It was 90 degrees in the shade, a perfect day to visit the DeKalb County recycling center, otherwise known as the dump.
My friend Judi had recently moved, and her new place was overrun with excess possessions, including hundreds of tattered paperbacks and hardback textbooks and notebooks from the ’70s and ’80s.
For days another friend and I helped her cram those books and other detritus into gigantic, heavy-duty bags. For want of another area, we piled them in her new living room, leaving no space in which to move. In addition, the passage to bedrooms, kitchen and front door were almost blocked by the mammoth bags.
Clearly, Judi had two choices: (A) dwell amid her own recycling center until trash pickup a full five days hence; or (B) reclaim and liberate her space by transporting the bags someplace else.
Judi knew her sofa was somewhere under those bags, and she was determined to find it. She chose Option B.
She called me to report, “The DeKalb County Department of Sanitation said I could bring all my garbage to the landfill — for free!”
“Sounds like fun,” I said. “Take me with you!”
“My pleasure,” Judi answered. “I have the use of a van, and you better come dressed appropriately.” I knew what she meant, and fortunately, I have loads of landfill-appropriate clothing.
We met the next morning. “You’ll be the navigator,” Judi declared, handing me her cellphone, her GPS, a handwritten set of directions and a printout from Google Maps. She’s the kind of woman who likes to be prepared.
“Oh, goodie!” I exclaimed merrily. I was excited because even though I have spent a fair amount of time in flea markets and junkyards (I have my reasons), I’d never been to a real-life dump before.
When we finally arrived at our destination, we followed signs directing us to a check-in station, which we missed because it was in a valley, largely hidden from view, inaccessible from the road and covered with grime (that should have been a clue). We bypassed that dingy edifice and the weighing ramps on either side of it and followed a gravel road, trafficked solely by enormous trucks, until we dead-ended at Dumpster central. A uniformed fellow stopped us and asked for our ticket.
“We need a ticket?” we asked redundantly.
He sent us back to register at the gritty place we’d passed in order to get a ticket (a brown piece of cardboard with a number on it) that would enable us to pay $16.50 to dispose of up to 1,000 pounds of garbage. We drove onto the scale to weigh in (keep your comments to yourself, please).
Judi just hates being lied to. She descended into the low-lying office and explained that she had been told there’s no charge for self-dumping. She learned that she was free to take her garbage home at no charge.
A chorus of truckers waiting to pay their fees at the station window smirked knowingly. Judi stoically accepted a ticket, and back we went.
A different attendant met us and directed us to Dumpster 1. We tried to drag out the huge bags and lift them into the container, but our backs were sending “Stop right now!” signals.
We conferred, after which Judi handed the fellow some money, and we were treated like the senior citizens we are. The attendant effortlessly grabbed two bags at a time and began to toss them into Dumpster 1.
“What’s with all the books?” he asked.
“You want ’em? Take ’em!” we answered. The attendant brought armfuls of them into his stifling shelter, unfazed that they were out of date and grungy. As we returned to our air-conditioned van, he was already paging through one of the psychology textbooks.
On the way out, we got weighed, and Judi paid. We were several hundred pounds, $16.50 and an additional $5 lighter. We bade a silent goodbye to the book-loving attendant and a lush, green mountain in the distance, the foliage-covered result of countless Dumpsters of garbage. It was beautiful.
“That’s the landfill,” Judi explained, having done her part to build it.