesore paper cup or candy wrapper.

I assume the occasional cars that pass think me misguided, if not a madman. Maybe the spectacle will give them pause the next time they consider chucking a pizza box, of which I found several this season, out their windows.

Actually, a driver once pulled over as I was collecting cans and bottles and generously offered me his empties.

I declined. But I do take some pleasure in returning the ones I gather myself, and aren’t too battered, to the supermarket for the deposit.

To my mind, the worst criminals are those who dump old tires on the property in the dead of night. I’m taking poetic license here. People who feel no compunction about discarding their tires – that goes for major appliances, too -- are probably perfectly content to do so in daylight.

I’m thinking of collecting as many of them as possible – at least a dozen -- taking them to the town transfer station, and paying whatever the fee to dispose of them properly.

In a way, that only rewards the culprits. But I’ll consider the thirty or forty bucks it will cost a contribution to my favorite charity.

Ralph Gardner Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com

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