Dumpster Diving Is Fun! - 03.22.99

The other night, I did something that I hadn't done in quite some time; I went dumpster-diving. Although I was never really hardcore about it, even in my prime moments of the game, I thought it was something that was really fun to do once in awhile, partially for the thrill of the hunt, and partially just for the quality of hanging out and goofing around with a couple friends of mine.

The first time I went dumpster diving, I was in college and my roomate and good friend of mine invited me along on a trip with a friend of his and him. They were both way into computers and any sort of hardware, software, and information they could find sifting through the refuse of various places around town. I was admittingly kind of reluctant, upon first hearing of their proposition, but as they changed into dark clothes and grabbed flashlights, I figured I should hop in just for the secrecy of it all.

As far as laws go concerning dumpster-diving, it's kind of a gray area. I've read of people getting arrested for trespassing while going through others garbage, while the worst stories I heard from my roomate and his friend were that they had gotten run off by a security guard or told to get lost by someone. Nothing too bad, and besides, digging through someone's garbage hardly seemed like a punishable offense to me. After all, they had thrown it out, so technically the only people we would be stealing it from were the trash collectors, and really they were nothing more than intermediaries until they deposited it somewhere else anyway.

On the trips that I accompanied them on, we never seemed to find much of anything that would be of use. On other outings, however, they managed to rummage up a working microwave, a fax machine, and even entire schematic blueprints (including electrical and security camera placement) of the new police station that was still in construction phases. The hardware was put to good use while the blueprints were hung up and admired, causing everyone to wonder while there was even enough of an underground mafia-sort in the town to sell them to if we had wanted to.

The main thing about the trips, though, is that they were a hell of a lot of fun. We'd all pile in one car and drive a set route of dumpster locations. Upon arriving, one person would usually hop out and do a preliminary scan of the dumpster to even see whether there was use of anyone else getting out. Most of the time, this process took about 2 minutes or less total, and then we would be on our way again.

Once in awhile, there was enough stuff in the dumpster that the pre-scan person would signal to those in the car for browsing reinforcement. With all three people looking, it then became a barrage of questions back and forth on whether anything should be kept or whether anyone else had any use for what had been found or warnings to watch out for the festering chinese takeout that could possibly cause retching.

Besides the excitement of possibly finding something useful in all that mess was the lingering sensation that we just might get in trouble for what we were doing. While I don't think any of us were really worried about being thrown in the clink because of our snooping, there was just the right amount of fear that lingered and made things just a bit more exciting.

One time when the three of us were perusing a dumpster full of packing foam, reams of printouts, and 3-ring binders full of training discs, a car stopped directly adjacent to us on the street and we all bailed like we were spies in a movie. Two of us jumped behind a tree and out of sight while the third in our party drew himself up against a wall and kept perfectly still.

After a few moments of breathless anxiety, we saw that the person who had gotten out of the car was none other than some guy who had probably just come from the bars; he appeared to be urinating on a sign just across from us.

Even with this funny revelation, we hustled to the car and out of there as soon as he had driven away. On the way out, we noticed that the person "hiding" against the wall really couldn't have been less outstanding, as the white wall he was up against was bathed in light and he was wearing all black. Luckily, the only person that probably wouldn't have seen him there was a drunk pissing on a sign at 2 in the morning.

Another time, a police-car came racing around a corner in stealth mode without its lights on and into a parking-lot we had just been in. It was perfect timing that he hadn't seen us leaving, but we still changed our route a little, just in case.

Every trip was a little bit of the same, yet it always seemed to be fun. It was just 3 guys riding around in a car late at night, telling jokes and goofing around while going through the refuse. Taken seperately, the experiences wouldn't have been as cool, but put together it made for quite a fun evening.

So, the other night I got it into my head that I would try to recreate some of that fun. In several ways, I knew it wouldn't be the same, simply because I was starting out so differently. First of all, I was going out by myself, and secondly I was taking my bicycle (which is actually much more sneaky than driving a car all over). I figured that if I found anything big or worthwhile that I couldn't carry, I could just bike home and drive back out to salvage whatever it was.

In usual fashion, I really didn't find much of anything other than a couple magazines that I probably wouldn't have bought anyway. I didn't have anyone to talk to and tell jokes with and about halfway through the trip I ended up getting really cold.

Even with all those circumstances, though, I had a lot of fun again. Cruising around on my bike down unfamiliar lonesome streets at 12:30 in the morning, I felt that same sort of silly sneaky rush that I got the several times I went dumpster diving in college. It was a clear, cool night and I by the time I had gotten back to my apartment, I had ridden over 16 miles.

If I was only going to base the value of the trip on what I had brought home, the three cover-less magazines wouldn't have been worth much. Once again, though, it was the total experience that made it all quite fun. I was tired as hell and had a few more things to throw into my paper-recycling bag, but I know I'll be doing it again.