I lost the last of three Turkish wool hats on Sunday.
Silly as it may sound, it genuinely bummed me out. I had brought them back from Istanbul over a decade ago and they were wonderful reminders of where I had been, offered a link (of sorts) to my heritage, and, most importantly, were very warm for biking on winter nights.
I remembered yanking stuff out of my bag at the vacant lot at 41st and Main I photographed for my story on blight and wondered if I had inadvertently dropped it and added it to the pile of stinky garbage occupying the sidewalk.
Lovely, I thought.
I am nothing if not selectively nostalgic, however.
So, I decided to swing by the lot on my way home from the Rail-to-River meeting held at a school near Slauson and Avalon last night to see if perhaps it was there. The garbage pile had been there for well over a month, so I figured that if it had fallen amongst the other discarded clothing items, it probably wouldn’t have moved. The only question would be how badly it had been contaminated.
I was stunned by what I saw.
Not only had the Bureau of Street Services come by and cleaned up (mostly) everything since I had called them and written my piece Tuesday (approximately 36 hours earlier), but new stuff appeared to have been dumped around the corner after they left.
As I stood there assessing the pile of tires (above), the stray paint can, some minor debris, and the still-filthy sidewalk, I noticed the young gang-bangers sitting in the car next to the lot.
It looked like they were just chilling, smoking weed, and keeping an eye on who was coming through the neighborhood. I was obviously no threat. But, it didn’t mean they wouldn’t be more than a wee bit curious about what I was up to when I whipped out a camera and started snapping some shots of the area.
I approached the car to tell them what I was doing.
“See, I wrote a story about the garbage that was here…” I gestured toward the tires, realizing that this sounded no better coming out of my mouth than it did in my head.
They looked at the tires, then back up at me.
“I just didn’t want you to think I was doing anything strange when I pulled out my camera…” I concluded. “Nothing’s up…”
The guy in the driver’s seat smiled and nodded. The one in the passenger seat went back to rolling his joint.
I talked to enough people on this street the other day, I reassured myself, that when they tell people about the weird girl with the late-night garbage fetish tomorrow, someone will corroborate my story.
I looked at the tower of tires again.
I only remembered there being four stackable tires and one in pretty decrepit condition hiding under some sort of appliance on Sunday. Now, there were six neatly stacked in the parkway.
Either the tires had gotten busy and procreated, or someone had dumped one or two extra off since I was last there on Sunday (it’s also possible one had been hiding under other debris, but I can’t find any trace of a sixth in my photos).
And around the corner, someone had dumped some new garbage bags on the east side of the lot (along Main).
People really love to use this space as a dumping ground, I mused.
It’s a shame. And it is symbolic of how hard it is to keep the city streets clean in so many of the more marginalized neighborhoods.
Watts residents speak of hearing trucks coming in the middle of the night to leave massive amounts of debris in their alleyways. Boyle Heights residents contend with much of the same. And, while both officially-led clean-up efforts like Clean Watts (below) and grassroots efforts, like one launched by Amanda Mejia in Boyle Heights are important, they are reactive. They are dealing with the symptom of the problem, not the larger root causes.
A dumper’s flagrant disregard for laws and communities is obviously a major factor in perpetuating the problem. But, so is the continued presence of vacant lots and alleys that look like they would not be out of place in a war-torn nation. Until those spaces are remedied, cared for, and integrated into the community in productive ways, we continue to send the message to dumpers everywhere, “Do your worst — we don’t care much about these spaces, either.”
*BSS has let me know they use a different service for the tires and will be picking up the tower later today. A big “thanks” to them for being so responsive in this case.