Roadside anthropology.

October 20, 2014 § 5 Comments

Roadside litter.There are a lot of ways to look at roadside trash.

Probably the easiest view to take is through the window of a moving car. At speed, that mess doesn’t seem all that bad.

Walking the road you get a better look, but for an informed opinion, try picking it up day after day.

There is no sign that says “This Roadway Kept Litter Free By Adrian,” but I’ve claimed a stretch of road and I keep it litter free almost daily.

My opinion of littering humanity has evolved—you can’t stay mad and self-righteous forever.

Instead, I’ve begun to compile a heartbreaking profile of my fellow-man based on the artifacts tossed on the ground.

Admittedly, my sample is limited, and there are probably classier stretches of road that attract a better brand of litter, but my road edges my modest neighborhood and leads to a popular convenience store.

Here is what I have learned from my daily study of litter.

Humanity is hungry for easy comfort and instant gratification. Damp wrappers from single mints and chocolates litter the grass. Chip bags (single serve) glisten. Styrofoam boxes smeared with grease and ketchup lie, run over, beside the curb.

Soft drink and energy drink cans are all that is left of the effervescent liquid ingested for a quick jolt, calories that sizzle off fast bringing on a blood sugar crash or end up hung permanently around the waist.

The plastic tips of cigarillos dot the sandy strip at the road’s edge along with tiny baggies and crushed cigarette butts turning to frayed bits of cotton. Along with the evidence of habits sparked by a plastic lighter, there are liquor bottles, beer cans, addictions that must be stoked regularly; oblivion and nicotine.

Ribbons of lottery tickets, mostly scratch-offs hang in the bushes, quick investments in hope, abandoned minutes later. Some tickets have been torn to shreds as if to punish them for being such losers.

What I notice as I walk the roadside now is not predominately the slovenly ways of our throwaway culture, but the discarding of quickly exhausted short-term fixes and impossible dreams, the litter of despair and fatigue and of lives improvised minute to minute.

A trail of I-don’t-give-a-damn and anger leads from that convenience store back into my neighborhood.

You want proof that the have-nots are suffering? Get yourself a plastic bag and fill it with the evidence left along just about any stretch of road where a convenience store is the major purveyor of quick consumables, impossible dreams, and the hurried transactions of lives lived always at a desperate low boil.

Note: for my earlier, angrier take on those who use our roads as a trash can check out my post titled Drive-by.

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§ 5 Responses to Roadside anthropology.

  • tinykelsie says:

    It takes a lot of talent to turn roadside garbage into the prose you just wrote. Great post.


  • craig reeder says:

    You are the anthropologist, the philosopher, and the poet of roadside litter, and instead of being “mad and self-righteous,” you grab a bag, walk the road, and pick up the trash. That’s inspiring.


  • KM Huber says:

    I hear you on being mad and self-righteous–they are tiresome in every respect–I would know that, of course, because I have held them close for years.

    Litter as a profile of humanity–anthropology–lays bare who we are. Interesting that it takes centuries, at least more than one decade, for us to see in a softer light those who left the stuff of their lives behind. We dig it up and put it into museums, even put a price on some of it, but mostly, I suspect we create stories about litter, perhaps giving it a life it and its owner never had, a better one to be sure.

    Enjoyed the post, Adrian.


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