Get your hands dirty, Asheville! I did

Around 3 a.m. on Jan. 6, I was driving through downtown and [saw] streets littered with what appeared to be newspapers. I came upon Pack Square, and there was rain-soaked paper trash everywhere — surrounding the Vance Monument and completely covering the streets, sidewalks and restaurant fronts. The rain had stopped, and there were sparse snow flurries. It was probably 25 to 30 degrees outside.

I ran around like a freak and picked up every piece of trash I saw. There were fragments and sections of [various local publications]. I made a game out of it and cleaned up the entire square in roughly 10 minutes. I probably should have collected the paper to be recycled, but it was so cold that I just frantically shoved the huge bundles of soggy paper into the trash bins and got back in my car. Like an idiot, I didn't wear any gloves and my hands went numb and were blackened with ink. Driving away from the scene, I discovered the same vandalism at the intersection of Walnut Street and Lexington Avenue. Some of it was still dry, but the majority was wet and plastered to the street. I picked it all up and stuffed it in the nearest trash bins. I drove all over downtown and found the same situation on the corner of Coxe and Patton, outside the Thirsty Monk, and on Patton outside Stella Blue.

I cleaned it all up. Only a few publications were dry and completely intact. I saved them and put them back in their respective bins. By the time I was done, it was 5 a.m.

Asheville! Times are tough and are getting tougher. Some people deal with it by taking it out on others. I urge you to get your hands dirty and clean up their mess just as quickly as they make it.

— Ian Cunningham

About Webmaster
Mountain Xpress Webmaster Follow me @MXWebTeam

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

13 thoughts on “Get your hands dirty, Asheville! I did

  1. bill smith

    Great! Now the ground is only littered with petroleum-based pavement!

  2. Camille Cody

    If only everyone was as motivated as you to make a difference on the city streets!
    Thanks for your care.

  3. invisiblefriend


    Thank you for picking up the trash, and telling us about it. It seems like the trials and tribulations that you went through were extremely intense. Your perseverance through all the cold, rain, and snow amazes me. 20 to 30 degrees! Wow. Im sure you didnt look like a freak, as you stated, when you ran around. I would peg you more like a superhero. You deserve a cape with a big I on it.
    I really have never thought about the psychology of making litter pickup a game, that is very interesting and creative. Dont be hard on yourself about not recycling the papers! it was so cold outside.
    We definitly need to counter back, as you did, to these down and out people who take it out on society. We need to pick up trash as soon as those crazy litterbugs make it. Its like a war out there. Thanks for setting such a good example and telling us about it so we can put it in perspective.
    I hope that you are on a tropical beach sipping a fruity drink with a little umbrella on it. If anyone deserves it, YOU do!

  4. I hope this guy isn’t like 12 years old or something and then reads these comments.

  5. Ian Cunningham

    Although ignorantly bitter and pointless, the sarcasm of “invisiblefriend” does serve to make a good point: It is usually not a good idea to take “credit” for your good deeds in public. Someone will always perceive that as being “holier than thou” and attempt to give you a verbal smack in the face and tarnish your public image. Sad but true. That’s what I get for trying to inspire people (and using my real name). Just for the record, the person at Mountain Xpress who edited my original letter . . . ADDED the words, “I did,” to my title. The original title that I submitted merely read “Get your hands dirty, Asheville.” They did not ask me if I approved of the ADDITION of the words, “I did,” to the title before they published it. And why should they have? It doesn’t matter either way. Even if they didn’t add the words “I did” to the title, unnecessarily jealous mindsets would still scan the entire document looking for what they would like to perceive as “ME ME ME, look at ME ME ME. I’m better than everybody else. I cleaned up trash and YOU DIDN’T.” The point of my letter being printed (I hope) was to show that citizens of Asheville ACTUALLY DO STUFF LIKE THAT. Regardless, I would never presume that most of the people in Asheville don’t ALREADY KNOW THIS and do things like I did anyway. I don’t matter. WHAT I did matters. There are plenty of individuals and larger organizations doing similar things on a much larger scale. Perhaps I should have remained anonymous and submitted the title, “Citizens of Asheville get their hands dirty. DUH!!!.” Being exposed to cynical verbal TRASH definitely makes setting a good example through positive action more difficult. But in light of “invisiblefriend’s” comments, it proves that taking credit for a good deed will only make you a target, even if your intention was to inspire people. Next time I’ll just drive on by and let the nameless, faceless, taxpayer-funded trash collection crew do it FOR me, so I can hurry back to my “tropical beach sipping a fruity drink with a little umbrella on it. If anyone deserves it, I DO!”

  6. invisiblefriend

    First of all, i dont appreciate your insulting cynical verbal trashing of my comment. I feel profiled because everyone else who commented said basically the same thing.
    Second, FYI the trash collection crew doesnt pick up trash for you. They do it for us. And i think they do an excellent job and dont get enough credit. More importantly, they have faces and names.

  7. Margaret Williams

    @ian and @invisiblefriend: Perhaps y’all are enjoying a little repartée or perhaps you’re starting to snipe at one another? If it’s the latter, take a step back, please, and tone it down.

  8. Ian Cunningham


    You’re right. What was I thinking? I’ll “tone it down” and try to foster an environment of peace and togetherness:

    First of all, i dont appreciate your insulting cynical verbal trashing of my comment.”

    It’s not YOUR comment, it’s OUR comment. We are ONE.

    “I feel profiled because everyone else who commented said basically the same thing.”

    If “you” feel “profiled” then I(we) have to feel “profiled” too, because we’re all in this TOGETHER.

    “Second, FYI the trash collection crew doesnt pick up trash for you. They do it for us.”

    FYI – I already knew that information. But in reality WE BOTH knew it TOGETHER anyway. So why try to SEPARATE our collective knowledge??

    “And i think they do an excellent job and dont get enough credit.”

    Then why did you give “me” all the “credit” in your previous comment like I was some sort of “superhero?” Was it sarcasm? Perhaps “giving THEM credit” was the motivation behind why I(we) LESSENED THEIR(OUR) WORK LOAD and gave them(us) REAL TANGIBLE CREDIT instead of verbal or monetary credit. If you(we) had actually SEEN Pack Square and the other locations I(we) spoke of, it was a newsworthy amount of visible vandalism that took a lot of time to clean up. But we ARE the “news,” collectively TOGETHER. “Person of the Week” should be “People of the week?” Don’t you(we) think?

    “More importantly, they have faces and names.”

    Plural? Do you mean . . . like . . . “individuals” with separate lives who each contribute toward ONE common goal in their own “individual” way? I don’t get it. Why are “you” referring to “them” as if “they” are separate from “you” and “me?” We have to do this TOGETHER. It was 3:00AM when I(we) cleaned up the trash, so I(we) had to do it all by myself(ourselves). Are you(we) playing a Jedi mind trick on me(us). I’m(we’re) getting dizzy!

  9. Thanks, Ian. That’s exactly the spirit of community responsibility that Z-Link has been trying to foster through our sidewalk clean-ups (and lately, snow shoveling). The city belongs to all of us, and the more we can “pick up” the inevitable loose ends, the better it works for everyone.

    “We the people” in the form of government workers can’t do everything, nor do most of us expect that. But litter pick-up is one of those tasks that seems to be relegated to government crews or prisoners. The world would be better, or at minimum cleaner, if we all carried around the ethic of leaving every campsite cleaner than we found it.

  10. Margaret Williams

    @ian and @invisible…

    If you’re spatting with each other — take it somewhere else. If you’re trying to be funny, it isn’t working too well.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.