Another 30 Cents

In Monday morning’s pelting rain, I’m on an errand run for essentials, this time passing a man gathering cans along the roadside. He is 60, give or take a few circles around the sun, and dragging a large garbage bag in the dirty snow, though he’s leaving the trash where it lies: He’s here for the money, five whole pennies at time. The rain is beating on him. The cans are everywhere, scattered across the rotting snow like shells on a beach. Lots of Twisted Tea and Bud Light. Easy pickings. I pass what I assume is his van parked in a small pullout, a black Ford Econoline with a piece of hand-lettered plywood leaning against the rear bumper. Watch out for the Vermont Land Trust is what it says, and man-oh-man am I curious to know more. So curious, I almost stop. I even have my foot on the brake. But the rain. And, you know, the virus. So I carry on, counting the as yet ungathered cans as I drive, adding in my head, and wondering (because I can’t help myself) what he’ll spend it on. Gas for the van, I think (and yes: It really is 1.50 at Willey’s). Maybe some Hot Pockets for dinner. Perhaps a six pack. Definitely, a six pack. So I add another 30 cents to the tally.

Music: Springsteen doing Ghost of Tom Joad with Tom Morello. 







15 thoughts on “Another 30 Cents”

  1. Rotting snow and empty aluminum cans. Doesn’t paint a pretty picture. The old guy (old guy? 9 years my junior) gathering cans could be anyone of us if this virus isn’t taken out, a virus spreading financial havoc throughout the nation and world and not painting a pretty picture either. Hope he gets his stimulus check. You and your family too.

    Stay safe and thank you for this post!

  2. So many thoughts came to mind reading this post. The first was the fact that can and bottle deposits are still five cents, after more than 40 years. Maybe if the deposit was increased to say twenty five cents, or even fifty cents there would be more incentive to not litter. It would also benefit those who rely heavily on the income those returns bring. It also brought to mind a story I read 30 plus years ago about a women who regularly “dumpster dived” to collect the returnables. She frequented a small dumptser next to a small convenience store/gas station in a small town five miles down the road from me. The amazing part of the story, printed in the local paper, was that she made enough money doing that, it enabled her to take a trip to the caribbean every year.

  3. As usual Ben, your imagery, even when not describing a pretty picture, transports me to a rural Vermont far from my suburban life. Both have their pros and cons.

  4. Another delicate and beautiful bunch of words. I love how you evoke a sense of place and time. Thank you for sharing. Be well

  5. Hey Ben,

    When I was driving up your road the other day — a little strange in a pandemic, since I’m not often up that way — I noticed a rusted piece of a vehicle stuck in the mud in the middle of the road. I almost considering pulling over and seeing if there was more of the car (and maybe its driver?) stuck beneath it, but, you know, the virus. So I kept driving, too.

  6. Ben….I came across your conversation on Rumblestrip. Not sure when it was recorded. I listened intently and enjoyed hearing your take on things as the conversation was punctuated with laughter along with so much to be admired. It was the best 36 minutes I’ve spent in sometime!

  7. Very well written piece Ben. At least you all get a nickel a can. Here in the South with current aluminum world commodity prices it ends up being about 1cent a can, or 1.5 cents for the tall boys. I still get about $40 a year patrolling my local ditch banks. Your piece also reminds me of another activity killed by the virus- hitchhiking. Stay curious GT

    1. Yeah, I even passed a hitcher a couple weeks back. First time I’ve done that in I don’t know how long.

  8. Just curious, but what is the VTLT and why is it a good, or a bad, thing, depending on your point of view?

    Picking cans to pay for your living expenses sounds rough.

    $0.05 per can
    20 cans per $1
    200 cans per $10

    A person needs to pick a lot of cans to make a living, so I hope that he is able to find sustainable can-rich environments in which to hunt them.

    i’ve got a sack of empty cans in the recycle bin, mostly Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi, that I’m going to haul out to the farm and perforate with 40 grain .22 Long Rifle bullets and 15.5 grain environmentally friendly .17 HM2 bullets later this week if the weather stay nice and the county gravel roads dry up enough so that I can get to where I want to go without the likelihood of getting stuck..

    Stay strong and be careful out there!

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