Last Saturday my two oldest kids and I volunteered to participate in a neighborhood roadside cleanup party. I thought it would be a nice way to serve my community, spend some quality time with the kids, and get some fresh air.
We were told there would be garbage bags and orange vests. I was picturing us pretending to be a chain gang from Cool Hand Luke. This was going to be FUN!
Just so you know, if anyone ever tells you they are bringing orange vests (plural) to an outdoor manual labor party, you should assume that they only have TWO of them. In other words, BYOV (bring your own vest) or wear brightly colored clothing just to be on the safe side. I learned this the hard way. I’m kind of trusting and/or a dumb ass like that.
Luckily I got there early and snagged the only two vests for my own children. Then another family with young kids showed up and my 11 year old future Saint, Nature Boy, offered his vest up to a 5 year old little girl. Whoever said “Chivalry is dead,” has obviously never met my Nature Boy. God, I love that kid.
My very pregnant good friend Mama Cloud and her two boys showed up too so I knew we were going to have a good time, with or without proper safety gear.
Turns out there is a reason most counties use convicted felons for this kind of work: it is really hard and extremely dangerous. We were handling all kinds of broken glass and rusty cans. We were in and out of thorny ditches that probably housed all sorts of venomous snakes and spiders. In fact come to think of it, this was the same road where I was bitten by that snapping turtle last year. Not one of my prouder moments. I’ll have to tell you that story sometime if I ever get over the PTSD.
But the most dangerous thing was the traffic. I can’t tell you how many cars went flying by us while we were out there picking up other people’s trash. Mama Cloud and I would holler and wave our arms and try to signal to the drivers to slow-the-f*ck-down, but most of them were so busy talking on their phones and/or applying makeup and/or doing the crossword puzzle and/or eating their breakfast burritos that they didn’t even notice us.
We were an inappropriately clad volunteer army of children, parents, senior citizens, and one pregnant woman. It is a miracle that nobody was hurt, or worse. The whole experience really infuriated me, actually. We don’t litter. Ever. I mean, who does that? And there we were, with our CHILDREN, picking up after assholes who just don’t give a hoot.
And we were picking up their Skoal canisters, cigarette butts, Bud Light cans, Seagram’s wine cooler bottles, and on one occasion, a used tampon applicator. Talk about trash.
That was our favorite find of the day… the used tampon applicator. Thank the Lord we were all wearing gloves. Can’t you just see someone cruising down the road, singing along with Wynona, texting her BFF, and changing her tampon at the same time? Then flinging the plastic applicator out the window along with a Mountain Dew bottle, some scratch off lotto tickets, and her kid’s empty Happy Meal bag. Yeah… her. To whom I’d just like to say: thanks lady… you provided me with lots of new conversation topics for my kids.
So that was my first and (hopefully) last experience being part of an unpaid roadside chain gang. At the end of the day, we all felt really good about doing our part to Keep America Beautiful. I am really proud to live in a neighborhood where 17 people would take time out of their weekends to clean up a mess they certainly did not make. However… I can guaran-damn-tee you that I will not be taking my kids out there again, in harm’s way, to clean up after the litterbugs of the world. Just not worth the risk. We’ll have to find another way to save the earth.
You know what we need? We need more commercials like the crying Native American PSA from the 70s. Remember that one? I swear, between that guy and Woodsy the Owl, I definitely got the message as a kid that littering is just NOT okay. I guess we have bigger fish to fry these days, like fighting childhood obesity and keeping our kids off meth. But come on, guys… “give a hoot, don’t pollute. Don’t you be a dirty bird. In the city or in the woods, help keep America (bomp bomp) looking good!”
© Copyright 2011, The Bearded Iris.