It’s springtime and a guy’s mind turns to fantasy.
But mine tend to be a little odd.
In one of my weirder fantasies, I’m sitting up on a grassy knoll overlooking Highway 47 with a huge stuffed bag of other people’s garbage that I and other Upper Sangamon River Conservancy volunteers have just spent two hours cleaning up along our two mile stretch of “adopted” (we prefer stewarded) highway. And I’m skillfully tossing pieces of garbage back into the open windows of passing cars.
Seriously people: garbage along the highway? Littering? Don’t people realize that garbage flows downhill and ultimately into the Sangamon River and beyond? Or where do people think it goes?
And didn’t we deal with this back in the 70’s?
As a child of the 70’s, I grew up with the environmental movement in its most kitschy early days. And the movement had some marked successes such as cleaner air and cleaner water and regulation of hazardous waste. But still, 40 years after the 70’s, people cruise down the highway, finish the last gulp of their 44 ounce Mega Chill and casually toss the empty out the window, never slowing down to give it a second thought.
I remember that commercial with ‘Iron Eyes’ Cody, the ‘crying Indian’ shedding a tear after a speeding car tosses a piece of trash out the window that lands at his feet. Actor William Conrad did the voiceover in his barrely voice, saying: “People start pollution. People can stop it.”
But you see, the thing is Bill, yes they can, but apparently they won’t.
And we also apparently didn’t get the message from the cartoon Woodsy “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute” the Owl. Remember him? Apparently not.
So in one of my fantasies, I’m walking along the busy highway, picking up trash and there I spot Woodsy the Owl lying in the ditch not too far from the rotting carcass of a dead deer, and Woodsy has apparently also been mortally wounded by an unfortunate encounter with a Freightliner. In Woodsy’s dying breath, he looks up at me with his sad owly eyes and says, “Well, I tried…”. And I say. “I know you did Woodsy, but ‘Give a hoot, Don’t pollute’? Seriously?”
And Woodsy dies in a tragic irony among the litter along the side of the highway.
Obviously crying Indians and silly slogans had no apparent effect on littering. Even on yours truly.
Yes, it’s sad but true that I was a litterer once. It was the 80’s and I was twenty-something and we were in the heart of the self-interested ‘me’ generation, so perhaps I can be forgiven. Perhaps not. But anyway, here’s how I was cured. I worked the graveyard shift at UPS, getting off work at 3:30 am.
One night, after picking up my paycheck, I stopped at the 24-hour drive-up Arby’s for a Giant Roast Beef and those tasty curly fries. I was off work, had my check and I felt good.
It was a balmy, warm, Florida late night, and I was cruising along the deserted Interstate 295 at 4am in my little brown Mazda pickup with the windows down and Skynyrd blasting on the Pioneer audio.
And when I took the last bite, I gathered up my trash, stuffed it in the bag and tossed it out the window at the top of the Dunn Avenue overpass. In the streetlights in the rearview, I could see that Arby’s bag clear the guardrail and disappear out of sight forever as the stereo blasted “…Lawd knows I can’t cha-a-a-ange…!” Man, I felt good!
And then when I got home, I realized my paycheck was missing. And I couldn’t find it anywhere in my Mazda pickup truck. So in the middle of the night, I dejectedly drove back to Dunn Avenue, and searched under the overpass along the gutter and the right of way at 5 am in the first morning light. Man, I felt bad.
But sure enough, I found my Arby’s bag, my paycheck wadded up inside. So I felt that the “Lawd” had spoken and I did change and that was pretty much that for my littering days.
Apparently kitschy slogans and tear-jerking TV commercial Indians really won’t change people’s behavior. And why should I be surprised? We’ve known that at least since the days of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign against drugs.
So my fantasies continue as I imagine ‘Iron Eyes’ Cody walking up beside me as I’m sitting on my grassy knoll along Highway 47 tossing trash back into car windows. He lifts a Stinger 3G compound bow off his shoulder, sits down next to me and draws up a carbon arrow.
I look at him quizzically and he just says “No more tears.” Just then some dude drives by in a Granite Blue Chevy Silverado, finishes the last sip of his Bud Light, crushes the empty in his clenched fist heman style and casually tosses it out the window.
In a flash, Iron Eyes lets two arrows fly in rapid succession blowing out the guy’s front and rear tires! I look over at him slack-jawed, but he just looks back at me with a contented expression and says simply “Only one spare.” This dude is definitely over his crying.
I have one final fantasy. It’s the one where on the next quarterly “Adopt a Highway” clean up day, the USRC volunteers spend two hours walking the highway up and down and then afterwards, we’re all meeting up in the Museum of the Grand Prairie parking lot.
And all we can do is just stare at each other as we return from our duties and smile a knowing smile of pure amazement: All of our huge trash collection bags are empty.
Man, I really have some weird springtime fantasies.
Join the USRC for “Steward a Highway” Day, Saturday May 5, 8:30am, Museum of the Grand Prairie Parking lot. Details at www.sangamonriver.org
Appeared as Notes from the River, Mahomet Citizen, April 18, 2013, by Scott Hays