Another re-post from the old blog. I had a guy come to my door today and ask if he could have an old tall computer I had set in the alley. I asked him if he had been hassled by the police, he said no, but he had not been in this town much. I’ve read a lot of stories in the police beat about junkers being ticketed because they didn’t have a permit to pick through the alley. I’m going to have to investigate this new trash picker licensing, how much it costs, why they did it, etc.
(From Grandview Watch, 2007)
“While throwing some stuff out the other day I had a conversation with an alley scavenger, a guy in a beat up old truck with a load of scrap metal in back. He had an interesting story to tell.
He used to be a stone and brick mason. I could tell from the stories he told of the work he could do that he was good. He used to lay paver stone for fancy houses, built intricate walls, did the kind of brick restoration that is hard (matching old work so expertly that you couldn’t tell where the old stuff ended and the new stuff started). He used to work regularly and made good money.
A few years ago he started being outbid for every job, or was forced to make a bid so low that he couldn’t make any money. The problem was that companies who used cheap undocumented workers could always beat him on price. He would try to explain that there was a quality difference to his work, he might take longer and be more expensive, but the results would be worth it. People would listen politely, then opt for the cheap work.
You might have thought this would be the kind of person who would be very anti-immigration and racist. But he wasn’t – he understood that people want to eat, and if they have to travel to a different country to find work then they have little choice. The problem was more that people are looking for price over quality these days.
The work he was doing was just scraping by. If you cruse through the burbs of Columbus every day you will find enough steel and aluminum to make a couple hundred bucks a week. Sometimes you might find an old TV or something that you can sell, but the scrap metal is more of a sure income.
Gas costs had hit him hard though. Even with a small truck he still was spending $50 a week on gas, and it was getting worse. He had to drop his insurance, so he was probably one accident away from big legal problems.
He still was looking for stone work, he showed me a nice flier that he had made, and when I told him I knew how to make websites he asked about getting his own site. I had to warn him that the Internet was not a sure bet any more, even with a good domain name he would find it hard to get traffic to his site.
I wonder if gas prices will put an end to the alley cruising junkmen like him. There has to be a point where the costs for all that driving are more than the profit to be made.”