Monday, December 17, 2012

The Portland Garbage Underground

Garbage pickup in Chicago is pretty simple: you put your stuff in the alley, they pick it up.

That’s about it. You don’t even have to bribe them, which in Chicago is a miracle in and of itself. Not that I’ve tried it per se, but during the house-cleaning insanity, when I was dumping tons of crap in the alley, I happened to get home as the garbage folks were moving further on down the alley, so I trotted over to the guy in back to give him some cash. He actually shook his head at me, said “no no no, it’s our job, you don’t have to do that.” Weird.

And most of the stuff you put back there gets taken by the junk haulers. Anything metal? Yeah, it'll be gone in less than an hour.

But anyway, back to Portland. With this Chicago background in mind, the first week I was here I put out the garbage bin on Thursday night, for presumed Friday morning pickup. Note that I said garbage BIN – in other words, I put out the wee black one, and not the entire slew of 9 various receptacles that are congregating by my driveway. For those who think I’m joking:

Note also that the green and blue bins are massive, while the black one is…..but wait, I get ahead of myself.

So Friday morning comes and goes, and lo, the garbage is not picked up. Okay, this is a bit of an issue since the last tenants left it full to the brim, but hey, I can wait until next Friday.

The next week, I set it out again.

And again, nothing.

What fresh hell is this?

It’s only then that I learn about this wonderful quirkiness in Portland that is called “every other week garbage pickup,” or, as I like to call it, hell. You see, your huge blue and green bins o’stuff, namely the recyclables and yard waste, get picked up every week. The wee garbage bin, once every 2 weeks. So if you miss a week, basically you have garbage festering for a month, which I’m sure is quite lovely in summer.

But of course, no one would miss garbage pickup once you realize this, because to do so would be to invite madness. And decay and rats and bubonic plague and all sorts of pleasant things.

But back to my garbage problem – because now it’s been 3 weeks with no pickup of this stuff, and the bin was full in the first place so I have garbage bags piling up in the garage where I think there are mice. So I do the research and discover that – unlike in Chicago where you can pile up stuff to your heart’s content – you can set out an extra bag in Portland for an extra $5. I have no idea how they note this – do the garbage men have iPods in their trucks? No clue.

Beyond this issue of timing is the problem of trying to figure out what the hell goes where. I have 3 advanced degrees, and I still have no idea. Paper is recyclable, but paper towels go in compost. But other than that only yard stuff and food scraps go in the compost bin – oh, as well as pizza boxes. No other boxes, just pizza delivery. I’m tempted to eat nothing but takeout pizza in order to simplify things.

And then of course as garbage starts piling up, I start to wonder if there should be (or is) a Guerrilla Garbaging movement in Portland. Where people sneak around and dump their garbage wherever they can. Maybe this is why the dumpsters at the school next to the dog park where Kone and I go every morning are….locked. Yes, they have to lock up the garbage around here, to stave off desperate people. Umm, not that I checked or anything.

Of course, the bright side to all of this is that every 2 weeks, there’s a big celebration! First the anticipation and worry – did I do things right? Because the garbage men can refuse to pick up your bins if you’ve thrown things out incorrectly. Or if they’re too heavy. Yes, there’s a weight limit for the bins.

So all this leads to conversations like this:

Me: So I have some exciting news!
Patty: What’s that?
Me: They picked up my garbage this morning!
Patty: Awesome!

And now I realize why people are reluctant to give you extraneous boxes, like at Costco. “You don’t want a box for your things, do you?” Ha, I made that mistake once, and never again.

When I go to hang out at Kim’s, I bring containers that she’ll then have to discard, not me. “Oh I’d be happy to bring over a plastic container of orange juice! No problem!” Ha, my mother didn’t raise many foolish children, I always say.

Speaking of which, when my mom came to visit for Thanksgiving? Yeah, she gave up on the whole thing. “I’m leaving this on the counter, you can throw it out.”

I soldier on.