It’s hard to imagine Mobile not strewn with trash. It’s like trying to imagine TV without reality shows or Kentucky Fried Chicken without the Double Down Sandwich — Mobile, TV and KFC would all definitely be better without such pox on their respective houses, but it’s hard to fathom such a Bizarro world.
In any of the aforementioned cases it would take tremendous mental discipline to turn these organizations away from their ruinous habits. For instance, there would have to be someone in Hollywood with the decency to stop the green-lighting of any dumb show involving a Kardashian, a geriatric rock star or (God help us!) a cursing chef.
Someone at KFC would have to show the courage to stand up to the fried chicken cartel and say, “Our ‘chicken’ (air quotes) is already a danger to society, can we really sell a sandwich using pieces of fried chicken as bread?”
You see the type of courage it takes to change thinking.
Fortunately Mobile may benefit from this type of courage if Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s new litter ordinance is somehow able to cause a behavioral change in what is — as most historians will agree — a collection of people brought to this city for the sole purpose of covering it in debris.
Mobile’s love affair with litter runs deep. We’ve all heard about the city’s founding by those two intrepid French brothers, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville and Jacques-Yves Cousteau. While they’ve been lionized locally, few realize they were actually forced to leave France after they climbed to the top of the Eiffel Tower and emptied a month’s worth of trash from their Left Bank apartment into a 20-mph wind that spread yogurt cartons, cigarette butts and nudie magazines across half the city.
As they high-fived one another on the way down, they were apprehended, banished and told to take their litter-loving ways to the New World. (This is the kind of history you won’t find in any of the Common Core texts, by the way. Thanks Obama!)
After a six-month journey across the Atlantic and through the Gulf, during which they managed to tangle no fewer than 75 endangered sea turtles in discarded six-pack rings, the brothers landed on the pristine white sands of the Florida Panhandle. They promptly began throwing six months worth of saved up Marlboro Light butts onto the beaches. While that was satisfying, the brothers knew true happiness would only come in a place where litterbugs would not be shunned or banished, but embraced and honored.
And that’s how Mobile was born. It has become the nation’s largest asylum for people too busy to throw something in a trashcan. For 300 years Mobile has sent a siren’s call out to those who know the deep satisfaction of throwing a Wendy’s bag, Steele Reserve can or dirty diaper into a stranger’s yard. The city has been the place where the art of carelessly flicking a cigarette butt into streets, sidewalks or cemeteries has been perfected. No one tosses a butt with as much disregard as a Mobilian.
Jean and Jacques would no doubt be proud of what they began. After any big rain Mobile’s waterways are choked with thousands of plastic bottles and other refuse washed from temporary resting places in yards, parking lots and ditches.
One source of pride for our founders also might come from knowing Mobilians are renowned for the cleanliness of the insides of their cars, as most are so fastidious they can’t bear to see a Taco Bell bag rolling around on the floorboard for even the length of time it would take to pull into a service station and throw it away. Such debris is quickly and efficiently hurled into the streets where it can fertilize the city’s famed azaleas.
But now comes along this bold new litter ordinance to challenge the very definition of what it means to be a Mobilian. In essence Stimpson is demanding Mobilians accept adulthood and the inconveniences that sometimes entails, such as putting that Big Gulp cup in the trashcan that’s three feet away instead of leaving it sitting on the curb.
Are Mobilians ready for such responsibilities? Are we ready to move off the rundown hide-a-bed and into a king-sized bed with sleep numbers and stuff like that, just like any other mature city with a bad back? Does this city have a secretly anal side that could ease the strain this constant littering puts on our waterways and resources?
I guess we’re about to find out.
The mayor has said since running for office he is serious about cleaning up this trashiest of cities. As he found out when he finally saw what a wreck the previous administrations had left of the city’s finances, Stimpson probably has realized over the past year that trying to get Mobilians enthusiastic about passing the white glove test is easier said than done.
Already people are complaining about there not being enough warnings for them to clean up derelict eyesores. And fingers are pointed at the city’s own properties that are embarrassments, and at the school system, which has made a habit of abandoning buildings with little thought about what would happen later.
This is going to be the definition of tough love — getting this trash-throwing community to adopt a totally new attitude without rebelling. Putting litterbugs’ photos online to brand them with the “Scarlet L” alone is bound to cause screaming.
The city made the first move in showing it’s serious when the city attorney and a city councilman met with Press-Register management a couple of weeks ago to tell them the days of hurling advertising bundles and newspapers to empty homes, vacant lots and to people who don’t want them is over. Imagine a mayor telling the Press-Register what to do. The nerve!
Maybe times they are a-changing. And maybe next time there is a changing the dirty diaper won’t end up in my front yard. Maybe it’ll become a citywide game to post photos of people throwing butts out on Airport Boulevard. Maybe the owners of buildings that have been boarded up and left to become rat-infested gathering places for the homeless will be forced to show some responsibility.
I imagine a Mobile like that would serve a grilled chicken sandwich on focaccia bread and watch PBS. We’ll see if that becomes reality.
THE GADFLY BY LAURA RASMUSSEN
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