Picking Up Trash

dash of car

I was driving down the Interstate. Down is a relative term; I was traveling east to get across town. The point is I was on a multi-lane highway with lots of traffic. Anyone familiar with the DFW Metroplex knows: this is the case most of the time. Defensive driver that I am, I am always on the lookout for debris lying in the road or jumping out of the bed of a pick-up truck or falling off a flatbed. One particular kind of trash that takes me crazy is those d**n plastic bags you get at the grocery store – plastic has it’s issues for many reasons, but on the road my complaint is that they fly.

Plastic bags that have caught the wind are unpredictable. They flip and dip along the ground and then suddenly they jump in front of your windshield like the mynock on the window of the Millenium Falcon inside the Exogorth. Therefore I am highly suspicious of any plastic bag, even if – especially if – the bag goes under my car. I always carefully scan my rear view mirror to make sure it has cleared. I have nightmares about these bags either 1) suddenly obscuring my view so I wreck or 2) getting caught under my car, melting and causing damage to the mysterious underbelly of the vehicle.

I saw the bag shoot out from under the car in front of me and watched as it made its pirouettes across the lane, tumbling further first to one side then the other as cars flew by in neighboring lanes (there’s a lot of speeding in the Metroplex). There is no room for swerving around a bag; it is an inevitable part of driving here. The bag made its final flip before disappearing. Like a sneeze, for which you have to close your eyes and hope you don’t crash before you can open them again, the sudden disappearance is unnerving. I looked in the rear view: no bag. I looked in the side views: no bag.

It was a mystery, but I continued driving as I was only about 5 miles from my destination. When the slow pickup in front of me took an exit, I increased my own speed. Then I heard the sound. It was a sort of buzzing. Very high-pitched. The faster I drove, the louder the buzzing. The slower I drove, the quieter. Very suspicious. I know that sound of fabric flapping in the wind from driving to campsites with tarps that aren’t tied down securely enough. My exit was next.

I was hoping that when I slowed down, the bag (if it was flattened against the front of my car like Wile E. Coyote pressed up against the cow catcher before he hits the side of the mountain) would naturally come off and float away to bother someone else. I knew that I ought to stop and pick it up but…well, there’s no nice way to say I just didn’t want to. I thought of my father and how meticulous he is and how surely he would pull over at the first opportunity to take care of any issue like this. As I sat at a stoplight with the corner of the plastic bag visible over the hood of my car, I was at least thankful that it was probably caught on my license plate and as long as it wasn’t melting into the grill, my biggest concern was to not be pulled over by a police officer. Is that a violation? Unsecured bag on exterior of vehicle? I sat at at least five red lights. Did the bag ease off? No.

When I got to my destination and parked my car, I got out and walked around to front to inspect the situation. Just as I rounded the front tire, I saw the bag gently float to the ground. And I thought, “Now I may as well pick it up.” I don’t like to leave trash on the ground, even if it isn’t mine. Then I looked over at the street in front of my spot and I saw a couple other items. As long as I have a bag, I may as well pick those up too. No good deed goes unpunished, as they say: One of the larger pieces – which I had to go into the road to get – smelled awful. Either it old food or something died in there; I wasn’t planning to find out. Since I was about to go into a co-working space, I knew I couldn’t put that nasty odor in any interior garbage can. Now what do I do with it? There is no way I’m putting it in my car and I can’t just leave it on the ground out here. Luckily, there was a dumpster on the other side of the building. Whew! Now to go wash my hands!!

The whole thing made me think: sometimes when I’m going about my life, unpleasant things happen. Often I try to ignore them, but I am always worried about possible consequences, long term damage, how someone I admire would do it, or being found in error by others. I could pretend I didn’t know that bag was on my car, but everybody else could plainly see it. Ultimately, this item of trash became the vehicle for neighborhood good: a whole bag of trash picked up off the curb in one small area. But on some level, I did have to say, “yes, I’ll take this trash I’ve been carrying around, become aware of the needs around me, use what I have available even if it requires some searching to find it, and make something good out of it.”

I will embrace my trash and make something good out of it.

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