I'm always looking for signs that Tampa is a city on the move - a little less Pahokee, a little more Philly, if you know what I mean.
This week we found out we are apparently more a Dick's Sporting Goods berg than a Saks city (sigh), but still, there are good signs. Mention Tampa as a potential venue for big bowl games or major political events and no one laughs - not anymore, anyway. And it is a distinct possibility that one day soon we will be judged hip enough to rate a Trader Joe's.
This week I got another sign.
The new city-issued, wheeled-and-lidded recycling garbage cans are here.
We're somebody now!
Maybe to you, trading in your old-fashioned bend-over-and-pick-'em-up open bin filled with newspapers and milk jugs in exchange for a sturdy wheeled garbage can is not exactly a life-changing event. But such events can be small: Once a friend brought to a party at my house not flowers or wine but a really good potato peeler. It will change your life, she said. And yes, suddenly making mashed potatoes was less like KP duty with a rusty steak knife. The skins fell away like velvet curtains. Sometimes, it's the little things.
For about 68,000 customers, the city already has rolled out the big blue wheeled bins for regular garbage, replacing our own dented metal cans or, if you were really fancy, the store-bought kind that inevitably lost a wheel the first month. Suddenly, streets looked neater on garbage day. Lids thwarted cats and possums from midnight snacking and dragging chicken bones and assorted unmentionables down the street.
And the new cans were so easy: Even when it's full to the brim, I can tilt that 95-gallon bad-boy back one-handed and wheel it to the curb. Pam Iorio used to half-joke that those blue bins were a big part of her legacy as Tampa mayor. Well, yes. The little things count, too.
But this week was even better.
The big green can on wheels means no more bending and schlepping those old-school, open-air recycle bins stacked high and spilling Diet Pepsi cans all the way to the curb. No more rainwater or who knows what-all dripping from the bin onto your shoes. No more newspapers blowing down the street or getting sodden with rain.
And apparently, it's not just me.
"I have witnessed people chasing behind my cart delivery guy trying to make sure they get their cart," says Tonja Brickhouse, Tampa's solid waste director. If you are a city dweller and don't have yours yet, be patient: They deliver them over the next 15 months.
Oh, and did I mention the new cans come with a radio frequency identification tag - a sort of garbage can GPS - so they can track whether yours was emptied, or where it went if it goes wandering?
Lidded, automated recycling bins are the hot trend in solid waste, I am told, easier on residents and workers both. Their size (could you get an old refrigerator in there, maybe?) encourages more recycling. New bins doubled what Miami-Dade used to take in.
Fun fact from the city's website: We throw away enough aluminum each year to rebuild our entire commercial air fleet every three months.
Friends who live outside the city in Hillsborough County are scheduled to get their first glimpse of the newest in garbage and recycle bins come fall - gray and blue, in case you're wondering - joining us city trendsetters at last.
They laugh when I say it will change their lives, but they'll see. Sometimes, it's the little things.