So, recently I drove down our bucolic and beautiful Crest Hill Road, for perhaps the five thousandth time. Perhaps it was because it had been so long since I drove it in the middle of winter. Perhaps it was because the VDOT had recently finished their aggressive mowing and trimming of the brush along the road. Regardless, I was struck by the amazing, disgraceful, and disrespectful amount of litter along the road.
Seeing all this litter brought back two very vivid memories of my youth. The first, I was very young, perhaps five or six. Mom and the five or six of us kids (often a revolving cast of characters) were driving home from Woodbridge to where we lived in Harbor View, near Occoquan. My oldest brother nonchalantly tossed his soda can out the window. My mother flipped her lid. She stopped the car, and forced my then-twelve-year-old brother to not only pick up THAT soda can, but to walk in front of the car, with her flashers on, and pick up every piece of garbage he found for a quarter mile. He was humiliated, and an impression was made on us all.
Alas, the impression was deadened in me some years later by the effects of copious amounts of alcohol. Fast forward to the spring of 1984. Spring Break, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida! I, along with a bevy of high school friends, drove down in two cars. One fantastic sunny early spring day, I was passenger in one car as we crept and crawled along A1A. I upended my beer (yes, underage, yes, in a vehicle, YES, this was an entirely OTHER time), and casually dropped the can out the door. Not three seconds later, the can smacked me in my head, and Very Large, gruff hands grabbed my shirt collar and lifted me out of the car!! A burly face yelled in my rapidly sobering face, “LISTEN, Yankee!! We BARELY tolerate you maggots down here At ALL!! You litter in MY street again, and I’ll kick your punk ass all the way back to Virginia, where you Belong!! Bravo, to my unknown hero!
So, back in present day, and with a respect for not littering that has lasted to date, I determined to follow up and pursue the group that had ostensibly “Adopted” this section of roadway. It was “Friends of Lake Athlone” (the lake around which we, and perhaps thirty other homes, lived). After further inspection, I discovered the Friends of Lake Athlone had consisted of one elderly couple, who had retired to Florida some two years earlier! I proposed to Debbie that we take that stretch of road over, contacted Warrenton VDOT, and put this ball in motion.
The receptionist/organizer of the local Adopt A Highway program was very encouraging, and promised we could have a new sign installed after our second cleaning and servicing of the road. We loaded up with reflective vests and some twenty orange trash bags, and were promptly met with relentless cold front after frigid air after light snow.
This week, we were blessed with two glorious days, between bouts of sub teen zero temps and rain squalls. We attacked the project, thinking we would perhaps complete half the road (one “Adopts” a two mile stretch). After two days, we completed the first quarter mile of road, and are exhausted and sore everywhere. While the remainder of the road is sprinkled with trash here and there, the first three quarters of a mile are right out of a third world country. We gathered up EIGHT TRASH BAGS of garbage. I learned a few things about human nature, and what I believe are motives for the horrible quantity of garbage right at the headland of Crest Hill.
First, that there is a surprising similarity in the garbage. This would indicate that either the same perpetrator is responsible for the garbage (a hefty achievement, tossing some ten CASES of beer out their window!!), or that we are rather predictable animals.
Second, that the motive is secrecy. Folks are stopping off at either McDonalds, 7-11, or Fosters on their way home, snatching up the guilty pleasure of their choice (hot dog, pizza, beer, burger, canned or fountain sodas, candy), scarfing them down in rabid desperation, then realizing even the trash, if left in their car, would betray them to their significant others or their families (“you’r CHEATING on your Diet?? You’re Diabetic!!”, or “you Promised you would quit drinking, or drinking and driving!!”)
Third, that familiarity breeds contempt. We ignore and become contemptible of what we are around all the time, regardless of how beautiful it is.
Forth, perhaps, is that once litter starts, it simply continues unabated and often accelerated. I’m reminded of the old joke, “They never put up a ‘No Dumping’ sign, until it’s Too Late!!” I’m afraid people just don’t think their wee tiny little contribution to the mess really matters or would even be noticed. Also, I think (and HOPE) that, once cleaned, people will be more reluctant to BEGIN the process. Who wants to be the First to cast that stone?
Hopefully, in due course, we’ll find out that people are reluctant to litter on a Now Clean roadway. At least, discouraged….
Our work on the road continues. It will take Many days to complete our entire two mile stretch. If you see us out on 647, Crest Hill Rd., tap the horn, wave, and know, We are Volunteers—NOT on Work Release! 😀