View Mobile Site


He recycles not to help the environment but for ‘survival and to get out of welfare’

Text Size: Small Large Medium

With a bundle that dwarfs his one-of-a-kind three-wheeled conveyance, Keith pedals his way along toward a recycling center on East Yosemite Avenue where he sells the plastics and recyclables that h...


POSTED June 19, 2014 12:52 a.m.

He introduced himself as Keith.

“Just Keith,” he said in a straightforward manner, in a voice low and well modulated. No hesitation. No mumbling. No eyes darting here, there, and everywhere as though to hide something.

Just an honest-to-goodness minimalist statement, allowing no room for any possible follow-up curiosity question.

He looked like an outdoorsy-type businessman. With his pastel-colored polo shirt worn loose outside a pair of comfortable khaki shorts, clean pair of athletic shoes and white crew socks, he gave the appearance of one who has just gotten off a round of golf.

But his one-of-a-kind, truly unique type of conveyance, didn’t fit the outside persona. And neither did the gigantic fiber bag strapped to that conveyance in the back – a gigantic fiber bag so neatly and carefully tied up that none of what’s inside was protruding or gave any hint of what’s inside. Not even a glimpse. It was so huge it dwarfed him and his unique three-wheeler.

It was exactly that visual anomaly which caught my attention and prompted me to make a U-turn on West Yosemite Avenue where I encountered the unusual transportation visage. In fact, I strongly suspected that the back portion of the tricycle – I use the word loosely with that description based on the fact the unusual conveyance consisted of three wheels – was, in an earlier life, a wheelchair and was attached to the front section of a bicycle that included the seat. The two parts, put together, made the cycling contraption a tricycle.

The three-wheeler appeared to present some problems, mainly in one of the back wheels, necessitating Keith to stop every few yards or so to work on it which slowed down his eastward trip from Lathrop to Manteca.

Curious, I asked what was in the humongous bulging bag in the back of his tricycle. He said they were plastics and recyclable cans. I noted that it must be quite a balancing act to tote that big a passenger behind his pedal pushers. He said, “This is nothing.” Sometimes he has two, other times three gigantic bags tied to his tricycle, he commented.

The day I encountered him on the road in rural west Manteca, he was on his way to a recycling center on East Yosemite just east of Union Road. From personal experiences in the past, he found that the people here were very honest and never tried to outsmart him when it came to paying for the recyclables that he has meticulously gathered that morning.

Collecting the recyclables is a job that he does every morning starting as early as 4 o’clock, long before the break of dawn and the birds of the morning have yet to announce a cock-a-doodle-doo. His plan of action encompasses Manteca, where he once lived, and Lathrop which he currently calls home in a small rental place. He’s been ridding roadsides, trash cans, and dumpsters of these environmental threats since January and making a few bucks in return.

He makes about $65 a day, sometimes $100 to $150 from the sale of the recyclables he collects. With his business acumen, he has been able to get the best bang for every pound of cans from the recycling businesses in Manteca. There are places he avoids, though, because sometimes they try to cheat him, he said, by miscounting the bags he brings to them. But before he goes there, he counts every bag he has so he knows when he is being shortchanged.

Unfortunately for the buyers, they are not privy to Keith’s business background and acumen. He graduated from a university in the Midwest with a degree in business. He has worked as an administrator in a number of big businesses in California after that. He was not as stupid as they probably thought he was, being a recycler or a dumpster diver, his neatness and respectful manner notwithstanding, he inferred in not as many words.

I noted that what he was doing was a big help in improving the environment for future generations. It was an observation that he respectfully noted. But what he was doing is not for any altruistic reason, he stated firmly and without hesitancy. Due to “life circumstances” beyond his control, his life took an economic nosedive that he is trying hard to turn around; hence, his daily roadside and dumpster-diving preoccupation. Without a tinge of self pity or anger, he said in a level voice and a hard hint of resolve, sans any sign of self-consciousness with his gaze pointed straight ahead, that he is doing this “for survival, to get out of welfare.”

With that, he went on his way east toward Manteca, to the recycling place to sell his collected wares, and then pedal home to Lathrop to rest before he rose again at four o’clock in the morning to fight for his survival, to free himself from welfare, and to re-purpose his life.

Commenting is not available.

Commenting not available.

Please wait ...