Taking issue with what the city has taken away

This Just In...

April 01, 2002|By Dan Rodricks

I PLAY BY the rules. If we're shooting hoops, and I'm pretending to be Lonny and my daughter is Juan and my son is Steve, and if I, like, hack my son from behind while going for a rebound, I call a foul on myself -- even if it's not, like, blatant and I could have gotten away with it. You know what I'm saying?

I play by the rules. It's the city of Baltimore that doesn't.

The city last week robbed me of one of the best friends I ever had, and I'm thinking of sending the mayor a bill for compensatory damages, and maybe mental anguish.

This whole mess started after Martin O'Malley became mayor. He's not personally to blame, but he's the man who must take the heat because, as the old saying goes, the buck stops in the kitchen.

In an effort to make city services more efficient, the new regime in the Department of Public Works started fiddling with the bulk-trash removal system. (Yeah, I know: That again. Everybody else is talkin' Terps and Orioles today -- well, Terps anyway -- and here I am knee-deep in gah-bahj. But I make no apologies. I have been violated and attention must be paid.)

Bulk-trash removal used to be a genuine bonus of Baltimore life: To jettison busted appliances or broken furniture, all one had to do was put them out by one's curb on one's assigned bulk-trash collection day. A city crew came by and took them away. It was a beautiful thing -- one's tax dollars at work in the city with the highest property tax rate in Maryland.

Then, we got a new mayor. The new mayor brought vigor and Celtic music to City Hall. His bumper stickers promised "change" and "reform." People responded. We needed a change in the stale, defeated mentality at City Hall, a change in the way the police attacked crime, a change in the way the city responded to neighborhood problems.

The only change we didn't need was a change in the bulk-trash removal program.

But, as of Dec. 1, one had to:

1. Call 410-361-9333 and make an appointment to have one's bulk items picked up at least three business days in advance (calling Monday was no good for a Wednesday pickup).

2. Limit one's order to three items each month, and describe for the person taking one's order which three items one would be setting out. ("Hello? Yeah, I got an old smoker and two filthy mattresses I'm tryin' to get rid of.")

3. Clearly mark "bulk collection" on one's items.

I could never remember to do any of this. Junk started piling up in my garage. I spoke about this last year with Joe Kolodziejski, head of the Bureau of Solid Waste. He explained the new policy and it seemed to make sense.

Now, he said, city crews will have specific destinations and not waste time patrolling streets looking for bulk trash. And by requiring that citizens announce and describe what they're throwing away, the city reduces the risk of trash crews taking something they shouldn't. "That's happened a few times in the past," Joe said.

So we've been living with this for 16 months. Some of us are doing better than others. I've been a slow learner. Making an appointment for bulk-trash removal was never very high on my "to-do" list, you know?

Still, people look out for me. My nice neighbor, Christine, offered to let me add a bulk-trash item to her pile -- she had only two pieces of junk slated to go -- and so I finally got rid of an old, three-alarms-waiting-to-happen space heater.

Maybe that was a violation of the rules, but who would know or care that my space heater was mixed with Christine's stuff?

It was a nice thing for her to do, and I'm going to send some minestrone over there next time I make it.

But here's the new twist.

In addition to changing its bulk-trash removal policy, the O'Malley administration recently changed the city's curbside recycling schedule.

So it happened that last week, in my 'hood, bulk-trash removal and paper-recyclables collection fell on the same day.

Of course, I didn't set out any bulk trash because I had again failed to call to make an appointment.

All I had for collection were about 200 pounds of paper recyclables -- newspapers, magazines, mail-order catalogues, junk mail and lots of flattened cereal boxes. As usual, I piled my recyclables on my old, trusty wheelbarrow and pushed it to the curb. I left it on the patch of grass between the street and the sidewalk -- as I've done a couple hundred times.

And a city crew came by and took my paper recyclables.

And another city crew came by and took my old, trusty wheelbarrow.

That wheelbarrow was a gift from my beloved father-in-law, and one of the best friends this underachieving handyman ever had.

I had not made an appointment for its demise. It was not on the bulk-trash list. It was not marked "bulk collection." It might have looked pathetic, but it still worked!

I played by the rules. It's the city that violated them -- and violated me.

I want my wheelbarrow back -- or full compensation for a replacement -- and at least, like, a couple of bucks for mental anguish.

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