It takes at least an hour and a quarter to drive from my home in Carrabassett Valley to the nearest Starbucks. But a couple of minutes walk from my front door, I came across a discarded Starbucks cup. Within a mile, I found three more. The closest Dunkin' Donuts is nearly forty minutes away. Six empty Dunkin' containers soaked in the ditches in my immediate neighborhood. In less time than it would take me to reach a Taco Bell - there's one about seventy miles from here - I came across three of its wrappers. I guess they really are "good to go."[For the rest of this story, see the May 2008 issue of Down East.]
On a rainy Saturday morning in May, I joined dozens of other volunteers in an annual ritual: picking up trash along seventeen miles of highway through our town. We got cold, wet, dirty, and, in my case, supportive of the idea that convicted litterbugs be executed. I wouldn't be overly concerned if the method employed was cruel and unusual.
Wallowing in other people's discarded crap can give you a bad attitude.
To suppress thoughts of dragging potential despoilers of the countryside from their cars and forcing them to clean the roadside with their teeth, I pretended I was on an archeological expedition. I discovered artifacts indicating the Neanderthals who migrated through here during the winter on their way to ski at Sugarloaf foraged for food at McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Pizza Hut, Tim Hortons, Papa John's, KFC, Blue Canoe, Big Apple, Cumberland Farms, and 7-Eleven, none of which has a franchise within thirty miles.
These nomadic creeps didn't just eat. They also drank gallons of Budweiser, Miller, Coors, Molson, Rolling Rock, Pabst, Geary's, and Shipyard, and threw the cans and bottles away. They guzzled down Coke, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper, and eight kinds of energy drinks. There was iced tea and Twisted Tea; Mike's Hard Lemonade and several brands of the soft kind; Poland Spring and six competitors; three fifths of Jose Cuervo, two of Jim Beam and one each of Absolut, Captain Morgan's, and JA¤germeister; eleven shooters of various kinds of vodka and fourteen of Rumplemintz and its ilk. Near a snowmobile trail, plastic jugs of Oakhurst milk lay close by Allen's Coffee Brandy empties, the remains of an A-OK party. Wine accounted for just two bottles, but one was a pretty good Pinot Noir.
At least, you can buy all that stuff locally.
You can also purchase plenty of other items that come with their own debris suitable for tossing out the window: several varieties of Slim Jims; hundreds of plastic-wrapped candies; countless cookie packages, packets of mustard, mayo, ketchup, and relish; a wide assortment of vitamin gels, powders, and pills; and an unopened and surprisingly pristine duo of Twinkies.
The passers-by needed to satisfy other bodily functions. They left behind two bags of rancid diapers, one bottle filled with what appeared to be urine, and enough used condoms to depopulate a small country. I stopped counting cigarette packs at a hundred, chewing tobacco cans at fifty, plastic mouthpieces for little cigars at thirty, and wouldn't attempt to estimate the number of butts. The residue of illegal drug use was limited to a syringe and a bedraggled roach. There were also a couple of prescription pill bottles. Maybe I'll return them to the patient, along with a complimentary bag of trash.
Embedded in the roadside gravel were odd-shaped pieces of plastic, metal, and ceramic, the remnants not of cavemen's tools, but of kids' toys, adults' tendencies to scrape the guard rails with their cars' breakable sections, the inexplicable decision to toss coffee mugs into the puckerbrush, and somebody's desire to rid the vehicle of a guitar neck. There were also enough small auto parts to open a NAPA dealership and a perfectly good plastic pinwheel, perhaps left behind by wind farm developers.
Among the littering subculture, the so-called new media don't seem to have made a powerful impact. While I found an iPod holder and a couple of DVDs, that small volume of trash was dwarfed by newspapers, magazines, and other printed detritus. Only one skin mag this year.
Two days later, as I walked the stretch of road I had helped clean, I spotted a cosmetic container in the weeds. I was sure it hadn't been there before. A bottle cap lay on the shoulder. I wouldn't have missed that. A section from a Sunday paper was snagged against a tree trunk. No way it was there on Saturday.
And rolling toward me across the blacktop, pushed by a chilly north wind, a Starbucks cup.