What about this overcrowded land? How much more abuse from man can she stand?
— Marvin Gaye
I don’t know if it was the determined set of his shoulders or the angry look on his face that made me stop to talk with the man picking up trash along the rural Lee County road.
No matter the reason, what I got was a lesson from one of those hardworking, salt-of-the-earth kind of guys who are pretty much the essence of what America is all about, at least the America that I grew up loving.
The gentleman didn’t want his name printed; in fact, he was initially reluctant to talk with me when I told him I worked for The Herald. But after a few minutes of feeling-out conversation, this man who had worked hard all his life before retiring a few years ago to spend more time doing family things offered bits of wisdom that I felt were worth passing on.
The gentleman said his trash duty was a regular chore, one he didn’t mind doing but he labeled as unnecessary.
“Look at all this (trash),” he said. “You think I like coming out here cleaning up after sorry people who think the world is their trash dump? You think it doesn’t (cheese) me off that I have two choices: Clean up other people’s trash or allow my property to look like the county landfill?”
The more he talked, the more agitated the man became.
“Here’s what really gets me,” he continued. “I like to get up in the morning, sit on my front porch with a cup of coffee and read the paper. When I first moved out here, I really liked watching all the people hurrying back and forth on the road, heading in to work for the day. I used to laugh at them, feel superior because I didn’t have to do that anymore.
“But now that our little part of the county has grown up into a pretty busy place over the last several years, I get so mad sometimes I just stay inside until the traffic dies down. I watch people throw trash out the windows of their cars — still-lit cigarettes, the remains of their breakfast, soda cans, whatever general trash they have available — and it drives me crazy. At first I thought it was sad that some people had so little regard for this beautiful countryside or for other people’s property. Now it infuriates me.”
I asked the gentlemen if he’d tried to confront the litterers, taken down license plate numbers or the like.
“I stood out beside the road for a few days a couple of years back, thinking people would have enough respect not to trash up a man’s property with him standing there watching,” he said. “But I just ended up getting madder. I got hit a few times by flying trash, and the folks who I guess were ‘kind enough’ not to mess up my strip along the road just waited until they were a little farther away to toss their stuff out.”
Following the gentleman’s suggestion, I took a ride out some of Lee County’s busiest thoroughfares ... east on Philema, north on Jefferson and U.S. 19, west on 82. I was flabbergasted at the trash along the roads, piles and piles of it. There was general litter and even some small appliances that I’d have to guess had served their usefulness.
“I love this part of the country, love Georgia and Lee County,” the gentleman told me as I prepared to leave. “But the people around here — at least the people who drive our roads — are some of the trashiest people I’ve ever seen. It’s almost like they feel they have a right to throw their trash anywhere they want to. ... Let someone else clean up after them.
“I’d really like to park my pickup beside the road on my property, let my tailgate down and just sit there with my rifle. Every time someone threw trash out the window of their car, I’d like to take a few shots at their tires. But, of course, I’m the one who would end up in jail.”
I thought about this gentleman’s frustration as I drove home from work Monday night, noticing the nonstop litter along the way. I couldn’t help but think that the people who would mar this beautiful countryside by indescriminantly tossing litter out of their vehicles onto other people’s property are just another part of what we’re calling these days an “entitlement” population.
“I pay my taxes,” I imagine them thinking. “Let the people I pay to do such things clean up after me.”
Somewhere that old Indian on the ‘60s TV ad is shedding more tears.
Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at firstname.lastname@example.org.