A day in the life of this binner (yawn)
10:17 p.m. (Tuesday, March 22): “You’re late”, the custodian at the parkade where I sleep yells when he sees me setting up for the night. He’s joking—I’m about 40 minutes early—but he’s serious also. He reveals that someone broke into one of the parked cars by smashing a window, sometime in the two hours before 6 p.m. We discuss the increasing number of “characters” in the area and how it’s high time that a camera was installed in the parkade. (Note to self: buy some P.J.s.)
6:15 a.m. (Wednesday, March 23): Wake up, yawn and hit the snooze alarm for an extra 45 minutes of sleep [whacks head theatrically].
7:20 a.m. Overslept a bit but not to worry, still up and out of the parkade before the first cars…well. almost. I’m leaving just as the building manager is arriving. She waits for me to get well out of her way; she needs every inch of space to maneuver around the pillars and into her parking spot.
Places to go, thing to do, schedules to keep
7:40 a.m. My first destination of the morning isn’t to McDonald’s for breakfast, it’s to the laneway entrance of a particular condo’s underground parking. It’s Wednesday, the day of the week, that blue recycling toter bins are collected in Fairview. Many condos, like the one I’ve made a bee-line to, only bring their blue bins out on pickup day, if even then (some have the collection trucks pull right into their parkades). The bins that come out once a week are especially choice. But I’m too early. This condo hasn’t pulled theirs out yet.
8:05 a.m. Ten blocks further on and I’m early for another condo’s blue bins but I haven’t long to wait. I check the rest of the block and browse a selection of “free” junk that a homeowner has arranged in their covered carport for the benefit of looky-loos .
8:08 a.m. The clink of a security gate, coupled with the rumble of plastic wheels on concrete announces the arrival of the blue bins. I walk down the long parkade ramp. It’s not the usual woman pulling them up. When I offer to assist, she asks suspiciously, “You want to be paid?” “No”, I say, smiling.
8:15 a.m. I line up the four blue bins on the north edge of the property line just so, with the pickup bars facing into the alley. My main interest is in the two bins marked “Containers” but I will also check the two “Mixed Paper” bins in their turn.
8:17 a.m. Both Container bins are full and I use a spare construction-weight garbage bag to temporarily hold non-returnable recyclables as I methodically sift out the beverage containers with deposit value. Checking a bin “Methodically” means tipping it toward me and searching all the way down to the bottom (wearing gloves) and then setting it upright and turning it 90 degrees and searching again. This process is repeated until the bin has been searched from all four sides–I have never heard of a binner needing to be told to do it this way. It’s apparently instinctive.
8:40 a.m. I’m finished with all four blue bin. I’ve bagged the found returnable containers and I’ve set aside a porcelain set of salt and pepper shakers and two napkin rings imprinted with the skyline of New York City. Before I leave the alley, I add the set to the collection of freebies in the carport.
8:41 a.m. No sooner do I begin to ride away from the bin set than another binner with a shopping cart pushes into the alley. With a degree of false bonhomie he loudly asks if I “got everything”. With sincere good cheer I assure him that I did.
8:48 a.m. Back at the first condo I checked, the blue bins are finally out and I patiently mine them for returnable beverage containers. The Mixed Paper bins yield some Tetra juice boxes and six McCafe paper cups with their loyalty stickers intact. Again I have been a step ahead of another binner. We exchange friendly greetings and he continues westward along the alley towards the intersection with the east side of South Granville Street. He pointedly doesn’t check any of the bins, courteously leaving them for me.
9:05 a.m. On my way to the T-intersection of the alley behind South Granville, I pass one of the Top Select trucks of the company contracted by the city to collect the blue bins. I’m heading for the first covered space I can find out of the rain, because—somehow—I’ve managed to flatten the brand new tube in my fresh front tire–in less than two blocks!
9:10 a.m. I park my bike and trailer in the marked non-vehicle portion of a coffee chain’s loading bay/garbage area and prepare to fix my flat by laying out my tools and then removing the front wheel and extracting the inner tube. Carefully, with my bare fingers,I check the inner surface of the tire for anything sharp. I find nothing. And when I pump the tube to bursting and slowly rotate it close past my face to hear, and perhaps feel, the escaping air, the tube is mute. Now that it’s out of the tire it simply refuses to leak.
9:15 a.m. I lose patience waiting for the tube to lose air. As I reassemble the tire and wheel, I’m joined by a fellow named Guy (pronounced “Ghee”, as in “geezer”), an old-school non-homeless binner, who shockingly now looks like a geezer. All I can think is that the last time I saw him (maybe 10 moths ago) he was at least my height. He regales me with a story of police brutality against his person that resulted in a serious back injury and a trial that sent a police officer to jail for five years. I just listen, I don’t judge and I try to keep my focus on what I’m doing.
10:05 a.m. Back inside the tire, the tube is no longer shy and by the time I make the three blocks to McDonald’s it’s flabby soft. Admittedly I had to take a long detour because just like that, B.C. Hydro crews were replacing wooden utility poles at the alley entrance on the north side of 10th Avenue.
10:08 a.m. As I’m locking my bike and trailer to a sign pole (being mindful of my surrounding so as not to accidentally knock any passers-by unconscious with the heavy chain), I take note of a visually-impaired woman with a guide dog walking toward me uncertainly. I hear her ask a passing delivery person for directions to the bus stop for the B-Line out to the University of British Columbia. She’s on the wrong side of the street altogether!
10:11 a.m. I go over to her and she accepts my offer to escort her to the bus stop, which is on the opposite corner one block west. I see that my friend Martin is in a window seat in McDonald’s and, after explaining to the woman why I’m dashing off, I leave my panier, shoulder bag and helmet by a window seat, safely under Martin’s watchful gaze.
10:12 a.m. With the woman lightly holding my elbow, we make our way through the busy intersection. I verbalize the path ahead as I steer us toward all the corner wheelchair cutouts. She makes conversation, asking me where I’m headed this morning. I say I’m going to breakfast and she thinks that’s nice. She doesn’t think this intersection is nice though. She calls it “terrible” and I can imagine why, with all the complexity and noise. As we make our second crossing, at a right angle to the first, she says “ah, kitty-corner”. I take her to the bus stop–she actually insists on being taken right up to the bus stop sign pole so that she can touch it, in order to get her bearings, I suppose.
10:18 a.m. I order my usual morning McFare: a medium coffee—one-and-one and a Big Breakfast, sub-round eggs and with two peanut butter, “please.”
10:20 a.m. Off the clock for the time being I skim the Province newspaper then set up my laptop. I get on the Internet using my Wind Mobile cellular stick and a bit later, the free McDonald’s Wi-Fi connects. I use the term “connect” loosely because lately the speed and constancy of the free Wi-Fi at my regular McDonald’s is reminiscent of dial-up.
I did little on my laptop beyond chipping away at some writing. I did create a quick Google Map showing the exact rooftop where I saw a raven in March of 2015. I did this in response to a British author working on a book about ravens who tweeted me concerning the sighting. He’s going to be in Vancouver next week and I will physically take him to the spot off Cambie Street. We may even pry a shingle off the roof for him to take back home.
Actually, I’m tempted to gift him with a package of tinned, kippers, bandages and pain killers, given the horrors being inflicted by the Cameron government in the U.K.
3:40 p.m. I do absolutely nothing as thoroughly as I do everything else so before I know it, I’m perilously behind schedule to cash in my returnable beverage containers.
4:05 p.m. What with having to stop every 10 blocks to pump up the front tire, I made the 2.6 kilometres to the recycling depot at Ontario Street and 7th Avenue in okay time.
4:45 p.m. I cash out my returnables with 15 minutes to spare and proceed to slowly make my way in the rain westward and back to the Fairview neighbourhood. Now that there’s no hurry, the @#%! front tire stops leaking!
5:00 p.m. I’m on 10th Avenue beside the Vancouver General Hospital, nearly at Oak Street and I’m taking photos of a beautiful bouquet of flowers sitting forgotten on the sidewall beside the back passenger door of a parked sedan. Likely the flowers are intended to brighten the grey day for someone—just not the strangers walking along the north side of 10th Avenue.
6:15 p.m. I can think of nothing better to do than go to the McDonald’s in the 1400 block of West Broadway Avenue and get a coffee.
9:07 p.m. It’s dark, raining and I’m tired. Honestly, where did the day go? I feel like I spent the day going around in circles, although this is an illusion, as a homeless dumpster diver reminded me a few days ago. Those of us who explore the city’s back alley’s don’t go around in circles—we go around in squares.
Looking ahead, my most programatic day coming up is Friday. I have both a scheduled meeting to keep and a reduced window to bin for and cash in returnable beverage containers. Friday is Good Friday and my preferred recycling depot will close two hours early, at 3 p.m.
How will I ever fill the rest of my day? Click the images to enlarge them.