childhood, Politics, Uncategorized

When Your Waste Management is Garbage

Bloomington Minnesota, the city that I call home took over managing the coordination of residential trash and recycling collection last year. For some in the community there was passion over who got to take away their empty yogurt containers and used tissues. There were the folks who hated to give any more power to their government and those who were concerned over the wear and tear on our roads caused by multiple providers covering the same routes and the inherent risk that goes with increased traffic. I was in a third group. I’m the fiscal conservative who had used three different services during our fifteen years in the community. I had most recently selected the newest and most affordable option, that allowed me to downsize my trash container after my kids had moved out and was the first service that could accommodate my desire to have recycling picked up on a weekly basis (my previous providers were on a biweekly cycle).

As a household that entertains often, we frequently called upon our guests to take a bag of recycling when they departed or utilized our neighbor’s bin when possible. I also had arranged with my last two providers to drop off waste and recycling bins for our annual block party and pick them up the following morning, free of charge. I enjoyed negotiating the deals and knew that the hauler’s incentive to provide good service resulted from the very real possibility that I could change services to a competitor were their performance not satisfactory. When local politicians insisted that “nothing would change” and offered reassurances that the price would be what I’d been paying and the service available equal as well, it sounded like an empty promise that someone makes when trying to sell you on something inferior.

As with most political offerings, some were pleased with the decision to standardize collection, while others were frustrated and angry that their service provider was being dictated to them. I took more of a “wait and see” approach, hopeful that the plan would work, yet skeptical that the promises made would be promises kept.

As a little kid I remember loving to see the Garbage Man come. At that time Minneapolis permitted residents to contract with haulers of their own choosing. My family had the Wellers. You knew a Weller truck because they could hardly stand to watch a stuffed animal go to a landfill, they were prominently displayed on their trucks, my earliest exposure to animal rescue. Their trucks looked like the cross between a gypsy caravan and a carnival game-of-chance booth. The Wellers were our haulers because at least one of the Weller men was a veteran my father knew through his membership at James Ballantine VFW post 246. A man fit to serve our country was certainly worthy of collecting our refuse.

My childhood was an era where  garbage haulers typically had a driver and two collectors who appeared choreographed like circus performers, swinging onto and off of the stuck, swooping up cans and gracefully dumping their contents into the rear of the truck. There were no automated arms that lifted and dumped the bins under the direction of a driver in a climate-controlled cab. These men worked. It was a physical labor. Cans were not uniform, though most were  galvanized steel, with lids kids often used as a shield during snowball fights or play military maneuvers. Those cans were noisy and easily dented. Ours were plain, my best friend’s family had cans that had been painted with various Peanuts cartoon characters by one of her sisters. Sometime during the 1970’s plastic cans became the vogue. The plastic barrels were much larger, not as heavy, more durable and less noisy, though lacking in charm.

Garbage was different back in the day. My brothers were in elementary school when they took charge of the “burner”. Most homes had a can that was allocated as a burn barrel, perforated to allow air in, often perched on a pair of cinder blocks. The burner was where cereal boxes, paper plates and Dixie cups were disposed of. Eventually the ashes from the burn barrel had to be disposed of and the Wellers would pull off a work glove and let the ashes fall through their fingers, feeling for any embers before dumping it into the truck. Their thick-skinned, nearly leather hands being somewhat immune to the heat, occasionally you’d see a Weller truck or one of their competitors with the back end smoldering. I don’t recall exactly when burn barrels went away or when giving kids matches was deemed a bad idea but perhaps it coincided with when trash cans grew larger.

Recycling for me as a child was carrying an 8-pack of soda bottles back to the store or returning a milk jug to get a deposit back. Newspapers were bundled and tied with twine and saved for youth events called “paper drives” or “paper sales” that schools or organizations sponsored to raise money. I was in college before I heard of people saving aluminum cans and recycling them for money. That whole process changed to a system where we now are required to collect the newspaper, plastic, glass and aluminum. Then we pay a service to take it from us, so they may be compensated for what we bought, collected, stored and wheeled out to the curb. It’s sort of like if we paid Goodwill, ARC or DAV to take our donations of clothing and household goods which they later sell. Difficult to determine which is more environmentally friendly; having trucks roll up and down the streets and transport the goods to facilities that had to be built and process the waste or letting a kid take it out back and incinerate it.

Our new trash collection for the city of Bloomington began on October 3rd. As predicted, the rate that I currently pay is substantially more than the rate I had negotiated with my last provider. I am sad to acknowledge that my service is in fact not the same quality that I previously had. My recycling is full on a weekly basis and in theory they pick it up biweekly, just like the plan I had dropped last go-round. I say “in theory” because in addition to paying more, I also do more work with our new provider. Today I had to call them (yet again) to tell them they had not picked up my recycling yesterday morning and they assured me it would be picked up by the end of the day tomorrow (they did manage to get it this afternoon). I have no real recourse, as they know they have my business whether they do a good job or not. My leverage and freedom to choose has been eliminated, as apparently so has their incentive to take pride in their work.

While I’m all in favor of measures that improve the environment, increase recycling and reduce what goes into landfills, there are times I grow a little nostalgic. I miss workers in a family business who don’t take my business for granted. I long for the simplicity of reuse efforts like attaching a giant purple bear to the grill of a garbage truck. Finally, there is a little piece of me that admired the bravery of men hanging onto the back of a slightly smoldering truck.

Despite the many changes in the industry over the years since my own childhood, there seems to be one thing that remains the same. Kids are fascinated and enamored with the big trucks that take our trash away and the men (and women too) who work on them.


Day 9 in a month of writing: Are We Younger Looking Than Our Parents Were at Our Age?

Dave Lee & Pete the Penguin

Dave Lee & Pete the Penguin

I have my hair in a ponytail. Not a nape of the neck sophisticated ponytail. Nope, it’s a no part, high on the head sock-hop sort of affair. I wear my hair this way often; at the end of the day after wearing it down, first thing out of the shower when I’m not up to drying it or simply when driving down the road in the middle of the day and my hair is bugging me. By the time my mother was my age (north of fifty) she had taken on a Bea Arthur look. Her hair had grayed completely platinum and she kept it short. The kind of short that allowed her to get her hair cut in a barber shop in Cumberland Wisconsin one summer, despite the barber claiming women were “too fussy”. She owned the Minnesota Mom Cut and never thought about whether anyone might question her femininity for wearing her hair that way. She was able to pull a winter hat over it, a snowmobile helmet went on easily when necessary and she could tie a scarf or bandana over it to protect her ears. That generation clearly had ear issues. Unless temperatures indicate possible frost-bite, none of my peers cover their ears on a frequent basis. I can’t even picture what my mother would have looked like in ponytail at my age. I think if I wore my hair like my mother did that people might inquire “how is your treatment going?”.

If one were to page through my parent’s yearbooks, they might think that Minneapolis was experiencing a graduation issue of some sort during the late forties and early nineteen-fifties. My parents classmates  all appeared to be in their forties. The boys had serious grown-men haircuts and if they wore glasses they could pass for an attorney, doctor, a pastor or someone you might buy a car from. The girls hair varied somewhat in length but there were no ends to their strands of hair, it all curled under, their hair being more of a  halo around the head. Lipstick and pearls balanced the look and they all seemed to wear either blouses that were buttoned to the neck or crew-necked sweaters. No time for flashing any skin, time to get an education! I remember that during high school  my mother thought I was being incredibly provocative for not just keeping the collar button undone but also wanting to leave the next one open as well. My cleavage did not begin for another six inches.

My own hair remains primarily dark with a couple of sections where the gray has gathered in one inch stripes. My husband recently suggested that were I to stand my hair on end I would look like the Bride of Frankenstein. No he did not just say that to me, it was an observation he shared with the entire table we were having drinks with. I could barely be offended because his comment was accurate and neither of us feel compelled to act like grownups very often. Acting like a grownup is saved for rare occasions; after funeral service discussions with older people who do not know us well enough to recognize that it is totally out of our comfort zone, purchasing a vehicle, signing a mortgage and having our taxes done.

I don’t wear my hair in a ponytail under some false illusion that it makes me look younger but honestly with a few exceptions I believe all of my friends look younger than their parents did at our age. Sure we were the first generation to embrace sunscreen but for the most part that happened after the baby oil tanning days had done their damage. Though our jeans and sweatshirt weekend wear have not changed much over the past thirty years, our hair has changed along the way.  Despite what a good look it was, I am no longer spiking my hair with gel or getting perms. The unisex mullet is part of my past. Occasionally at the Fair or perhaps a concert you do see a woman who peaked in 1986 and kept the hairstyle as a tribute. I remember thinking the same thing with some great hairdo’s on the waitresses at the old Thunderbird Hotel coffee shop, those beehives that they stored their pens in got them tips in the sixties, so they kept them all the way until the place closed, like a hairstyle time capsule.

A friend posted a picture of her parents on Facebook recently. The photo is from the 1970’s and they were in their mid-thirties. She is beautiful, he is dapper, with his arm around her waist and in his other hand he cradles a pipe. That is what grownups look like! I wonder how future generations will look at ours. We don’t have a Jackie O’ fashion icon that all women try to emulate. We have women with short hair, long hair, dreadlocks and hair dyed so well that the black doesn’t look blue, the blonde doesn’t look damaged and if someone wants pink or lavender hair they can have it at any age. We also have grown women who sport ponytails.

Perhaps it’s modern conveniences that have kept us from standing over stoves as long, not spending hours hanging wash on the line and ironing that has kept us looking younger than the generations before us. Then again, it might be that whereas I knew many families with six to twelve kids when I was growing up, today big families typically max-out at four or five children (unless they have a reality show contract). Maybe having kids ages you. Anyone want to discuss the merits of this theory?

Sure more women work outside the home then a generation ago, as a result buying more clothes and needing to dress in what current business wear dictates. This also exposes middle-aged women to coworkers of a younger demographic. I can see this having an impact on how one continues to evolve their hair, makeup and wardrobe and not simply freezing ones look in some bygone era.

We might look younger than our parents did at our age but for those of us with high school and college aged children this does not explain why so many of them got to skip an awkward phase and wend from childhood adorable to red carpet ready. No offense to my lovely bridesmaids but for some reason I think most prom attendees today look more sophisticated than you all did in your mid-twenties. We did however do our own, hair, nails and makeup. Maybe someday historians will look at us as the Peter Pan era, the generation that never grew up. That would explain why my hair is gathered in an elastic band right now.

Upon further reflection, I have had a genuine epiphany. In Minneapolis during the nineteen-sixties there was a locally syndicated show called “Popeye and Pete”. Dave Lee  hosted the show but naming rights for the program went to a cartoon character and a hand puppet. The program consisted of a studio full of kids who got goody bags filled with products from the shows sponsors.  Between cartoons the host entertained the kids with a couple of puppets, “Pete the Penguin” was known for tugging on the ponytails of unsuspecting girls in the audience (and boys ties, because you wore a tie when you were on TV in the sixties). At the James Ballentine VFW post Mother & Daughter banquet in 1966 Dave Lee served as emcee and special guest. Pete the Penguin was the judge of the ponytail contest.  I know the suspense is killing you but I WON! Yes, there was a prize. I took home what was the largest Slo Poke sucker known to man.  I guess I peaked in ’66 and that’s why I’m sticking with it!