Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Great Moments in Green Initiative, Trucking

I was awake this morning at about four a.m., slouched in a camping chair, feet propped up on a table, reading by the back porch light. I've always been habitually nocturnal, but recurring headaches this last week (it's a tumor; I'm going to die) have kept me up to the point of exhaustion. Under most circumstances, I'd take being obliged to be awake as an excuse to read more, but the headaches make print almost unbearable to deal with. On a computer, I can hit CTRL and + and magnify the fonts on a website, or I can type in 24pt. Book text remains stubbornly, space-efficiently small.

For whatever reason, I forced myself to read a book last night, in spite of the headache, to get shit done, to preserve my occasional reputation as someone who can get shit done completely, so that when strangers ask associates of mine, "Who is that man? What kind of man would you say he is?" they can reply, "He is a shit-done getter in such comprehensive ways that his shit-done-ing admits of no incompletion. He's a man who gets. shit. done. Completely."

Anyway, I was wincing through Adam Cohen talking about FDR's first 100 days (which isn't Cohen's fault, by any means), and I heard what sounded like a goddamn dump truck stopping and starting down the block. At first, I reasonably assumed that what sounded like the thrum of a massive diesel engine idling could have just been my head. Over the past few days, I've become convinced that I can hear blood vessels in my brain. But, no, after two or three minutes, I heard the truck go in gear, then drive what sounded like a tenth of a block, then idle again.

I tried to put it out of my mind, but at that hour, everything looms larger just by dint of being out of the ordinary. Usually, I sit out there for the silence. The weather's still nice (and, even if it's hot, the sun isn't baking your skin to rotisserie-chicken consistency); none of the neighbors' kids are out screaming; Natty Ice or shitty weed has finally knocked out the redneck idiots a block over; no dogs are barking. Granted, some feral cats might howl for a while, but it's really peaceful and pleasant. Naturally, a giant-ass truck stopping and starting stood out.

Then, after a few minutes of this, it occurred me: could the recycling guys be coming around at a much earlier hour now? I'd put the bins out in the front yard, but I still had some stray soda cans inside the house. Worried, I grabbed what I could carry and zipped around the side yard and was about to unlatch my gate and run down to the end of the driveway when I saw the truck. It wasn't the recycle dudes; it was just some guy.

More importantly: it was just some guy in a Ford F-350 driving around, poaching everyone's aluminum cans.

Now, I know the economic downturn has hit some people extra hard, but this was just dumbfounding. I watched this guy drive his F-350 maybe 40 feet, stop, leave it running, pick maybe eight cans — no bottles — out of a neighbor's recycle bin, throw them in a tub in his truck bed, then accelerate 40 feet, get out and repeat. I watched this for at least five minutes until he had passed my house and moved on to the neighbor's house on the other side of me. As he was going past, I saw that he had two plastic garbage tubs at the rear of the truck bed and serious-looking huge metal equipment at the front of it.

I really couldn't tell whether to try to reason it out or just laugh. First of all, an F-350 gets about 6 mpg in the city — maybe 9 mpg, if it's a diesel. It's an iconically fuel-inefficient vehicle. Worse, that fuel efficiency probably plummets when all you're doing is going from 0-10 and then back to 0, then idling, over and over and over. And much worse, that fuel efficiency definitely plummets when you're doing all that starting-stopping-idling with what looks like at least 1000 lbs. of serious metal equipment in the back.

And for what? Most of the people in my neighborhood — and in every neighborhood three miles in any direction — are in their thirties, at the youngest. These are homes for people whose kids either live with them or are old enough to have moved out by now. That means these are settled people, people who aren't pounding down multiple beers or sodas per day. Granted, the guy probably got 24 cans just from me, but he didn't get even that much from the four houses on either side of my house combined.

So altogether, this guy's got to be making nothing, right? Putting a massive truck hauling half a ton through stop-start use, all in first gear, has got to practically reduce his mpg to 1, right? And he might be making a buck per street, but by the time he's gone two blocks like that, he's probably already zeroed out his profits just on gas expenses. Not to mention that, even if he does strike some kind of mother lode, he's only got two giant commercial garbage tubs to carry the cans in. He can't haul more than ten bucks in cans at the most, but the process of collecting them necessarily reduces his net take to probably only five — assuming there is a mother lode to be struck.

I don't begrudge the guy a profit if he actually makes one, but I can't see how he's making one. And outside of that, where's the value? Maybe technically he's stealing shit unter nacht und nebel, but residents' placing those bins out there signifies that they have already transferred ownership of those things to anyone but themselves. Is the rush from taking something quasi-forbidden enough to offset not realizing any profit on the deal while being forced to perform manual labor at four in the morning? 

I can understand why someone would choose to do this, but why would someone who's obviously put thought into when and how he's going to poach cans somehow simultaneously manage to put zero thought into whether he could get anything out of it?