Keep America Beautiful
Like you, I don’t litter.
I pick up after my dogs. I even carry their hermetically sealed goodie bags to my own garbage can because lots of folks lose their minds if they catch a stranger depositing dog droppings in with their refuse.
Don’t ask me how I know. I just do.
And, like many people who run or walk in the resort area, I curse every time I retrieve an empty beer can that was tossed from a car by one of the slobs visiting Virginia Beach. (Do you suppose they launch beer cans at home or is this just something they do for fun on vacation, like going to a fudgery or getting their pictures taken at the Olde Tyme Photo shop?)
Most of us were born after the Keep America Beautiful campaign kicked off in 1953. And many of us still remember the “Crying Indian” public service announcement that was on television in the early 1970s. (One of the most effective ads ever produced, the experts say.)
So we all know that littering is anti-social. But last week in Florida I discovered that my commitment to public cleanliness was a tad superficial.
It was the end of a long day at Disney World and scores of sweaty, exhausted families were waiting for the little electric trams that would deliver us to our cutesy parking sector: Peter Pan.
Blocking one of the lines was a young couple crouched around a stroller. Impatient folks pushed past in annoyance.
Curious, I stepped closer and saw that this was a couple ministering to their daughter who looked to be 4 or 5. She’d just been sick and her mother was using the last of the tissues from her purse to clean the child.
We had a super-sized supply of baby wipes and I offered them to the parents - who turned out to be Japanese.
What happened next surprised me.
Once their daughter was spotless and they’d wiped down her stroller, they began to clean the pavement. I mean really clean it. The husband and wife. On their hands and knees.
By the time the the next tram arrived and the trio boarded, there was not a trace of well, anything, left behind.
I’m not sure many Americans would go that far. If I’m being honest, I probably wouldn’t. Sure, I’d make a halfhearted attempt to clean up the mess and perhaps I’d toss a tissue on top of what as left as a warning to others not to tread there. I might look around to summon a member of the vigilant army of Disney cleaners. I would definitely pray for a good rain to speed things along.
But scrub a street? Unlikely.
I couldn’t stop thinking about these visitors. And the ones we get at the beach. I wondered what causes some jerks to toss cans on the roads and others to sanitize the asphalt after a sick kid threw up?
We talked about it the next day and my daughter recalled an NPR piece on Japanese schools. The reporter claimed that most do not employ janitors. At the end of every day, the children are expected to clean their classrooms.
"School is not just for learning from a book," Michael Auslin — a former English teacher in Japan told NPR. "It's about learning how to become a member of society and taking responsibility for oneself."
Hmmm. Maybe day-to-day taking-responsibility-for-oneself is more effective than prime time anti-littering PSAs. Just a thought.
Later that week, as we waited in the boarding area at the Orlando Airport, I opened a stubborn bag of cashews and the nuts flew in every direction. I leaned over and picked up the ones by my seat.
Then I thought about that Japanese couple. They disinfected a dirty STREET. Surely I could chase stray nuts in a carpeted boarding area.
I sighed and crawled around to retrieve every last one. Oh, and a straw. And a napkin.
I did not, however, scrape the gum off the bottom of my seat. Not sure even the crying Indian would do that.