It was Saturday, June 3, 2017, “Clean Up Independence Day.” The early morning shift reported to the church parking lot, ready to tackle our designated chore of picking up the trash along U.S. 40.
We wore gloves and safety vests for protection. Water and snacks were provided, as well as the bright yellow trash bags used for collecting our loads. The weather was nice and sunny, so suntan lotion was necessary along with a hat to protect my skin from the damage of ultraviolet rays.
I thought back to a similar assignment while serving in the U.S. Navy 40 years ago. They called it “policing the area.” We would go out in pairs and walk down either side of a road and pick up trash. I was being transferred to another ship and had to wait for it to return to port in the Philippine Islands. While attached to transient personnel barracks, we would be assigned to various working parties to occupy our days.
We would hop in the back of a duty pickup truck and be dropped off at our assigned area, usually on a road near the outer perimeter of the base so we could work our way back to the rest of the base. “Pick up all trash and cigarette butts,” the petty office would tell us. The old man hates seeing cigarette butts on the side of the road, so we needed to get busy on those.
Back here, I saw lots of trash, but not many butts. I found a discarded Christmas tree, a bag of yard debris, a suitcase and lots of soft drink bottles and food wrappers. The area around the bus stops were full of discarded items, so maybe we should install trash containers near them. Most businesses along the way appeared to police their own areas. One such place is the rebuilt Gates Barbecue. On the other end of the spectrum is Sonic Drive-in. Trash had collected in low-lying and drainage areas. It was so heavy in spots that I expected to find some animals living in there.
One day back at the base, we were given trash spears, or garbage spikes. These saved us from a lot of stooping, but were no help with cigarette butts. After a while, we figured out that we could kick the butts into the grass and not have to stoop at all. We covered a lot of area using this method of work reduction.
The petty officer would stop by and drop us off at the mess hall for chow. We would stop by any installation along the way and ask to get a drink of water. They called water fountains “scuttlebutts,” which I assume meant wet ashtrays.
Here in Independence, I returned to the church parking lot to get bottled water and more trash bags. I averaged filling a bag of trash every 15 minutes, so I stayed hydrated. In the Navy, we filled two bags a day.
Either way, I was reminded not to throw my trash out the window of a vehicle. I keep a trash bag in my car for that purpose.
Please don’t be a litterbug.