As you drive, or bike, or walk, on the roads of the island, you will come across furniture, flower pots, appliances, remodeling leftovers, and other miscellany left at the side of the road, usually with a sign that says, “Free.”
As I noted a couple of these offerings along the Westside Highway this morning I thought, gee, we didn’t used to have all these free things set out beside the road. I wonder why we do now.
Then I remembered.
Back in the days of yore, when Vashon wasn’t an upper middle class moated community, we had a dump.
Bulldozers carved huge holes in the ground. We backed up our vehicles to the edge, and tossed our trash into the pit. Everything, and I mean everything, went into the pit. First time I was there I saw a cow’s head lying down at the bottom, a byproduct of someone’s home butchering job.
If you had something that wasn’t quite garbage but you wanted it out of your life, you could leave it on the ground next to where vehicles backed in to offload. Someone else would find it and take it home.
It was fun. We never knew what sort of free treasures we might find.
There was a down side. Your spouse might come home from the dump with, say, a truck full of old Styrofoam pipe insulation for which he had big plans, and dump it in the yard, and never touch it again. I’m not mentioning any names here.
Bill Speidel once told me of the time his wife, Shirley, came home from the dump in absolute transports of delight. Someone had left some dishes that matched her pattern. Now she would have a complete set. Her joy lasted until she realized that the dishes she’d picked up were her own dishes, which she had taken to the dump the previous week.
So it wasn’t a perfect system, but mostly it worked.
Then for some reason the county began to object to people removing items from the landfill. After all those years of carefree “leave some garbage, pick up some garbage,” we were told we could not do it anymore.
The new rule was not well received. There was grumbling. Scrupulously honest citizens began to resort to sneakiness.
One day I went to the dump with a scrupulously honest friend, and it goes without saying that I am scrupulously honest. Don’t smirk. I’m honest, as human beings go. The two of us had combined our accumulated garbage to split the dump fee.
She backed her truck up to the garbage pile and we began to empty our garbage cans. By that time, the landfill was so crammed that there was a hill instead of a hole. You had to throw your garbage up on the garbage pile. No one left items to be claimed now that it was illegal. Although you could sometimes see things in the garbage that looked tempting, you resisted the urge to pick them up.
Or did you? As we worked, we spotted a VCR not twelve feet away, sitting atop a garbage pile.
My scrupulously honest friend’s eyes grew wide.
“Ooh,” she said. “My son needs a VCR.” Her son was in his teenage movie making phase.
She looked at me. I looked at her. We both looked at the entrance booth, and the bulldozer, to see if any landfill employees were looking our way. They weren’t.
So we casually moved around, trying to look natural. I continued to move garbage cans around, blocking the view between her and anyone who might object to her darting over the garbage and grabbing the VCR, which is what she did. She stashed it in the back of her truck. We loaded up our empty cans and left, a couple of law-abiding citizens dizzy on the heady wine of civil disobedience.
Eventually the dump was sculpted into the trapezoidal contours of Mt. Trashmore, a methane torch was lit that burned for years, and the transfer station was built. Now we don’t even know where our garbage goes.
Our recycling of still usable items has been taken over by Granny’s Attic, and what Granny’s won’t accept, the side of the road will. It was easier when castoffs were all in one place, but we are an adaptable species.
It is nice to catch a break, finding something you can use for free, maybe especially so when there have been laws passed making it harder for breaks to happen. So far the Roadside No Profit Mart is operating without let or hindrance. Let us enjoy it while it lasts.