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COLUMN: One stranger’s trash is seldom another person’s treasure

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By ERIC HARRIS, Guest Columnist

You may have heard a few clichés about garbage over the years. Things like, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” or “You can tell a lot about a person by what they throw away.”

Maybe that second one isn’t exactly a saying but it’s probably true. I have been living by a different saying the last few months: “You can imagine a lot about a stranger by the crap they throw out of their car.”

About two years ago I was shocked to realize that I had become a fat person. I was going to just accept it and move on with my life because I had reached my mid-20s and I didn’t have much of an interest in competitive sports anymore and dieting sounded awful.

Then it hit me: jogging. I had first embraced jogging back in high school. It was something to do that was a break from all the competitive sports most high school kids have available to them and it always cleared my head.

A few times in high school, for basketball conditioning or cross country, we would have to run up the overlook hill (aka Eagles Bluff). I figured I could start doing that again.

Around April of 2010 I got back into jogging and went to the overlook. Before you start getting sarcastic with your newspaper and scoff at the idea of a fat man running up that hill, let me assure you that no running was involved. In fact, calling what I did in those early days “walking” is a bit of a stretch. But I kept up with it.

What does any of this have to do with garbage? Well, I’m sure I looked (and still look) like human garbage when I tackled that hill, but this is all just an introduction to what made my jogs interesting. Who cares if a fat guy started working out? That’s what fat guys do: we “start” working out and hope we eventually “finish.” Nothing interesting about that.

What is interesting is the immense amount of weird garbage I found along the highway on my way to and from that hill.

Most of the garbage is pretty standard: cans and bottles (mostly beer), cigarette packs, fast-food wrappers, plastic bags, etc. But every now and then I would spot something interesting. A shell casing for a 9-millimenter bullet, silverware, toys, empty boxes of nasal decongestant (for meth cooking, no doubt), discarded burnt CDs, multiple invitations to a Tell City trio’s graduation – I actually had them in class when I taught there but the only invitation I received was from the road – a solitary black latex glove … the list goes on.

I decided to post all of these “finds” on Facebook along with a (hopefully) witty remark about them because I didn’t want to just post the usual “I hate Mondays!” or “Is it Friday yet?” status updates that tend to clog up the newsfeed. Because of this I tend to get asked certain questions. Some would ask, “Do you really see all of that stuff?” I can assure anyone who has read my Facebook updates or is reading this article that I have seen all of these things. All of these things and more.

What is the point, though? Why write about this other than to amuse a dozen or so people on Facebook? I admit that entertaining others is my primary goal, but the sheer amount of garbage along the highway near Eagles Bluff and the Cannelton Locks and Dam is a bit of a downer. And while it might seem like I actually enjoy finding “strange” or “interesting” trash, it would not bother me at all if I went jogging one day and saw nothing but pavement, trees and grass.

I’ve never been considered an environmentalist, but I don’t see why so many people have to toss out so much of their trash on the road. Surely there is a trash can somewhere in your future.

I was able to track the evolution of an entire relationship through garbage this summer: beer bottles, cigarette butts, condom wrapper, discarded birth control pills, pregnancy test box and finally, a dirty diaper.

Some of those things are normal, some of them aren’t. I should not have seen most of these things.

I suppose anyone willing to toss an empty diaper onto the road doesn’t care what a stranger thinks of them, and I get that. I just hope people keep in mind that what you toss out of your car doesn’t disappear. In fact, some bored jogger might happen across it and post about it online.

That bored jogger might even make assumptions about the moral fiber of the trash throwing stranger. Once again, you don’t care, I’m sure, but if there was no trash out there, I wouldn’t have to jog with my eyes constantly on the ground.

Do you realize how weird I look to passersby, staring off to the side of the road like that?

In all seriousness, there are still some nice places around this area. It’s unfortunate to see so much trash, even when it is slightly interesting. So come on, strangers, there are plenty of trash cans and recycling bins in the world. Have a little patience and use one.

Harris lives in Cannelton and writes regular movie reviews for The News.