Spring Cleanup Causes Traffic Gridlock, Hot Tempers

Fake News written by Martha Throebeck on Wednesday, April 16, 2003

from the one-man's-trash-is-another-man's-garbage dept.

CAPE -- At 11:37 AM Tuesday morning, Ms. Gertrude Horzenblotter heard the breaking news from her neighbor: Several massive piles of junk had been spotted on Ellis Street. Hoping to beat the crowds, she wasted no time in making a beeline for a particularly inviting pile of free junk.

"Look at this!" she screamed with delight after yanking out a 10-pound ball of knotted Christmas lights that may or may not work. "I've struck paydirt!"

The annual spring cleanup free-for-all, however, does have a dark side. Junk hunters and gawkers have caused severe traffic jams in parts of town. High winds have blown junk in every direction, making Cape look like one giant trailer court. And the fiercely competitive quest for free stuff has resulted in several heated shouting matches.

It all started Sunday evening with a series of traffic troubles in the Red Star neighborhood. "One minute there's junk at the curb and the next minute it's gone," explained a long-time resident on Third Street. "But in the meantime, ten or twenty people are cruising up and down the street and parking in the middle of the road while making a dash for a hot piece of garbage. It's a pain."

One particularly large pile of junk (described in junking circles as "The Motherlode") caused such a traffic headache on North Spanish Street that a police officer had to be called in to direct traffic and tell people to leave. "The good junk has already been taken. Nothing to see here, please move along," he said to latecomers.

By Tuesday, tempers were starting to flare. "We'd all seen the weather forecasts for strong winds and heavy thunderstorms starting Wednesday -- it doesn't take a die-hard junk enthusiast to know what that means," explained one die-hard junk enthusiast from Smelterville. "Nobody wants to handle wind-strewn, rain-soaked junk. So everybody was out in full force Tuesday hoping to find anything they could before the weather put an end to the free goodies."

The situation turned ugly Tuesday evening when several people starting bickering over a pile of used jewelry boxes discovered in the Marble City Heights area. "I saw this pile first!" exclaimed one woman. "I had to go back home and get the pick-up truck so I could haul it all off at one time!"

"Oh really? Well, while you were gone, I already tossed several loads in my SUV. And the rule is -- once it's in your vehicle, it's yours!" another lady said.

"Bzzzt, but you're both wrong," should a third competitor. "You see that red flag there? I set that down two hours ago. I've already laid a claim to this pile of loot, and if you'll please excuse me I've got some goodies to sort through..."

The junk mavens were all hoping that one of the jewelry boxes might still hold a diamond ring that the former owner overlooked (yeah, right!). It turned out that 100% of the boxes were indeed empty (oh darn). It's not clear, however, who ended up taking home all of the bounty -- this reporter received a hot tip about a pile on Frederick Street and had to leave before the dispute was finally settled.

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