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Roadside trash for the soul

By Angela Reinhardt
Staff writer
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    I decided early Sunday was the best time to make my first sweep as an Adopt-A-Road volunteer. Easy like Sunday Morning, to me, meant less traffic and a smaller chance I’d get creamed by oncoming motorists. 
    I’ve rolled around the idea of adopting a road for a few years, then during one of my “I’m-checking-off-my-list” days I had last month, I committed. I went by the Keep Pickens Beautiful headquarters (it’s that teeny tiny, green log building at the corner of Main and Church streets) and asked what I needed to do. I found out the process is simple: pick your road and select a one-mile section you agree to clean up at least four times a year. If the road you want isn’t claimed, it’s all yours. You get a sign with your name printed under the Adopt-A-Road logo and installed by a road crew.  
    My first choice - a one-mile stretch on Jerusalem Church Road - was available. Assuming my husband would want to help me pick up trash, I selected “The Reinhardt Family” for our sign verbage. They gave us two reflective vests, two of those long-handled claw things to ease trash pickup, a t-shirt and other free KPB swag. All we had to do was report the number of trash bags we gather to KPB.
    “Be careful,” one volunteer told us. “People don’t slow down on that road.”
    My drives to and from home were different after that.
    I came to realize people really don’t slow down on that road, and our stretch now seemed extremely long – much longer than I had remembered because I was imagining it in steps, not miles. I recalled a lady who spun off and crashed into a tree a few months ago inside our mile, and I noticed a patch of tire marks in the grass just off the edge of the pavement in one spot.
    But when my sign was installed two weeks ago - and the road was obnoxiously trashed - I decided this past Sunday was it, my maiden voyage into garbage collection.
    These were the highlights:
    •Trash collecting became an anthropology experiment. “If humans were judged on the trash on our roadsides,” I asked, “what would the conclusion be?”    
    •Last week our Shooting the Breeze column was with two guys from Nepal who bought a convenience store just north of town. They lived in poor conditions and were asked what stood out about America. The men were shocked by the amount of beverages we drink. Case in point, 90 percent of what I picked up were drink containers. Of those, more than half were energy drinks or beer cans and broken beer bottles. Bud Light is clearly the choice drink of litter tossers in my area.
    •Beyond drink containers, losing lottery tickets ranked second. They were all high dollar tickets, $20 and up, and every single one of the 15 or so I picked up were coiled, like someone got upset, wrung its neck and threw it out the window.
    •My anthropological conclusion? My mile of road was littered with vices: beer, energy drinks, chip bags and lottery tickets. If we were judged on our trash, the prognosis would be poor.
    •The most unusual items I found: a flat-screen television, slightly bent and filmed with dirt; a soiled diaper and three unopened beers - Bud Light, of course, which I opened and poured out to get rid of weight, spilling a good portion of one on my gloves in the process. 
    •A glass Coke bottle had taken up in an embankment. It was lying sideways, just a small portion showing itself through the dirt and moss. Plants had taken residence inside. I left it because it looked like a terrarium.
    •I had a fleeting, really embarrassing thought that a passerby might yell, “Thank you, Angela! Thank you for picking up our road!” This didn’t happen.
    •I realized there’s no easy way to do this. There’s no machine that’s going to dig out an old, torn tin can buried in the grass or pry out a napkin that’s partially dissolved and adhered to a log or a pile of sticks. It takes time.
    • I spent an hour-and-a-half picking up a half-mile of the street, just one side. In that half-mile, I collected two giant bags of garbage and a television set. 
    Picking up trash is like waiting tables; it’s something I think everyone should do to keep from being too self-important. I left sweaty, smelling of hot beer and trash juice, but I was fulfilled and gained a fresh, albeit odoriferous, perspective. I’m just one of dozens of people who have adopted their road in Pickens, and for the Great Clean Up Month this April I encourage you to do the same.