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Bag This Traffic Jam

June 2, 2000

Recently a friend and I had the opportunity to appreciate the change in our Arizona weather and foliage while headed south on I 17. Our afternoon vantage point was a massive traffic jam.

LitterDropping from 75 MPH to a dead stop on asphalt with no breeze was no big deal, as the weather has not REALLY turned cruel yet. And I always travel Arizona with ample water for Nubble, any passengers and myself.

My buddy Stephen Stradling and I decided to appreciate the foliage changing as we crawled and stopped. The acacias in sweet yellow bloom, the mesquites with almost lime bark, and the areas of thick straw-colored desert grasses – drying in the change of season. After about 45 minutes though, I admit the deal changed.

It began with me noticing the young man virtually parked behind us, young for I found as I age that middle age gets farther off. He had a bronze Omni, nice accessory to his rusty colored hair and thick moustache. I noticed all this due to the simple fact, having judgment and attachment to this, that he flipped his smoldering cigarette out the window as we sat there.

Esther, my mother, would simply gotten out and politely handed the butt back to him with, “You dropped this.” And due to the slow traffic I admit, we were feeling less charming.

At that moment my rear view mirror also caught the image of one sole lady on foot, out there for some time, in and out of my view. White blouse, dark pants, brownish hair, glasses, and a huge black plastic trash bag. We watched as she worked her way along the expanse of the driver’s side of traffic or rather, parked cars at that point. She made no open display of her service as she picked up bottles, cans, papers, tire shards, and general trash.

Stephen and I TALKED about joining in with her. What a great movie story it could make, strangers and folks meeting each other and how it could turn into a party. We even calculated well over 130 stopped vehicles in our view. But – we just talked.

As she drew closer to my vehicle I hollered out to her. “That is great! I applaud you!” She smiled and never detoured from her mission.

People were out of their vehicles while some stood on the hood of their cars to see the accident as if that would make us move quicker. Several folks sent runners over to the fast food place that was on the far side of the north bound (moving) traffic.

“So – what’s your name?”

“Gloria. Gloria Biller,” she replied with a charming smile beneath her rose-colored bifocals.

“What got you to do this?” I asked.

For the first and only time, Gloria stopped her work. She placed one hand on her hip as she held the fourth bag she was filling. “I am embarrassed. Sad.” Her voice trailed off then regained strength. “I am so irritated at this. I love this state and folks just trash it – throw things out without even thinking.”

She continued. “So once they told us we were going to be here at least an hour I figured – I have this empty U-haul and a couple of boxes of bags. I’ll just fill the trailer and let the City haul the bags away.” Then she turned and continued picking up trash.

Stephen had loaned his mobile phone to a lady who was concerned she was breaking a commitment for a meeting. “Hey Gloria,” as his phone was returned, “Mind getting me a bag?”

“Make it two,” as I tied Nubble into the backseat. And then, I began a conversation while working with the intent of finding a way to recognize this fine citizen and neighbor, Gloria Biller. Turned out she lived near the Waterfront. And, I kept thinking as I picked up trash.

The disheartening part was not the fact that nobody joined in our mission. They smiled, a couple of them gave us the thumbs up. One offered us a soda. My concern is that from the moment I saw Gloria taking this on, I wanted to help. But instead of “action” I sat “thinking” – even thinking about why I wasn’t helping – until I finally got off my butt and joined in the activities.

The traffic began its own action in about another ½ hour and as we went over the hill expecting to see the accident, we saw four firetrucks and the crew. Seems some thoughtless driver had thrown their cigarette out the window where it bounced into the center area – and a brush fire ignited. I still wonder if the guy behind us had any thoughts or attachments to seeing what caused our traffic delay.

Thanks Gloria Biller, native of Arizona, born in Flagstaff, living in Scottsdale, for helping take care of our state.

Pierre O’Rourke is a long time resident of Scottsdale, Arizona and does specialized publicity for authors.

Reprinted with permission of East Valley Tribune

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