When you’re a kid, what’s more adventurous than a trip to the dump with your dad? For me, it was the one errand that I looked forward to and dreaded in equal measure. Saturday mornings, Dad packed up the trunk of the car with garbage bags and broken things that could no longer be fixed. Things like the spade of a shovel or the center to a plastic circus that flew through the glass window of our bedroom when three sets of hands tried unsuccessfully to pry the high wire pole from its base.
Going to the dump with Dad wasn’t mandatory. It was something we wanted to do; with one exception. The drop off.
The dump was the epitome of an archeological dig. On a warm day with the car windows down, you could hear us yakking in the backseat about what we hoped to discover during that day’s expedition. The trip to the landfill took us across town over back roads and railroad crossings. The excitement became palpable when we saw the first stretch of rusty, chain-link fence that ran the perimeter of our town’s waste management epicenter.
The landfill itself and the act of discarding our trash were of little interest to us. But we needed to clear the obstacle of the drop off in order to reach our treasure. Those few seconds it took Dad to turn the car into position and back up to the edge of the dumping pit were terrifying. This was the formidable portion of the outing. The moments filled with inverted breaths and anxious, silent prayers beseeching God to watch over Dad’s foot so it wouldn’t suddenly hiccup, slam the gas pedal through the car floor and catapult us into a grave of rotting garbage.
Sometimes, we peered out the back window as he navigated the drop position, but more often, Dad instructed us to duck down so he could see over our heads and calculate within millimeters this death-defying feat. Even with our faces pressed against our knees our senses were honed. We could hear the gulls overhead scavenge for food and the sound of bulldozers plowing under mountains of refuse. We could smell the stench of decaying trash mixing with the exhaust of diesel-fueled equipment.
Most of the time, Dad ignored our worries about plummeting to our deaths, for he had faith in his skills as a mathematician. Other times, he eased our concerns by telling us that only a couple of cars had ever backed up so close to the pit that they actually fell in. I often wondered what ever happened to those people. I’m guessing the gulls got to them long before the bulldozer ever did.
The good news is that we never went crashing into the abyss. We came close a couple of times; so close that we had to stand on the side of the car to toss the bags from the trunk, but we never lost our foothold. In fact, it seemed to be a point of pride for my father, to see just how close he could get without sailing into oblivion. I can still hear him exclaim, “Huh! Look at that! You couldn’t get any closer if you tried!” Proof that prayer and Dad’s judgment as a driver were worth believing in.
You may be wondering what the attraction was to running this errand with my father since it involved the mandatory white-knuckled backup maneuver. It was the prize that waited for us after the trash was tossed. Through the sliding metal gates of the landfill entrance, stood a storage trailer set back on the left. It brimmed inside and out with all sorts of recycled riches. This was back when “going green” was a term used to describe someone about to projectile vomit. Repurposing was alive and well. We just didn’t label it.
The trailer busted at the seems with free items that people had outgrown a need for or were too nice to throw away. Then again, maybe they were left by people who were too afraid to back up to the pit of death.
The inventory changed often but there was always an ample number of bicycles and bike parts from which to peruse. I am proud of the fact that my dad built bicycles for each of us from frames and seats and handlebars recycled at the dump. He taught us how all the different pieces went together and it didn’t take long before we were scoping out and installing the parts ourselves. If you were on the hunt for a banana seat, or a new front wheel, the dump was the place to go. Over the years we built and rebuilt impressive two-wheeled transportation works of art. Much better than one could find in a high-end department store.
One day when we were checking out the trailer, a military man stopped by with a box loaded with comic books. They were practically brand new! He and his family were being relocated. His kids had outgrown them, and so he was leaving them behind for another family to enjoy. Talk about being at the right place at the right time. Bike parts and comic books? Whooo hooo!
We were thrilled over that day’s haul. We jumped out of the car when we got home and flew into the house to tell Mom. She was next door at my grandmother’s. We raced over and opened the screen door, proudly announcing to everyone sitting in the kitchen, “Wait until you see what we got at the dump today!”
What we hadn’t realized until it was too late is that my grandmother was entertaining a couple of her refined lady friends. They thought it was a hoot, but Mom wanted the floor to open up and take her away.
I think about those early days spent going to the dump with Dad whenever there is something ready to be tossed from my own home. We ask ourselves if what we have might be useful to someone else before taking it to the end of the driveway for roadside pickup. When the answer is yes, we try to find the right connection; The Epilepsy Foundation, Big Brothers, Big Sisters. I’d like to say that we have a version of the recycle trailer at the “Transfer Station” in our town, but I’ve never been there. It took us a couple of years to locate it after we moved here, and every time we go by, the metal gate blocking the entrance is closed.
I don’t excited about the dump anymore. Maybe if it was still called a dump and I could actually find it, I would use it more often. Transfer Station sounds like a place you go to when you’re off to see your Great Aunt Thelma in Louisville. With curbside pickup, I suppose it’s a moot issue. I’ll tell you one thing. If my Dad were still here and I heard him ask, “Who wants to go to the dump with me?” I’d be riding shotgun.
Photo Credits: landfill: RDC IT Disposal; girl on bike: Kolmenscates.nl; feature image: The Everything Car Blog