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 Ruby's Road: Fresh Garbage - Trash and treasure

Ruby's Road

by Dawne Belloise photo by Dawne Belloise

It's garbage day after the Christmas frenzy and the streets of Crested Butte are lined with clear plastic bags filled with ribbons, wadded wrapping paper, and all the trimmings stuffed into overflowing trash cans bulging like holiday extra pounds over tight jean waistlines. Last year's unwanted items sit abandoned at the curb to make way for this year's latest must-haves. You can tell much about the demographics of a community by its trash…or how long it takes for stuff to get snatched up and recycled into someone else's household. From TVs to Foreman grills, almost new 12-cup coffee makers to halogen torchieres, Crested Butte is a gold mine for the recycling garbage-meister.

Once considered déclassé, the enterprising dumpster diver gained notoriety by making a small fortune on E-bay, cleverly transforming garbage into Shabby Chic and a marketable niche. Discards were now a viable income and the advent of online auctions broadened the target. That old picture frame you threw away because no one you knew wanted it was now selling to someone eight hundred miles away who was looking for exactly that…and they outbid fifteen people to pay twenty times more than the original price you paid for it five years ago.

America has become a toss away society, with big business cashing in on the planned obsolescence strategy. Beyond keeping up with the Joneses is the desire to have the latest…the incremental improvements to gadgets we already put out for and whose updated appeal aims for the bigger-faster-can't-do-without mentality. Four years ago, we would have never thought we needed a camera function inserted into our cell phones. Five years ago, most of us never imagined we needed a cell phone at all. Why hang on to a coffee maker that only makes coffee when you can buy one that starts itself up, grinds the coffee, brews both espresso and regular, and steams your latte before you even get out of bed in the morning? Although, purely for entertainment, I might consider trading in my old curbside found Hoover for Roomba, the vacuum that cleans automatically by continuously circumnavigating your floors, and simultaneously creates amusing diversions for the cat too.

Always amazed and delighted with my curb treasures, I proudly point out to visitors that my Sopris-Heights-On-The-Alley condo was almost entirely furnished from trash, yard sale dregs, or St. Jude's. My home is the epitome of Nouveau Trash decor peppered with my grandmother's Depression Era upbringing. My oak dining table was on the street with a “free” sign taped to it. A curved glass curio cabinet and its companion sideboard were advertised as “free, get it out of here.” Rescued houseplants, end tables, dressers, bookshelves, lamps and planks of wood have all been lustily scooped up and utilized.

Crested Butte is on a scale with NYC lately for quality discards. A wealthier population means better rejects. Since St. Jude's closed for the winter, there seems to be an abundance of ousted gutter gems. Here, you have only to drag a sled, or little red wagon, through six square blocks of fertile hunting grounds on trash day to get both you and your home in shape. In NYC, you have to argue with a cabbie just to convince him to let you load that forsaken walnut armoire you found on the Upper West Side. Don't tell him you're hauling it to the Lower East side until it's already secured to the trunk and you're in the taxi.

Brad and Jackie Creed, who have a painting business, have also furnished much of their digs with revitalized trash. “That's what's nice about working for second homeowners,” they agree. “Carpet, electrical fixtures, half of our living room and all of our bedroom was given to us by second homeowners who were throwing stuff away,” Brad chuckles.

Ted Furhman, bartender extraordinaire for Kochevar's, tells of the “harvesting” days when he lived in Gunnison behind Western State College. “College kids just throw everything away at the end of the school year 'cause mommy and daddy pay for it all. The dumpsters are filled with microwaves, TVs, and cement blocks. One year after graduation I found a Gerber Leatherman knife, socket sets, and a flashlight that would record your voice message. I found a complete oil change for my Ford pickup truck. Peachtree Jim has an entire storage unit filled with stuff he found.” Jane Thomas says that hubby Beach would bring home toys for the kids when they were little. “He'd bring home those large Fisher-Price playhouses and kitchens. I'd say, 'Don't bring that stuff in the house!'”

Many are reluctant to admit they are curbside curators. “I don't want no one to know that I have their stuff,” one man offered. “I don't want to be known as a dumpster diver,” a woman friend said. “But I do it,” she also confessed. “I'm a real thrift store girl.” Here's a royal Trash Queen's hint: if you're squeamish about being seen rummaging through your neighbor's cast offs, start your search late night on the day before trash pick up. Pickings are better then anyway and you won't be as readily seen.

I have several friends who built their homes from the ground up wholly from recycled construction materials either discarded from building sites or banished from recent remodels. From flooring to kitchen sinks, these perfectly good materials were viably reused.

Parts of Southern Italy have a strange New Year purging custom. At the stroke of midnight, they throw all their unwanted items out of the windows and into the streets…chairs, dishes, and breakables go crashing to the sidewalk. It is not the place to be standing when the clock strikes and it gives a literal new meaning to “out with the old.”

The town and county Refuse Engineers are not allowed to personally collect any of the bootie they find on their rounds since it's considered invasion of privacy to do so, so you won't have to outmaneuver them for the goods. However, as more people get savvy to the ultimate treasure hunt, garbage day might just become market day Crested Butte style.

Note: Editor: This story is the first in a series posted by my sister and traveling photo journalist, Dawne Belloise. Although these articles originate in Crested Butte, Colorado, for the Crested Butte Weekly, you will find many of the topics apply here and are always entertaining. These articles are posted with all permissions granted.

Posted On Friday, January 6, 2006

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