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Michiana Chronicles writers bring portraits of our life and times to the 88.1 WVPE airwaves every Friday at 7:45 am during Morning Edition and over the noon hour at 12:30 pm during Here and Now. Michiana Chronicles was first broadcast in October 2001. Contact the writers through their individual e-mails and thanks for listening!

Michiana Chronicles: My Government in Action

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Jeanette Saddler-Taylor
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Having spent my formative years in an urban environment, I was left with certain expectations of what should just be there in my life. There should be sidewalks in front of the houses. (How else could you roller skate, or push your doll buggy over to your neighbor friend’s house for a nice get-together?) Also, your mail should be delivered at the house, not out at the street or, even more wrong yet, at some communal box down the block: the dreaded NDBCU box. And there should be garbage collection, preferably in a wide, paved alley.

Minus the wide, paved alley, my home in the city of South Bend meets these requirements. And, in at least one way, my government-in-action exceeds my earlier expectations.

Garbage collection looms large in my childhood memory. My dear mother, determined to rear me as a little lady, a.k.a., quite a little priss, forbid me to play in the alley, but the alley held stronger allures than her dictums. The alley had garbage cans. Those cans had lids which were wonderful shields for defending against TinkertoYÒ swords wielded by my nephew, Michael. But, even better, the alley had twice-weekly garbage collection.

Garbage collection, we just called it garbage back in the dark ages, not high-falutin’ “trash,” consisted of those great, huge, orange Leach trucks. Being far less automated than today’s models, the process then took a crew of three: the driver and two “tippers.” The job that interested me and created a short-term, and admittedly not very well thought-out, career goal was that of tipper. These were the guys—and they all were guys—who walked along behind the truck, one on either side, and “tipped” the cans into that big, yawning maw at the back of the truck. Then, when they finished with one stop and were ready to move on to the next one, and this was the big draw to the job in my mind, one of them would slap the back of the truck and whistle to the driver as a signal to pull ahead. Whistling was another of those things that my mother didn’t think was ladylike and was on the forbidden list. If it were a job requirement though, surely it would have been ok. Thus, the attraction. Never mind that I really couldn’t whistle very well. The skill certainly would come with practice. In retrospect I wonder if you had to whistle some as a sample of your skill in order to get the job.

Parenthetically, as an adult, I grew to like alleys for their honesty. They provide a barometer of what a neighborhood really is like, how people keep their homes. Just drive along the alley to get the real picture. So, although I have the disappointment of no alley, South Bend does provide a compensation that’s way better than anything I could have imagined: yard waste pick-up! That big, rolling bin that is so easy to fill and trundle out to the curb for pick-up delights my spirits.

When the season arrives in the spring, my heart lifts. All of the yard detritus that has been lurking under the snow just easily goes into that bin and provides such a feeling of satisfaction as the bin fills each week. It’s tangible proof that gardening progress is being made and is way easier than filling those bags and lugging them to the curb. There are some everyday ideas that deserve the Nobel Prize, I think, and the yard waste bin falls into that category. When I speak with friends in other cities who don’t have this service, I feel sad for them as I laud the beauty of this scheme, and shame-on-me, gloat just a bit about this wonderful thing that is in my life. Turns out that urban services can not only be expectations, but also incredible delights!

Music: Theme from "The Whistler"