You’ve been there, done this, right?
Driving along behind a local yahoo who pitches a cigarette butt out the car window. You beep at them. Up comes the magic fingah and the laugh, proudly affirming “Born To Run! The road is my ashtray — get over it, old man.”
Sometimes it’s a candy wrapper, an empty cigarette pack, a soda can or, heck, sometimes it’s the whole ashtray. But that’s mostly when the car is stopped or parked.
Still, there’s always the same response: This is America, man. It’s my right to dispose of my trash any way I want, proudly and openly. And always, the laugh.
In a sense they’re right: it is their right, because no one ever seems to react, fine them or take action.
The cops could care less; litter seems a joke to them. They’re fighting crime, they have bigger fish to try. And mostly, they do. So the butt tosser has the last laugh, repeatedly. The public seems too terrified to speak up to butt tossers, afraid of humiliation, ridicule or actual intimidation. Like driving in Glosta, these rules are not matters for the higher authorities to invest any time or political capital.
It’s just something we do in Fishtown. After all, we have the Clean Team patrolling the city to remediate this litter problem, right?
Well, yes, it’s right to say they are patrolling the city. But not necessarily doing much cleaning.
Have you noticed the Clean Team at work? They are the kids you see out in packs, in the light blue tee shirts, walking the littered streets of downtown. Mostly, however, that’s exactly what they are doing.
The Clean Team is a grant-driven cadre of kid cleaners who get paid to pick up litter. Started around 2000, Patty Amaral, Tony Corrao of Precision Roofing and Murray Matzner wrote the original grants and supervised and motivated their team of 12 kids five days a week, with plenty of help from Jeff Melanson.
CATA let the kids ride the buses free so they could get all over town — even out to Magnolia — and they got the job done. They used an entirely different work standard. The kids would work in groups of two, one on each side of the street, and they would work their way down the street picking up all the trash.
The first year, the group earned a $20,000 grant and picked up over 1,000 bags of trash of Gloucester’s pitched crap-o-la. The kids were the Compass Action kids. The program soundly dented the litter condition and provided needed teen summer jobs.
Nowadays, the grant is at least four times as large, but the work methods have markedly changed. You see them downtown — especially at the Sidewalk Bazar the week before last. But they don’t split them up any more, seemingly. They are in large groups, usually walking and talking, socializing and having a grand old time, hanging, talking, discussing the finer points of teendom.
What’s the point of that? If you don’t split them up, they are all looking at the same wrapper or butt, and one guy gets it while the others look on. But no ifs, ands or butts, because they apparently don’t do cigarette butts. The pay is near $10 an hour, but they don’t do butts. Even with rubber gloves?
No wonder our streets have that windblown, ambient trashy character, as the side streets of downtown do — and let’s not even discuss Washington Street or Railroad, Mapleton, Chestnut, Elm, Spring Sts., etc.
The worst scenario is the one you see the most where four or five (or more) kids are standing around watching and talking while one kid is doing all the work.
It’s perfect future training for the DPW, where you can sometimes see the four guys standing around watching the one person digging in the hole. We know where we can find those future diggers and standers; they’re being trained now in the field for a lifetime of group hanging. Their work habits are hard to disguise when they’re all wearing the same color shirt.
No offense, kids, but work is supposed to involve some actual “work,” where you get paid to actually split up and spend your actual paid time actually working for at least 45 minutes an hour without your new friends. Believe it or not, that’s what really happens in a real office: people split up, put their heads down and work.
The Clean Team is run by a great guy and a great staff, but I think they should get out in the field and count the number of shirts working together. You don’t want to train people to learn to “beat the system;” best to start ‘em off young to learn that work can lead to success and that the boss and have the public notice who is really working.
God forbid that one of the kids themselves would come up with a better solution to solving the problem. The city sure needs their input and their motivation.
Gordon Baird is a local actor and musician, co-founder of Musician magazine, and producer of “the Chicken Shack” community access television show.