Don MacGillis: 'City on a hill' shines with garbage

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PITTSFIELD — Here's a pro tip for anyone who wakes up with an annoying, overly positive opinion of their fellow Americans. It can happen — a month or two without a mass shooting, an overdose of press stories about neighbors raising money for a family's health emergency (costs that in any other industrial country would be covered by insurance).

The quickest antidote to any delusion that we are living up to Puritan leader John Winthrop's vision of a "city on a hill" is a couple hours spent picking up the road litter that melting snow has uncovered. My wife and I did it on an undeveloped stretch of Holmes Road recently and it was a brutal reminder of how many of us treat the great outdoors as an even greater trash receptacle.

"America runs on Dunkin" and America litters on Dunkin. Its containers easily beat out McDonald's in the throwaway coffee category. The nearest Starbucks is several miles away and that company didn't even place. Among beers, the "lights" — Bud and Coors especially — were way head of everyone else although Sam Adams' Bavarian Lager was well represented.

The nips winner by a mile was Smirnoff's vodka. Honorable mention for inventive distillery goes to something called cinnamon whiskey. There were none of the pint-sized boxes of wine now available, but wine drinkers are not above a roadside toss. A cleanup a couple years ago of a road in Richmond near Richmond Pond turned up as many of the handy wine containers as beer cans.

Cigarette packs, mainly Marlboro's, were nearly outnumbered by Dutch cigarillos packaging. The two biggest pieces of trash were blocks of Styrofoam for packing, each as big as a microwave container.

It isn't just passing drivers who can't be bothered to hold onto their garbage until they get home. Utility crews are also offenders. Near one pole was a 40-foot length of cable buried under years of leaves, but with just enough loops poking up to trip unsuspecting pedestrians or joggers. There was also a curious piece of electric gear that resembled nothing so much as a small version of a World War II German hand grenade.

The meanest litterers are the beer and soda drinkers who first scrunch their cans so their bar codes can't be read and cleanup crews can't get the nickel deposits. Next come those throwing away drink containers who let the cups, lids and straws come apart, necessitating three separate pickups.

Ronald Reagan went even further than John Winthrop and spoke of a "shining city on a hill." What shines on America's roadsides are aluminum cans and cigarette pack cellophane.

Don MacGillis is a former Eagle editorial page editor and executive editor and is chairman of the Eagle's advisory board.

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