Zen and the Art of Roadside Cleanup

It was finally here. The day I’d been waiting for.

Earth Day. Time to give back and do a little cleaning up. Every year, our community hosts a town-wide cleanup event on this weekend. I was ready. I had picked my spot weeks before. The east side of the Highway 34 interchange at Beaverdale Road. I’d been eyeballing the debris along those ramps all winter and it was time for it all to take a truck ride.

Well, not all of it. Turns out, there’s a lot more trash out there than you think. But I made a dent in it. I’ll be back to finish to job later. Like when the weather is better.

Speaking of which, hey Momma Nature. Think you could’ve been a little more accommodating this weekend? I mean, c’mon. Icy snow thrown horizontal in late April? Can’t you see we’re wrestling plastic garbage bags here?

It was not a nice morning to be outside. So kudos to the almost-100 people that showed up anyway. Our town looks better for all your shivers and runny noses.

The morning started at the Port of Burlington. Sign the waiver, pick a spot, grab some bags and go beautify. It was well organized, a testament to the good work of the Keep Burlington Beautiful committee that made the event happen.

Despite the arctic weather, I rather enjoyed my right-of-way foray. I donned an extra layer, secured an earbud inside my hood, and called up a podcast episode. Bend, pick, drop into bag. Hold bag tight. Beer can. Big Mac box. Plastic. So much plastic.

Also, I hate Styrofoam. The fresh stuff isn’t bad. But the kind that’s been weathering for a while just disintegrates into millions of little bits when you try to pluck it out of the grass.

Bend, pick, drop. Step. Repeat. It becomes rhythmic. So much so, I zone out. Lost in the conversation in my ear. Tim Ferriss interviewing Derek Sivers over sips of scotch. Time passes like the cars up on the highway. Some honk. I’m in the zone and don’t look up. Plus, looking up exposes my cheeks to the pelting of the icy snow.

If that was you, my apologies. Consider this my wave back.

Bend, pick, drop, step. Mind wandering. Zoning out. Just being here, doing this, autopilot engaged, hanging out in my own cerebral speakeasy. Random thoughts come and go.

Will artificial intelligence systems really take over the world?

Do my kids spend too much time in front of screens? Undoubtedly, they’re on their devises now.

If someone built a “tech-no” lounge – a café of sorts where the price of entry is locking your phone away in a little locker near the front door, forcing you to have face-to-face conversations once inside – would people go there?

Isn’t it ironic that “social media” has contributed to us being less social, in the traditional sense?

That song, Ironic, by Alanis Morissette doesn’t get irony correct. Unless of course the guy on the plane worked as a plane safety inspector, the lottery guy was into cryogenics, and that black fly showed up in an exterminator’s chardonnay. Short of that, she’s really just describing a series of unfortunate events.

Isn’t that a movie? And on it goes…

Zen and the art of roadside cleanup.

Bag one, check. Tie it. Bag two. Three. Four. I can’t feel my fingertips. Pick up the pace, that’ll warm things up. It doesn’t. I debate internally whether scotch would help next time. I conclude that while that may increase participation in this event, it may also decrease productivity. No net gain there. And probably some real liability concerns. Stick with coffee. Thanks, Scooters!

Help arrives. We divide to conquer. I share some bags. Thanks for the help, Cliff!

Bags five, six, seven. Plus a tire and a tie down stick thing. Truck bed is satisfyingly full now and I’ve run out of bags. And I’m still cold. But I still see more debris. Lots more. You haven’t seen the last of me, road trash! I summon my best Arnold voice through the shivers, “I-I-I-I’ll be b-b-b-back.”

I return to the Port, snap a picture of my haul because it’s not official until it’s Facebook official. Tag Keep Burlington Beautiful in the post. Really, Facebook? Only 22 likes? Yes, AI probably will take over the world. Or maybe it already has. It feeds on our photos and need for validation.

I see a colleague. One of the event organizers. 90-something participants, he says. Not bad, considering the snowball nature threw at us. We made progress. There’s truckloads of debris no longer disparaging our right-of-ways and neighborhoods.

I drive away, heat on blast, proud to be part of this community, in this place, at this time. Even if it is snowing.