Home > Dispatches > Daily Dispatches 2014 > Daily Dispatch #226

August 21, 2014: State Fair: Re:cycle

"Hard Choices Make Good Stories"
xxxxx Alaska State Fair Tee shirt

Today Pete and I went to the state fair – we got in free because we’d volunteered to work for the Valley for Recycling Solutions Recycling Center, something we now do every year. The fair organizers did not make this easy for us this year. We had to initially pay to get into the fairgrounds, walk to the other end of the fairgrounds, stand in line for some time, get our hands stamped, return to the other fair entrance, pick up our ticket, and get our refund. We were also told that we had thirty minutes in which to accomplish this mission. There has got to be an easier way, and the easier way is to allow volunteers to go to the far end of the grounds and pick up their tickets.

However, it was a nice day – the sun was shining brightly, and it being early in the day of the first day of the fair, the place was not yet overrun by the unwashed masses. For some odd reason, they seem to come out of the woodwork at fair time.

All went well. Pete and I are now pros when it comes to the recycling center pick up gig because we’ve done this so many times before. We know the routine. And this year, it was the same as previous years.

Dave at sorting table

ET at sorting area

After picking up our tickets, we went over to the recycling center sorting area and signed in. Next we suited up. We put on bright yellow vests and rubber gloves, and retrieved our green carts. We put three plastic bags in the carts, grabbed long tongs and rags with which to wipe down the barrels.

There are several routes, called the green, red, and purple trails. There is also the midway area. This year we did the purple and Midway trails. And, as in the past, Pete headed down one side of the trail and I the other. This, we have learned, is preferable to following one another, which then requires more thoroughfare crossings. The areas where people drink generally have the most booty—this year was no exception.

And once again, we involved ourselves in doing the small things that are an integral part of this job. Using tongs, we first dug through the red garbage barrels pulling out the recyclable plastic bottles and aluminum cans. We next removed the green lids from the green recycling barrels and did the same. History then repeated itself, as again, fairgoers had (already) dumped their garbage in the green bins, and cans and bottles in the red bins. No matter, we pulled cans and bottles forth with the tongs, removed lids with rubber gloved hands, turned them upside down and emptied them, then tossed them in one of two large plastic bags provided for this purpose.

We returned to the sorting area after completing round one, and then we set out on round two, which was the Midway. It took us 1 ½ hours to do each route. We tossed our goods on the sorting table, and Dave, a recycling center employee, removed bottle lids and put items in larger sacks.

Yes, I am very familiar with how collecting recyclables at the Alaska State Fair works. And it’s most likely for this reason that this year I began thinking that I wasn’t having as much fun as I’d had in previous years. Most years I like the feeling of invisibility that is part and parcel of this job. It makes it easier to people watch. And it also enables me to get the job done faster. And in most years I’m able to deal with the fact that most fair goers check their brains at the entrance. But this year, my having to root through the sodden mess -- turkey bones, French fries, paper plates and napkins included -- made me feel a tad bit impatient.

One small incident did change my mood for the better. We were passing by the House of Doom – the obligatory haunted house – when the best of all things happened. The best part of this sideshow attraction is the speaker system. Whoever is talking – man or woman -- has a deep throated male voice that carries a long ways. It’s a low, insidious voice, with an even lower, more insidious laugh. I happened to look up as we were passing and saw a rather young, ordinary looking woman at the mike. She looked down at Pete and said “There go the recycling center volunteers, making the state fairgrounds beautiful.”

This one appreciative gesture made my day. It also made me realize that what we’re doing is a good thing, akin with giving blood – and an absolutely selfless activity. Giving blood, this keeps people alive ,which may not be such a good thing. But collecting recyclables, this slows down environmental degradation.

So now, yeah, I’m thinking that I’ll go back and pull the cart again early next week.

Next: 227. 8/22/14: Lessons Learned: Forward, Further Defined