Tag Archives: trash picking

Spider-Man Shoes


The family walked the trail early in the day. They were leaving when I arrived for my shift.

The man of the family was carrying a toddler. The boy was wearing only one shoe, a sandal decorated in a Spide-Man motif. The man removed the shoe from the boy’s foot and walked over to the garbage can. While I watched, he lifted the lid and deposited the shoe in the trash.

I must have given him an inquisitive look because the man shrugged and said the kid had lost his other shoe somewhere on the trail. I suppose it was easier for the dad to toss the remaining shoe than to retrace his steps on the trail to look for the lost one. Presumably, the child had more shoes at home or the family could afford to buy him a new pair.

How does a person (even a tiny person) lose only one shoe? Maybe he’d kicked off the shoe while a parent was carrying him, but why had he kept the other one? Life is mysterious.

Later that day, a large extended family came off the trail. A small family (mom, dad, toddler) was part of the big family. The dad was holding a sandal decorated in a Spider-Man motif.

They’d found this shoe on the trail the man said. Did we have a lost and found?

I explained how the shoe had been lost earlier in the day and its mate had been left in our garbage can.

The man said he thought the sandal would fit his son. He asked if I minded if he dug the discarded shoe out of the trash.

I love dumpster diving and otherwise acquiring perfectly good cast-off items. I didn’t see anything strange or gross or wrong with rescuing the shoe from the trash. I told the man to be my guest.

He poked around in the garbage can and found the sandal close to the top. It had been a slow trash day, and the shoe hadn’t gotten dirty.

The toddler was excited about his new Spider-Man sandals. I guess one kid’s Spider-Man shoes trash is another kid’s Spider-Man shoes treasure.

Trash Picking


Trash picking is in my genes, passed down to me by my father.

One of my earliest memories is going behind the local dime store after closing time so my dad could poke around in the unlocked trash room. It thin it was mostly cardboard in there, but sometimes he’d find good things like the metal bank the size of a softball and printed brightly with the countries of the world. He gave the bank to me, and even though the rubber stopper to hold in the money was missing (hence the exile to the trash room), I liked it anyway and kept it for years.

My dad was never too proud or too wealthy to pass up a discarded pile of building materials without investigating it for useful items and hauling home anything he might be able to work into a home improvement project.

My dumpster diving has gone farther than my father’s ever did. I doubt he ever climbed into a supermarket dumpster to pull out enough discarded produce and snack food to supplement the grocery budgets of several households. I doubt he’s eaten discarded pizzas as a diet staple while traveling across the country or pulled fancy food dumped into garbage cans by rich people in tourist districts. I’ve done all those things. We’ve all got to eat, and when I’ve had no money, I did what I had to do to feed myself.

As a camp host, I sometimes find things in trash cans I can’t believe people have left behind.

My first camp host trash score came with items campers left next to the trash can. They’d brought several green propane bottles with labels missing, and they didn’t manage to use all the fuel during their camping trip. I guess they didn’t want to haul the bottles home, so they were left lined up outside the trash can. I took the bottles over to my campsite and used them during the cold days of late mountain spring. Those partially full bottles must have saved me at least six bucks.

Later in the summer, I opened a trash can and found nothing but an empty one gallon glass wine jug. It even had a cap. I pulled it out of the can, washed it, and still use it as a water container.

Young people driving shiny cars throw out the best stuff. After one group left, I opened a garbage can to find several tiny, almost new tubes of toothpaste, a nearly full bottle of propane, a box of individually wrapped herbal tea bags with only a few bags missing, and assorted other things I no longer remember. Another time, I found half a bag of marshmallows, half a Hershey bar, and several unopened packages  of fancy chocolates that had melted, then re-formed while in an ice chest. Let me be the first to say, fancy chocolate is still delicious, even when one has to eat it by biting chunks out of a blob.

Once a group of young professional types cut out the garbage can middle man and offered me approximately seven gallons of bottle water they didn’t want to carry home. Hell yes, I’ll take that, thank you. Even at the cheapest bottle refilling rate in Babylon ( 25 cents a gallon), I saved almost $2 and didn’t have to spend my time filling bottles.

One Sunday morning when I was emptying trash cans, I found beverages of an adult nature. When I tried to pull the bag out of the can, I realized it was too heavy for me to lift. I began pulling beer bottles out of the heavy bag and throwing them into an empty trash bag. When I pulled a bottle out and it seemed unnaturally heavy, I examined it more closely. Yep, there was liquid in there. Yep, the cap was still sealed. Who throws out unopened bottles of fancy beer? Well, underage kids do. Camp hosts don’t card, so I’m not sure how old anyone at the campground was, but the members of one group seemed young enough to be underage. That would explain why they didn’t take the beer home to mom and dad’s house, but I don’t understand why they didn’t drink the beer before they left. Didn’t they know there are sober children in China?

In any case, I ended up with six full bottles of beer, and I’m not talking PBR. This was good stuff, some California microbrew. However, since I’m not much of a drinker, I gave the beer to my coworker, who was quite pleased with my trash score.

On another Sunday afternoon, I found a two-pound plastic container nearly full of plump, ripe strawberries. I scooped them up and took them right back to my campsite. Upon further inspection, I found some of the berries were a big squashed, but I washed them and ate them anyway. They were super ripe and juicy. I ate them with some whipped vanilla yogurt I’d gotten on super sale at the bargain supermarket. The yogurt was quite like whipped cream and went well with the berries.

By far, my best food score came near the end of the fire when a crew of young people from the California Conservation Corps stopped by to see the sequoias. Each of the crew members was carrying a paper sack about 2/3 the size of paper bags groceries are packed in. After a couple of the folks dumped their paper bags in the garbage cans,I wondered what was in them. After the crew left, I started poking around in the trash cans. In addition to at least three meaty sandwiches (which I left behind), almost every bag contained an apple; an orange; a couple of small packages of raw carrots; a foil packet of tuna; a bag of banana chips; a bag of trail mix; a bag of M&M’s; a package of fig cookies; and a bag of either Oreos, Chips Ahoy cookies, Ritz bits crackers with cheese, or Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies. There was so much waste of prepackaged food! I have no idea why those people hadn’t saved the snack food for later. It wasn’t going to spoil any time soon.

Their waste was my gain. I filled up two of the paper bags with food, and I lived large for weeks. I saved easily $25 worth of food from going to the dump.

I try to be discreet with my trash picking because the normals sometimes do weird things like call the caps when they feel uncomfortable. However, I never feel ashamed for living off other people’s castoffs. If anyone should feel ashamed, I think it’s the people throwing away all the good stuff.


Just Picking Up Trash?


It was my day off, but I was hanging around my campsite, tending to chores such as airing out my bedding, taking an inventory of my pantry, and organizing my food supply. I’d taken a shower in my new privacy tent, using my pump-to-pressurize pesticide(less) sprayer. I was wearing my pink house dress, sitting at my picnic table, writing and feeling good.

Only one site in the campground was rented, but those folks had driven off to do something hours before. I knew they were coming back because they’d told me so before they left.

I heard a vehicle pull in on the other side of the campground. I heard a human voice say some words I didn’t understand. I heard footsteps move in the general direction of the rented campsite. I assumed I was hearing the people who were staying on the rented campsite, and I wondered vaguely why they hadn’t driven directly to their spot. I figured they’d just needed to grab something fast and it was quicker to park on the other side of the campground and cut across the empty sites on foot to get to their site.

When I looked up, I could barely make out past the trees and the restroom building the vehicle IMG_3003parked across the way. It was a big white pickup truck. I remembered the campers who’d left for the day had a small silver pickup with a camper shell on the back. As I was contemplating the vehicle that seemed to not belong in the campground, I heard things being moved around on the rented site. Day off or not, I decided I needed to investigate.

I walked over to where I could see the campsite. There was a woman on it. She was not the woman staying on the campsite. This woman had long white hair pulled back in a ponytail. She was wearing unfashionably long shorts that were too tight around her middle.

I said, People are coming back to that campsite.

She said, Oh! (I’m sure she was surprised to see me standing there in my pink dress with my brow furrowed.) I was just picking up trash. I thought this stuff was abandoned.

I’ve been known to do some trash picking myself. In fact, I’d say trash picking is one of my favorite sports. I know what abandoned items look like. They look dirty, like dust has blown on them, like rainwater has washed mud onto them and now the mud has dried into a thin coating of dirt with bits of vegetation embedded in it. Stuff that’s been abandoned tends to be bleached by the sun, and perhaps some pieces are broken. Abandoned things probably have old cobwebs on them and there may be rodent droppings on them too. Abandoned items are strewn about, and one sees them in the same place over a period of days or weeks. The things on that campsite did not look abandoned because they weren’t. The owners hadn’t even been gone a full work day.

It’s not abandoned, I said. The people are coming back, I repeated.

I’ve just been picking up trash, she said again. I’ve been getting all kinds of stuff.

She moved back toward the truck, where the fluffy black and white dog waited silently in the open bed.

I’m the camp host here, I told her. If you come back here, I don’t want you taking my stuff.

Oh no. I won’t, she said. I’m just picking up trash, she maintained.

As she approached the truck, she called out, Is this a free campground?

No ma’am, I said. It costs $21 a night to camp here.

Oh dear! or Oh Lord! she said as she got in the truck.

Maybe she was just wanting to pick up gear that had been abandoned. I didn’t want to discourage (or think the worst of) a fellow trash picker, but I certainly don’t want anyone taking my gear when I’m gone, and I can’t have someone coming into the campground and running off with things that belong to my campers.

Hours later, after the woman was long gone, I realized what I should have said to her.

Ma’am, I’m the host in this campground. If anything is abandoned here, the maintenance men and I will handle it. Please don’t take anything out of this campground.

Now I have my speech ready if she comes back.

I took the photo in this post.