Treasures found by the wayside

Keep your eyes peeled, the author suggests, because good things come to those who pull over

There is a rug in my guest bathroom that I particularly like. I was trying to remember where I'd bought it.

Long minutes passed. Then the answer came like a burst of sunlight. I didn't buy that rug. I found it in the street. It was lying there helpless, getting run over by countless cars and trucks. I took it home and put it in the washer, which removed all evidence of tire tracks.

In my toolbox are giant screwdrivers, Phillips screwdrivers, paint-caked screwdrivers, vise grips, and two carpenter's hammers, all found by the side of the road at one time or another. I have found towels, washcloths, one sneaker (it didn't fit), a sweatshirt (it didn't fit, either), and a T-shirt (it fit, but had been run over too many times).

Several years ago I found a 1948 Plymouth hubcap lying near a street drain. It was bright with chrome, fashioned of solid steel, and heavy. lt must have weighed two pounds. I took it home, hammered out the dents, and repainted the trim in red: the name "Plymouth," the clipper ship above it, and the circle around both. It is quite an attractive wall decoration, a reminder of a time when "Made in America" meant long-lasting and durable.

While driving down a four-lane boulevard one day, I caught sight of a 30-gallon plastic garbage can. The brisk wind was carrying it, scuttling and somersaulting, down the roadside. It looked as if it was running away from home. I rescued it, and still use it years later.

But my most uncanny find came in 1998, when I was driving my Buick station wagon down the same boulevard where I'd found the garbage can years before. Off to the right is a deep drainage gully. Down at the bottom was the complete spare wheel to a car.

This appeared to be too good to be true. I made one U-turn, then another, and pulled over to the gully. I went down to take a look.

The spare was complete with inflated tire, a Buick rim with a P-185-75R-14 tire on it, exactly like mine. I took it home and painted the unsightly looking rim with rust-inhibiting gray paint. I pumped up the tire to its proper 35 pounds of pressure. It looks like new, and I haven't had to use it yet. My Buick wagon came with a small-sized "doughnut" spare tire. I don't like doughnuts - the kind that go on cars, that is. If anything looks silly, it is a full-size wagon wearing a doughnut spare.

Some people "dumpster dive." I don't do that. I don't seem to need to. The things I've found were littering the side of the road. I have rebuilt three single-speed bicycles just from observing roadside trash piles.

It is one thing to see genuine litter along the street, pick it up, and make the roadside look better. But when one sees usable items lying there for days and weeks at a time posing as litter, it says something about us as Americans. I'm not sure what.

I remember being out of work during a scorching Florida summer in 1976. I was out for a bicycle ride, getting some thinking done. I wondered how I was going to fix my car and pay the next month's rent. Along the edge of the inland waterway were clusters of mangroves.

There was a bit of tangled up paper in one mangrove cluster that looked peculiar. The tangled-up paper was a wet, faded $5 bill.

Up the street were a set of golden arches. It was nearly noon, and the sun was getting hotter by the second. All my concerns were now on hold.

I had lunch at McDonald's that day, courtesy of roadside litter.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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