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A day when the streets come alive – with little help from cars

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Sometimes, cars and the roads they drive on bring people together, and all that pent-up hostility just melts away. Once a year, my municipality has what it calls “curbside pickup” day. Bring all your household junk, throw-aways, detritus and spoilage to the curb, and they will pick it up, gratis, and remove it. If two men can pick it up, they’ll take it away. And it all sparks a great community rummage festival. Photo by Ted Laturnus

Ted LaturnusOne of the biggest criticisms about the automobile is that it can isolate people. We drive around in our own cocoon and the rest of the world is reduced to a series of images floating by the window.

This, say those who study these things, tends to make people feel disassociated from one another and can lead to all kinds of anti-social behaviour.

Dr. Robert Mann, from the Centre For Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, says: “Increasing volumes of vehicular traffic on roads in densely populated regions not only impact the environment, but can also increase vehicle operator stress resulting in anti-social behaviours in the operation of motor vehicles.”

But, sometimes, cars and the roads they drive on bring people together, and all that pent-up hostility just melts away.

For example, once a year my municipality has what they call curbside pickup day. Bring all your household junk, throw-aways, detritus and spoilage to the curb, and they will pick it up, gratis, and remove it. If two men can pick it up, they’ll take it away.

When it happens, the streets come alive with activity. It’s kind of a combination of Mardi Gras and Canadian Pickers. Piles of trash are lined up curbside, which somehow de-formalizes everything, and closet pickers come out of the woodwork. One man’s garbage. …

And the quality of junk has been getting better over the years; some of the stuff is being discarded simply because its owners are tired of it or it’s out of fashion.

Avocado stoves that don’t match the new kitchen renovation with the sign “Still works” taped to them are left out, as are TV sets whose only failing seems to be that they lack a big screen.

Abandoned exercise equipment also seems to be a hot item. Older-model stationary bicycles, stair-masters and treadmills are put out, waiting to be retired – like their owner’s good intentions.

Bicycles are amazingly popular – or unpopular, depending on how you look at it: first-generation mountain bikes with chrome handlebars, full-fendered Raleigh and CCM cruisers with wire baskets, and kid-sized learner bikes proliferate.

Kids love curbside pickup day. The variety and quality of stuff just sitting there, waiting to be experimented with, drives them bonkers.

A group of elementary school students gather round an unwanted elliptical exercise machine, while one climbs aboard and starts to pedal frantically, his pals helpless with laughter.

Two young boys pulling another on a perfectly good wooden toboggan disappear down the street, the wood grinding on pavement making a noise that sounds like this: ggrressshhhkkkk.

A stenographer’s chair on wheels roars past, with a screaming girl sitting in it, being pushed as fast as possible by two teenage boys, their unrestrained laughter rippling down the street.

It’s also payday for the scrap-metal bums. They’re out in full force, driving around slowly in rusty pickup trucks at the crack of dawn. Aluminum and copper, in particular, are worth something. Old window sashes, rolls of wire, road wheels and small appliances are snapped up immediately.

The truck swampers also like curbside pickup day. They get overtime, and because the hopper fills up 10 times as fast, they have to make more trips to the dump to get rid of everything. That means less time grappling with crap and more time riding in the cab. It also makes for a longer day, which means more money.

Not to mention the odd fringe benefit: It’s not unheard of for homeowners to leave out a six-pack as incentive to take away that oversize sofa, and if they can stash something on the truck without it getting in the way, they can keep it.

Around mid-day, weather permitting, the first ice-cream truck of the season often makes its appearance, adding to the overall chaos, with an endless loop of tinkling canned music providing a loopy soundtrack to the day’s proceedings. The tune of choice seems to be kind of an insane bastardization of Camptown Races and Do Your Ears Hang Low? No copyright concerns, no doubt.

By dinnertime, it’s all over. The streets go quiet and a final sweeper truck trundles through in the twilight, picking up all the truly unusable stuff that has been eschewed by the city garbage truck, kids, recyclers and scrap merchants.

What they don’t take away, well, you’ll just have to store it in the back yard and wait for next time.

Ted Laturnus writes for Troy Media’s Driver Seat Associate website. An automotive journalist since 1976, he has been named Canadian Automotive Journalist of the Year twice and is past-president of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).

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