A weird thing happened the other night. The Princess had asked me to make a quick run to the corner market, and as I returned home, I noticed a couple of men poking around in the trash cans my neighbor had put out on the curb. As I got closer, the men stopped their snooping and straightened up. I noticed one of them was a kid, a teenager, maybe thirteen or fourteen.
Turns out their car was parked right in front of my house, still running, so, as I pulled into my driveway, the men hustled into their car -- a late-model, black BMW coupe -- and drove off.
When I came into the house with my groceries, I mentioned this to my roommate, and he immediately became concerned about identity thievery, so we went back out to see if these foragers were still around. They were at the far end of my block, stopped in front of another group of trash cans.
We watched as the men got into their car and drove out of sight. Our own garbage sat at the curb, apparently unmolested.
The possibility of identity theft hadn't occurred to me, even though I myself was a victim of a bit of it last year, an incident that resulted in me being interviewed by a detective after some documents of mine ended up in the house of some squatters in my neighborhood. (They had apparently taken a crate of stuff out of my garage, including some old tax returns and pay stubs, but had never used the documents for any nefarious purpose that I was been able to detect.)
I went back into the house, while my roommate groused that I had been unable to see a license plate number, and I put my groceries away. A few minutes later, I took my puggle, Buddy Bear, for our nightly walk.
As we got to the end of our block, I again saw the black BMW. It was going down a side street, stopping at trash cans. This time, though, no one got out of the car when it stopped. I watched from a block away as the car went from side to side down the block, pausing at each pile of garbage bags and trash cans, until it went around a corner and disappeared.
I thought about calling the police's non-emergency number, but what would I have reported? As far as I could tell, no crime was being committed. But I did notice that the light on the BMW's license plate was out, making it impossible to see the number from a distance. By now, my suspicions were raging.
Buddy & I continued our walk. After another block, I was passed by a slow-moving pickup truck -- a white mid-sized Chevy with a shell -- that was also doing the trash-can-to-trash-can weave down the block. Again, the license plate light was blacked-out so I couldn't see the number. I hustled to get closer, but the truck turned a corner and sped off.
I began to wonder if this was a regular activity on the nights before trash pick-up day, when everyone in my neighborhood sets their garbage out on the curb. I'd never noticed it before, but, truth be told, I was walking Buddy about an hour-and-a-half later than usual. It was almost one in the morning, a perfect time for trash foraging if you wanted to minimize the risk of being noticed.
Near the end of our walk, Buddy & I were passed by another prowler, this one in a slow-moving old Buick with a smashed-in rear-window that was patched up with a taped-up plastic sheet. And this car had no license plates whatsoever. I dialed 311 on my Iphone, but, after it rang about thirty times, I hung up.
Since these suspicious trash-prowlers weren't just grabbing bags of trash to take away, I discounted the possibility of identity theft. It seemed more likely that they were foragers, looking for useful or salable stuff. I reflected that I myself had dragged old furniture to the curb (an end table and some bookcases), only to have it disappear within minutes while the rest of my trash seemed undisturbed.
I certainly don't want to begrudge anyone who finds my garbage useful. I'd rather it got reused or recycled rather than thrown into the landfill. And I wondered if this had been happening all along in my neighborhood, or was it a recent symptom of the ongoing recession? After all, if you're reduced to foraging through the trash in my middle-to-lower class neighborhood, you've got to be pretty desperate.
Still, I wondered if I should just wait until trash-day morning to put my garbage on the curb. Honestly, I'm not really worried about identity theft via my trash. Anything with important personal information gets ripped up and shredded. And recycling of any sort is generally good, right?
In the end, like most incidents in my comfortable life, this was much ado about nothing, especially if it had been going on anyway before I ever noticed. I've got more important things to worry about. Like my blog.
So be it. Let my trash be another man's treasure. Go in peace, neighborhood forager. I've got a lamp and a couple of chairs coming your way soon.