44: Road Kill Lady

44: Road Kill Lady

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering & Giving Back

Road Kill Lady

Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.

~Brian Tracy

“What’s that lady doing?” I asked my babysitter Audrey, pointing out the rain-soaked window on our way to school one morning. There was an elderly woman dressed in a bright orange vest carrying a garbage bag and one of those trash claws. At the time I was twelve years old and had just moved to Salem, Oregon. My parents traveled for a living, so Audrey took care of me while they were away.

“Picking up road kill,” Audrey answered flatly.

“Really?” I asked, eyebrows pulling together in disgust.

“No,” Audrey laughed, “but that’s what I like to call her: Road Kill Lady. She just picks up trash around here for fun.”

“Oh,” I murmured. “Interesting…” Why would someone think picking up trash looking like a construction worker was fun?

For six years I’d witness this mysterious Road Kill Lady — rain or shine — on my way to school. In the beginning I thought she was insane for picking up trash. However, eventually I smiled and waved at her each time I saw her.

Later, when I moved to college, I’d see trash caught in the grass or wedged in various bushes and feel really angry about it. I’d think, “Why isn’t anyone picking up this trash? People are so inconsiderate!” Shortly after, a light bulb went off in my head when I realized that (A) I’m a person and (B) I want to be a considerate one. Why did I think picking up the trash was someone else’s problem?

Now I can’t walk past litter without feeling guilt-ridden. While scuttling off to class or hiking with friends, I am constantly picking up pieces of trash and making sure the world is in better shape than I previously found it. I volunteer with SOLVE (Stop Oregon Litter and Vandalism), cleaning up trash off the Oregon Coast and the streets of Portland (where I now live). Last summer I volunteered for the Hood to Coast Race, where I specifically wanted to pick up and sort through trash and recycling. As weird as it may sound, picking up litter is kind of a thrill for me! In fact, I was so adamant about the whole trash-picking-up thing that for my twenty-second birthday my friends bought me my own trash claw and a bright yellow vest with my name on it.

During my first outing in my stylish gear, I was met by hostile looks from others. A married couple literally crossed to the opposite side of the street while others glared disapprovingly at me as if I were a criminal doing community service.

One night, I had an epiphany: “Oh my gosh… I’m the next Road Kill Lady!” The funny thing was that I hadn’t thought about the woman in years, and now here I was acting just like her! It made me laugh out loud seeing how this story came full circle.

I’ll be honest; some days it’s overwhelming when I realize the amount of trash there is and how few people actually pick it up. Now I understand what Road Kill Lady must have experienced, but the thing that inspires me most about her was her determination. No matter the weather or how many weird looks Road Kill Lady received, she kept on picking up trash day after day, year after year, because it was the right thing to do. I suppose seeing her every morning doing her own thing somehow seeped into my subconscious and turned me into the compulsive trash cleaning person that I am today.

One day in Portland, while waiting for the streetcar to arrive, I stood in a group of strangers and noticed the large amount of trash that lay at our feet — cups and bags from McDonald’s mostly. My fingers twitched with irritation, but still, there remained a part of me that didn’t want to pick up the trash because I assumed it would be weird. Then I thought: What would Road Kill Lady do? So, as you can probably imagine, I began cleaning up the space and something amazing happened — the strangers around me helped out too! It made me wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t gone first? And even though the little girl to the left of me looked at all of us like we were weird, she might be the next initiator years from now. I don’t think people are careless; they just need reminders now and again.

So thank you, Road Kill Lady, for being my constant reminder and inspiration. One person can and should strive to make a difference. I don’t know your name but you have made a significant difference in my life and deserve a huge thanks.

~Amanda Claire Yancey

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