The Price of Peace

The sun is shining and the birds are singing. I’m gathering my family’s empty soda cans to take them to a recycling center in Hayward, CA. I kept postponing this trip, because they closed all the recycling centers in my hometown of Castro Valley — attempting to purge the homeless blight. 

I spend ten minutes emptying rainwater from one of the trash bags, then toss the other two in the back of my SUV. My GPS says it will take eighteen minutes to drive to Fry’s Metals. I hop in my car and head out — the fuel gauge is almost on E so I stop at Valero on W. Winton. A black lady in navy/grey pajamas walks up to the trash can at the next set of pumps, reaches in, and pulls out a partially drank bottle of Coke (a glass bottle at that). She takes a swig, then jaywalks five or so lanes across Winton. The pump clicks off; I put it back; jump in the car; and continue my journey. 

When I arrive at Fry’s, I’m immediately impressed by the efficiency of the operation. A shy, Spanish-speaking woman approaches me and explains, “The trash cans are for small loads.” She urges me to use a larger wheeled bin, which, after filling it with three bags of uncrushed cans, could’ve undoubtedly fit another bag or two. It takes me roughly fifteen minutes to unload and process my order — the cashier counts out $42.65 (more than I’ve ever made in an hour’s worth of work). 

Before departing, I survey my fellow recyclers. I see people from all walks of life, but the regulars stand out with their calm, conversant demeanor. I wonder, “What it’s like to live on the streets?”

I don’t mind being covered in dirt, and I grew up around pig shit, so the stench wouldn’t hurt. Also, the Bay has a moderate climate, and an abundance of food and clothes, so I wouldn’t be too worried about survival either. But the crunching, clanking cacophony in the recycling centers — the incessant cars, screeching and squealing on the freeway overhead — yeah, fuck that, I’ll stay at my parent’s house.

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