The Monday morning fog couldn't obscure the lane of debris at the roadside.
It didn't really matter which road, either. I observed the rubbish on my daily commute: Parkway Boulevard, Ehren Cutoff, U.S. 41, State Road 52 and U.S. 19. Donald R. Talbot of Moon Lake sees it in his neighborhood. Trash that he believes comes from the nearby grocery store parking lot ends up on Key Lime Road. Lake Drive is worse.
"Being a main road of Moon Lake, it should be keep cleaner than it is,'' Talbot wrote in a letter to the Times. "But then who cares? It is not a street the tourists use.''
The state hires private contractors to pick up litter along its highways. They wear fluorescent vests and fill blue bags with other people's discards. Friday afternoon, you could see them on the median of U.S. 19. Monday morning, they worked along SR 52 between the Suncoast Parkway and U.S. 41. Their booty included campaign signs from the November election.
I took my own stroll Monday morning. Here's a sample of the litter along a portion of Parkway Boulevard north of the Pine View Middle School in Land O'Lakes:
Part of a car muffler; a thin 3-foot-long metal pole; an envelope from the Book Club Customer Service center in Indianapolis; empty cigarette packages; fast-food wrappers and drink cups from Wendy's, Burger King and Sonic; a card containing a Tampa General Hospital patient tracking number; a towel; a plastic bag from Sweetbay; and drained bottles and cans of Busch Light, Budweiser, Miller High Life, Miller Light, Michelob Ultra, Natural Light, Natural Ice, Budweiser American Ale and Coors Light. (Do we only recycle imports?)
Soda drinkers tossed Coke, Pepsi and Mountain Dew cans. Someone slurped a Starbucks coffee and left behind the cup, and a weight-conscious litterbug tossed the container for a Fuze Slenderize low-carb drink.
And then there was this: the empty wrapper from a four pack of Joe Boxer thong underwear. Medium size (32-34 waist).
I stopped the inventory after that, afraid of what else I might find. It's not the first time I've catalogued the trash near this stretch of road. The only thing missing from three years ago were discarded mattresses and old television sets.
Not everyone is so slovenly. Saturday morning, 14 people including teachers, Pasco High students, school employees and labor organizers gathered at Rodney B. Cox Elementary School and walked 1 mile east. Over the next two hours they stuffed 14 large, 30-gallon garbage bags with the rubbish that had been strewn about Martin Luther King Boulevard. The effort came in answer to the national call to turn Martin Luther King Day into a day of community service.
During the cleanup, Frank Roder of the United School Employees of Pasco posed a question to a Pasco High student. It's something we all should ponder.
"Can you imagine if everybody would do 90 minutes or two hours and give back to the community?''
Lots of people do. Pasco's roads are cleaned by volunteers. Forty-nine groups take part in the adopt-a-road program. Last year, nearly 1,200 volunteers collected 34,230 pounds of trash from 110 miles of roads. Unfortunately, participation is declining. Three years ago, there were 59 groups picking up trash along the highways.
It would help if people just obeyed the law. On Parkway Boulevard, for instance, one of the first things a passer-by should notice are the three signs at the gate to the Cypress Creek preserve property owned by the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
The young litter producers simply disregard the posting. I'm guessing at the demographics of the trash tossers as young and relatively cash poor, judging by the penchant for domestic beer, off-brand cigarettes and fast food.
Amid the talk of a new landfill, expanded incinerator, dropping property values and constrained government budgets, think again of the guys in the vests walking the state rights of way filling their blue bags.
The state Legislature just cut $2.4-billion from the current budget. Road construction projects are delayed. Schools face hiring and salary freezes.
Other state agencies are laying off workers. But, we're such slobs, the state of Florida has to pay people to pick up after us.
Next time we're prone to lament wasteful government spending, we should bend down and pick up the waste at our feet.