a broadcaster, pilot, writer, and our Guest Columnist!
Back to Blog
The trash man came by this morning and as is my usual practice, I met him at the street. They didn’t pick up our garbage last week because an open trench to replace a culvert was blocking the way. So, today there was our regular trash can plus a large sunflower seed bag full of stuff. I also had two broken down window frames. I had removed the antique stained-glass panels and was throwing away the rotten wooden sides.
I met the driver at the back of the truck. I tossed in the big bag and the frame pieces; he got the heavy container that had two weeks of trash inside. I watched as he dumped it into the bin on the truck. “You know a man should never look at what’s in his trash can.” I said.
“Why’s that?” He asked, “Did you see something of yours that you didn’t mean to throw away?”
“No. I saw something of mine that my wife DID mean to throw away.” We shared a good laugh about that. He was going to give me time to retrieve the item from the truck.
The item was a four-cup Mr. Coffee brewing machine. I had bumped the pot on the quartz countertop in our kitchen, shattering the glass. I looked online and found a replacement carafe for $8 plus $11 shipping. Another was $18 with free shipping. I also found I could get a completely new coffee maker for $16 at Fleet-Farm, in Duluth.
I only gave $5 for this coffee maker at Goodwill when I was working on a project in Winona, Minnesota. When the project was done, I brought it home to use. We have a Bunn coffee maker, but I started drinking decaffeinated coffee and my wife drinks regular. It was good to have a second machine. Besides, it was so small it didn’t take up much room on the counter. Without a pot, my wife suggested throwing it out.
The coffee maker worked perfectly – it was too good to throw away. I knew if I went to the Dilly Dally Thrift Shop in town, I could find a used pot for a buck or two. I’ve often wondered why thrift shops have so many glass pots? I always manage to break the pot and still have a good machine. Apparently, I am not normal.
While I pondered grabbing the unit from the garbage truck, the driver told me about an elderly man and a woman who were down-sizing. “It took me twenty minutes to get the man away from the dumpster.” He said, “The man kept picking up items, saying, ‘I could fix this.’ Then about another item, ‘Why did this get thrown away – it still works.’ His wife finally came out and got him.” Although we shared a good laugh about that, I empathized with the old man. “Did you want to grab that coffee maker?” The driver asked.
My mind drifted. I started to think back fondly on my school days. My brother Gerard and I walked about a mile or so to Schenk Middle School. Tuesday was our favorite day to walk because it was trash day. We often found ourself junk pickin’ – seeking treasures along the way. If an item was cool enough, we would drag it home before someone else found it, then forge a note from Mom for the attendance office, asking them to excuse our tardiness.
We found some pretty cool things. Some we kept, others we made a couple dollars by selling. Truthfully, most items went right back into our trash when we figured out why the original owner threw them away in the first place.
Although we thought junk pickin’ was a concept we created – it was not. Dumpster diving and curb shopping have helped students furnish college dorms since the beginning of higher education. Many first-time apartment dwellers found a couch, end tables, a lamp or a dresser on a curbside. The furnishing often lasted for years and created some very fond memories. The practice carries on today.
A lot towns now have specified “Curb Days.” People will put items they no longer need on the curb and then peruse the town themselves, looking for treasures they just can’t live without. Things we don’t need, don’t need to go to waste. Someone else might have use for them. The old phrase “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” is so true. My nephew scored a really neat cooler on curb day in Hutchinson. It was a plain white, rectangular plastic cooler with a split lid on top. It was in decent condition, but this cooler was different.
It was a motorized cooler with two wheels on the back and one on the front for steering. The back compartment had an electric motor with vents in the side for cooling and a space for a battery. On the front there were chrome handlebars with a throttle on the right and a brake lever on the left. Foot pegs were mounted to the lower front end. The driver could sit on the back lid to ride it, while keeping his beverages ice cold in the front compartment. How cool is that?
Unfortunately, it didn’t work – I suppose that’s why it was on the curb. But Andy saw the potential. He called his Dad at work, telling him about the find and urging him to come home right after work to help retrieve the unique vehicle before someone else laid claim to it. At five-o-clock, Jeff made a B-line from work to home. Jeff and Andy viewed the curbside treasure and Jeff agreed; it had potential. The two of them loaded the cooler into the back of the truck and took it to the house.
Together they gave the vessel a good inspection. Determining it needed a new battery, they got one on order. Over the next few days, several hours were spent cleaning the various components, lubricating wheels, making sure the brakes were in working order and so on. When the battery arrived, the two men installed it. The motor seemed to work just fine. Andy took it for a slow test ride in the driveway, then bolted up and down the neighborhood and into the parking lot next door, having a blast. Melissa and I heard all about the fun being had. We decided to venture to Hutchinson to see the amazing machine.
It was near Halloween, so we wore our costumes. Melissa was a witch in a stylin’ blue dress. She wore a black, long sleeve thermal shirt and long johns under her getup. She wore her long hair in two braids, draped over her should from under her classic, tall pointed witch’s hat. Lime green, knee-high socks with horizontal stripes and brown leather cowboy boots really made the outfit special. In a bright orange thermal, hooded jumpsuit, fitted with a stem on top and green leaves, I was the coolest walking pumpkin around.
In the driveway, Andy gave a demonstration of how to operate the motorized cooler. The witch climbed on board as she would have if it was a broom. Placing her feet on the foot pegs, she twisted the throttle and the cooler lunged forward. “Ohhh!” she declared, “This thing has more zip than my broom.” What a sight it was to see! The witch cackled and laughed as she rode slowly up and down the driveway. With a little confidence, she began to go a bit faster…and nearly upset the three-wheeled cruiser while cutting a corner. She soon found the ride would not fly like a broom. Or would it.
Andy took his ride back and showed us how the cooler would really fly. He cruised across the lawn, under the pine trees, into the parking lot next door, whipped around and came back full speed. He cut across the driveway, aiming for the end where the pavement curves up slightly. He hit it just as fast as the motor would run and went airborne, jumping the curb! We all cheered as we shared his thrill and excitement.
It’s amazing! With a little work and plenty of determination, a broken-down gadget found on the curbside provided numerous hours of entertainment.
Andy and Jeff eventually advanced to minibikes with gasoline engines and big tires. I often wondered what ever became of that motorized cooler? Maybe it went back out on the curb for someone else to discover; Afterall it is true: one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
The driver repeated his question. “Did you want to grab that coffee maker?”
“Nah. I better let it go.” I admitted, “If I haven’t bought a pot for it in the last several weeks, I probably won’t.” We said our farewells, then he climbed into the cab. The air brakes hissed. The diesel engine belched a puff of black smoke into the air and the big truck pulled away. I stood alone in the street watching him disappear around the corner by the neighbor’s house. I gave a shallow wave. “Goodbye Mr. Coffee. You were a good friend.”