The rag picker

Maybe it’s because the weather has turned cold. Or, it could have been the holiday that threw him off. Perhaps I just wasn’t looking out the window at the right time. For some reason, I did not see the “rag picker” this morning, the morning we all put our trash cans out for pickup. Lined up like little soldiers, awaiting their inspection:


The “rag picker” comes down the street with his shopping cart, already filled with recyclables before reaching our block, stopping to check each of the blue recycle containers. He brings his own bags in which to put his gleanings. Nor does he leave any trash on the street after his careful checking of the contents. He is looking for glass and plastic bottles, aluminum cans. They have the highest redemption value. We have few of those, mostly paper, in our container. The young neighbors across the street seem to have a vast assortment of those items as he spends time there, carefully going through their trash.

Although he is not taking rags, I still call him a “rag picker,” a term from another century. I silently cheer for him as he makes his way down the street, stopping at each container, taking his time to do a good job. A friend of mine was in an uproar a couple of years back when she found people doing this in her neighborhood. She believed, and rightly so, that the recyclable materials belonged to the city. There is even an ordinance about taking these items. That’s because Fresno is a leader in recycling, and since we get few accolades around here, it’s one they want to keep. We are also a leader in poverty.

As I wrote at Halloween, it has become a legitimate occupation in Fresno to beg on street corners. So has “rag picking.”  The fellow who comes down our street is working for his money, and I certainly won’t begrudge him the bottles and cans he pulls out of the bins. I’m just not sure if he made his rounds this morning.


6 responses to “The rag picker

  1. thanks for visiting my blog about art journaling. I enjoyed reading about the rag pickers…

  2. We had a neighbor in an uproar about people going through the recycle bin. I applaud them for trying to make a few dollars in these desperate times. They used to hit our street before dawn, and carefully worked the entire neighborhood before the green trucks came along. They were resourceful in desperate times, and I applauded them.

    Thanks for sharing your story about the rag picker. Perhaps instead of being upset with them, we should be ashamed of ourselves for allowing such poverty in the midst of such abundance.

  3. I do hope he’s all right. I see nothing wrong with someone taking these out of recycling bins. It isn’t really a crime, is it?

    • Afraid so, DJan. There is a city ordinance that prohibits people from taking things from the cans put out for city trash pickup. I don’t know if it’s a misdemeanor or what, but I do know that people have been arrested for doing this. There may also be a system of warnings in place before an actual arrest is made. I’m sure not calling the police!

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