June 4, 2006
My life gets kind of interesting sometimes. I go down paths I never would have imagined traveling when I was younger or even just a few years ago. In the last few years I've had many opportunities to go WAY beyond my known boundaries and limits, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. I have learned to love people and respect people that I would have judged and condemned in the past.
Recently I've met Lester the Scrapper. He makes his living by scrapping metals such as steel and aluminum. Our meeting came about because we at the bike shop are being forced to change our mode of operation. We used to scrap our own metal. We recycled bicycles that were in too rough of shape or too junky to repair and salvaged parts that could be used on other bikes for repair. We had a huge pile of steel outside of the shop and when we got over 500 pounds of it we could go turn it in for cash at the recycling company. 500 pounds is the minimum they wanted to deal with and would only pay you for loads over that amount. General we made about 30-50 dollars per load, depending on the price of steel. Aluminum is more valuable and break that down into smaller pieces and save it in bins until we turn it in for the cash. We have to save the parts for reuse anyway, so scrapping the old steel is another source of revenue to help pay the shop rent.
But since the new condo owners all around the bike shop started complaining about a salvage operation in their backyards, we were forced out of the scrapping business. It was too unsightly. So for us it was a great deal to just give the steel to a small-time scrapper who made his living by scrapping metals. These people are feeding off the bottom and providing a vital resource recovery function in our society of waste. I know a couple of these guys now and both of them are receiving the same kind of scorn and pressure from neighbors who don't like scrapping operations going on in their neighborhoods. It's a messy business by nature. It's junk collecting. It's the collecting of other peoples refuse, saving the good stuff and recycling the rest. It's amazing what people throw away! Someone made a comment the other day that scrapping is like being a catcher at the pooper end of the consumer lifestyle. People around the neighborhood like the idea of cheap repairs and cheap recycled bicycles, but don't realize that those are made possible because we RE-USE parts that come off old-discarded bikes. So at the bike shop we still do the scrapping, but we no longer make any money from it. We have Lester pick up the scrap weekly. We tear the stuff down, save the good parts, make a smaller pile in the shop, which we don't really have the room for, then Lester comes and gets free steel which he then adds to his other steel to make money. It's a great relationship given our circumstances and our need to "clean up our act," so to speak.
But now Lester is facing the same problem in his neighborhood. He has a junk-pile yard and the city is forcing him to clean it up, which basically will mean he cannot do his sorting and recycling operations on that property anymore. This is where I came into the picture of this story. This is where it's heading. Today I became a substitute scrapper. Lester came to us at the bike shop and asked if we could take the load of bikes he had in the back of his pickup truck because he had to clean it out of his yard or get fined by the city who was inspecting the following day. We were already overwhelmed with piles of bikes at the shop and had no room. We are under strict rules to not have any junk outside anymore. So we had to turn Lester away from the shop. But I felt sorry for Lester and his situation. I like helping the underdog who is being forced to "clean up their act so they are socially acceptable." Lester is one of the nicest men I know and trying to make an honest living off of everyone elses crap. Except society tells him, you can't do that in my neighborhood, it's too messy! haha. So I told Lester to drop it in my driveway and I would strip it down and take the rubber off the wheels and call him when he can pick it up again. So that's what I did today after I got home from the shop. I started with a pile of crap in my driveway and ended up with two good lightweight-steel frames which I will turn into custom-painted fixed-gears. I also extracted some other valuable parts from wrecked frames. I sorted and restacked the steel. So now I call lester to come back and get his steel. Today I was the scrapping operation. It took a lot of time to do this. Is it worth it? According to my day job pay scale, no, it hardly scratches the surface of what I could be making doing something like computer programming or web design or software training. Scrapping for money is not a high-profit business for small operations. It is something to do. And it's kind of fun tearing things apart and fun making new things that work out of junk. It feels good to know that some of this refuse will be put back into use and the steel will eventually get reused instead of coming out of the ground.
My day was very interesting and I learned a lot about bikes and how they go together by taking them apart. I also did a little research on the couple of parts I pulled out for salvage. My scrapping day is over, but now I have to get the steel out of my driveway before the neighbors complain! I don't think Lester will complain that I took all the rubber of the wheels and made his pile more compact. I don't think Lester will complain that he was spared a citation because he was able to haul his pile to some other location while the inspectors were there. The pile in my driveway is probably worth 30 bucks to Lester which will probably pay for a few days worth of gas for him, or buy groceries for a week or something. So It's worth it to me to help him out when he's in a bind.
In our society I think we try to hide the ugly, unsightly aspects of our consumerism and we don't like to talk about the pooper end of our consumption. One of my neighbors was observing me today and said that when he was a kid and his bike broke, he didn't get a new bike, he had to find a way to fix it. When a frame bent or broke, someone in town welded it back together. There were other interesting fixes he told me about, but the point was that his bicycles did not get replaced when they became unsightly or damaged. They got fixed not disposed of. Now days, we dispose of things just because we want the newer model, even if the old is still useable and in good condition.
And we push people like Lester out of the scrapping business because of the unsightliness of it all. Don't poop in MY neighborhood! MY Property Value will be Lower! Lester is a beautiful person. He is kind and gentle and friendly. What is the value of his life and livelihood? Does it mean less than appearances? This is our society, we make these kinds of choices all the time.
Great post! I hope you don't mind I wrote about it over on curious observer...
Posted by: Karl at June 5, 2006 5:44 PM
I see a lot of the pooper consumerism when neighborhood folks bring in their low end department store bikes for repairs. I simply can't do even minor repairs for a price that is both profitable to me and worthwhile to them, given the price of these bikes. If some repair will cost, say, $50, they say, "the bike costs only $100! I could almost get a new bike for the price of replacing that part." So, undoubtedly, a large number of these bikes, which are very cheaply made and cheap to acquire by American standards, break and never get repaired. Maybe they get stashed in the garage for a few years, but eventually they go in the trash.
Posted by: Jim at June 6, 2006 12:02 AM