Vital signs

Paradox thrives at the landfill.

Black-eyed Susans and daisies spatter its grassy banks with bursts of white and yellow. Vultures soar far above its mountainous heaps of household garbage, rubble and dirt. And when you ascend the gravel road toward those ignoble promontories, you’re rewarded, at the top of the first hill, with a majestic view of distant mountains to the west (the kind folks pay a good bit of money for in a home site).

But then you reach the top of the heap and scamper out to unload.

“It stinks!” my 10-year-old niece exclaimed one sunny summer day. I’d warned her that she’d be working a bit during her weeklong visit to the mountains, but the landfill excursion didn’t seem to inspire the same enthusiasm as a jaunt to McDonald’s or the Nature Center. In the business I’ve landed in this past year, however — floor installations — you have to make several landfill treks a month, carting off ragged carpet, broken tiles, scraps of vinyl, assorted chunks of hardwood flooring, and the odd toilet or cast-iron tub.

I told my niece that the landfill is one of those integral parts of our society that most folks never think about; seeing what actually happens to all our garbage, I observed, might change her world view.

So much for that theory: Once she got over the stench, Autumn amused herself by tossing the tile scraps against one another so they shattered as she threw them over the tailgate (a great outlet for all that preteen angst).

On another trip, one of our Masterpiece Flooring employees, 19-year-old Josh Smith, got his own rush simply by trying to power us out of the place. After all this rain, the top of the landfill is a mud trap. Some days, the attendant who weighs your load will ask, “Do you have four-wheel drive?” No, I’ll say. Then they’ll direct us to the big, green bins up by the front gate. “You won’t make it up there,” they’ll warn.

On this day, however, they waved us on up, though we had our doubts. Josh was driving (I have neither patience nor skill when it comes to backing up the trailer). What with a cast-iron tub and other construction debris, we were so loaded down that the trailer’s rear end barely cleared the mud ruts. For that matter, my boss’ Dodge Dakota barely cleared the ridges in between the ruts — hunks of exhaust pipe, boards, part of a playpen … all these things and more clunked and banged and scraped against the truck’s underbed. At every menacing sound, we grimaced but pushed on. And as we tried to back the trailer across the ruts, a fellow in an old white pickup got royally stuck. The ever-helpful ‘dozer operator came to his rescue, pushing him along with the scraper end of his monster machine.

We both noted there’d be hell to pay if our boss’ shiny blue 1998 supercab V6 Dakota ever needed such assistance. So Josh put her in reverse and gunned it.

That proved to be the easy part. But after tossing our load, we tried to make our exit. A dump truck was stuck in a row of ruts recalling the mighty heaps that snowplows leave after a blizzard. A bulldozer and a long line of folks driving everything from pickups to garbage trucks to 18-wheelers were trying to make their way around the beached vehicle. It was rush hour at the landfill, and between us and the stuck truck, the ground was scored with garbage-speckled ruts at least a foot deep. Josh had a thought: He scrambled back and strapped the cast-iron tub more securely in the trailer (tubs and things have a special, separate resting place at the landfill, and happily, we’d saved that task for last).

Then he jumped back in and said, “Hang onto your ass.”

Josh gunned the Dakota, and we bounced across the ruts like a tiny boat cresting hurricane waves. The trailer, too, heaved and bucked. But we made it to the gravel, peered fearfully back … and the tub was still with us.

A scraggly-bearded guy in a pickup rewarded our effort with a big, almost toothless grin.

After that, we settled in for the long, scenic drive back home, winding down River Road with the sun in the trees and some kayakers sporting on the water. It was sweet. But even in our triumph, we knew: Like everybody else, we’d be back.

About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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