I can not imagine a world without plastic water bottles and soft drink cups, foam plastic dinner boxes, pull-tab aluminum beer or soda cans and a plethora of other disposable food and drink containers.
I can not imagine it, but I can remember it.
Cultural historians might well deem it “The Age of Inconvenience.”
When I was a boy in the 1950s, soda pop came in returnable glass bottles worth 2 cents each at the grocery store. If we wanted to carry drinking water on a road trip or to the hayfield, we needed to fill a canteen or Thermos jug before leaving the house. Any sort of cold drink — like Kool Aid, milk or iced tea — we kept in a jar or pitcher in the refrigerator, poured in a glass from the cupboard and generally drank in or near the house. Most cars did not have or need cup holders.
“Road food” was something we ate at a roadside diner or made before leaving home — like fried chicken or roast beef sandwiches — packed in an ice chest and ate at a roadside park (or parking lot). When fast-food hamburgers first came along, they were served by carhops and wrapped in paper (if at all), and certainly they were not in foam plastic boxes. In my part of the world, I was a teenager with a car of my own before I ever saw a McDonald’s hamburger or anything close.
Yep, life was a lot more inconvenient when I was a boy. We had to fry our own hamburgers and eat them off plates in our own kitchens (and somebody had to wash dishes, too). Town folks had their Dairy Queens and Tastee Freezes, but I do not recall ever getting more than 15-cent ice cream cones from that sort of roadside eatery. I do not know if they even had kitchens.
Even in the 1960s a road trip meant packing coolers with ice and drinks, packing sandwiches and potato chips, and looking for likely places to stop for impromptu picnic dinners. The only other alternative was to stop at a diner or truck stop, go inside, sit at a table, order from a menu, wait to be served, fork over a handful of dollar bills and get back in the car. It all took a lot of time and money — until somebody came up with drive-up windows.
Otherwise, life was a lot more trouble when I was a boy — a whole lot more inconvenient.
But, that is all history. The “Era of Inconvenience” is just one for the history books.
Today we have a plethora disposable food and drink containers, countless fast food places with drive-up windows, and no need to plan supper more than a block from the likes of
a Wendy’s, Captain D’s or Kum & Go.
We can load up our cars with all sorts of burgers and fries, soda, beer and even those little “shooter” bottles of rum, vodka and bourbon — all packaged in plastic, cellophane, paper or aluminum, so doing dishes after supper is a thing of the past.
We do not even have to lose more than a few minutes of road time. Once our bellies are full, we can toss all the waste food, packaging and bottling out the window.
Yeah, all that stuff could make an awful mess in the floorboards on a long trip, but not to worry. That is what electric windows and side roads were designed for.
Now, I am just speculating here, but it is easy to see the logic of it all. Tossing trash out the car window has a lot of positive impact. Hungry raccoons, possums and buzzards feed on the food scraps. Highway mowers mulch the paper goods to enrich the soil. Some unfortunate soul collecting aluminum will benefit from the soda and beer cans — and cans are a lot easier to spot than if we just threw pocket change along the roadside.
As for the plastic and glass bottles, Mother Nature will take care of them — especially if we are careful to toss them well over in the ditch so the next rain will float them on downstream. I know from walking along the branch across my neighbor’s place those bottles and similar plastic litter help build small erosion control dams all along the creek — surely a good thing, would not you think?
I can imagine — even remember — the roadside litter of my youth, mostly candy wrappers and tin beer cans, which did not do much good for anyone. Kids like me picked up the pop bottles for the 2 cents they would bring, but the can and beer bottles we just let be. The cans rusted away and the bottles mostly got lost under roadside brush. As for the raccoon, possums and buzzards, they were on their own. Nobody threw food out the window.
I am glad we do not still have returnable pop bottles. I have an awful habit of picking up anything I find along the road, and some days I might find glass soda bottles too much of a load.
Plastic bottles and aluminum cans are not so heavy, though, and they give me something to do with my hands on my daily walks, as well provide for bending exercises.
Lord knows I need the exercise.
Is not it convenient how folks help keep me fit by tossing trash along my road.
As Tennessee Ernie Ford used to say, “Bless their little pea-pick’n’ hearts.”
Jim Hamilton is a freelance writer and former editor of the Buffalo Reflex. Contact him at email@example.com. Find his latest essay collection, Ozarks RFD 2010-2015, at your local newspaper office.