Did y’all see that recent news story about all the trash floating in the Cumberland? If so, you’re probably just as scared as I am to dip so much as a toe in that river much less eat a fish caught in it. If we don’t do something, our beautiful rivers and roads may end up a cess pool of fast food wrappers, beer cans, dirty diapers, old tires, and goodness knows what else.
All this trash talk reminds me of an incident from years ago. I was 19 years old living in an apartment one Memorial Day weekend when my hot water heater went out. Since my landlord wasn’t paying holiday rates for a plumber, I spent the long weekend taking ice cold showers. By Monday night not being able to stand the cold any longer, I went to Moma and Daddy’s for a hot bath. Since I was going straight home, I put on pajamas; no reason to get dressed. I said goodnight to Moma and Daddy and off I headed down Highway 12.
As I approached Marrowbone Bridge, I saw blue lights, not just one but tons of them. A Memorial Day road block set to catch drunk drivers. Here I was, 19 years old, wearing Aloha-print pajama pants, a thin white tank top, and nothing else. I repeat NOTHING ELSE besides pajamas and a Marlboro Light hanging out my mouth. Now before y'all get all bent out of shape, I know. Smoking is bad. I quit more than a decade ago. That night, however, I was smoking like a freight train.
Making my way to the check point, I took one last drag off my cigarette before tossing it out the car window, turning my head ever so slightly away from the officer so as not to blow smoke in his face- you know, being respectful like. As I handed him my license and registration, a state trooper came walking up loudly asking, “Ma’am, is there a reason you chose to litter tonight?”
As the blue lights flashed his face and the inside of my car, I took an inventory of the trash inside it. Junk mail above the sun-visor. Sonic styrofoam in the console. Gum wrappers stuffed in the door jam. Yep. Everything still inside. Nothing had blown out.
“I didn’t litter, officer,” I respectfully responded.
“Yes ma’am, you did when you threw that cigarette butt out the window. According to Tennessee Code Annotated Section 39-14-5013, litter includes tobacco products and any other item primarily designed to hold or filter a tobacco product while it is being smoked. If you don’t want me to fine you for that, you will get out of this car and pick it up.”
“Oh my goodness,” I stuttered shocked as I contemplated how big a fine I‘d be willing to pay to keep from having to get out of my car in front of one man trying desperately to walk a straight line and half a dozen officers, me braless in Hawaiian hibiscus flower print pajama pants. Nineteen years old, broke, and figuring the fine was well out of my price range, I got out and picked up one of the almost ten thousand scattered along the highway embarrassed to death.
Back to my original point - how do we keep rivers, creeks, and roads clean? To start, put trash in the trash can at the gas station. Stuff it in waste baskets at the office. Sneak it in the dumpster behind your favorite store- although you didn’t hear that from me. That may violate another one of those Tennessee Code Annotated's. Whatever you do with your trash, don’t throw it out the window, toss it out in the yard, or sling it in the creek.
Keep it classy not trashy, Cheatham County, or you just might end up on the side of Highway 12 in your pajamas picking up cigarette butts. Take it from me. You don’t want that.