Last Sunday morning I came back from my run feeling energized. So much so that I felt I felt the urge to pull on a pair of work gloves, roll my trash cans to the curb and take on the litter that had begun to pile up on the street where I live. Part of the experience of running through the urban lanes and paths of Oakland is being made acutely aware of the way that my fellow citizens seem to casually leave bits of paper, plastic and sundry debris wherever it happens to fall. I collected half a barrel of trash over the course of an hour. In some ways, it felt like a victory. Not because I had filled the can half-full, but because it was still half-empty.
Admittedly, my street benefits from a regular sweeping by the city. I can also say that we have a number of residents on our street who have made efforts to limit the garbage that swirls around the fences and sidewalks of our neighborhood. But there are still those moments of blank confusion as I stare at what was once an entire meal from Jack In The Box, flattened and smeared for twenty feet. I try and imagine what sort of emergency that would have required the eater of such a repast to jettison his or her waste so abruptly on the street. Perhaps they were ambulance drivers and they had just been called to a house nearby where the victims had just been overcome by their own fast-food allergy. Throwing all that trash on the street actually saved lives. Or not.
Mostly, however, I assume that the prevailing sentiment of the litterbugs is that someone else would clean up after them. Last Sunday, they got their wish. I kept thinking about the visceral reaction I have to seeing anyone throw trash on the ground, brought on by years of walking around the woods of Colorado, and being reminded of just how important it is to take care of your own garbage. Pack it in? Pack it out. Woodsy the Owl. Iron Eyes Cody. And that green and yellow eco-flag that existed on the bumpers of Volkswagen buses across this great land of ours back in the 1970's. I know that I will be back out in the streets in a few weeks, picking up somebody else's trash. It's in my head.