Pick Up America, a nonprofit group traveling across the country picking up trash, will slog their way through Stockton the next couple of days.
A public event to give them a hand is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Stockton’s Williams Brotherhood Park.
I spoke this afternoon with group co-founder Jeff Chen, 26, who was sitting at a church in Oakdale making preparations.
The journey started in Maryland in 2010, said Chen. It is literally a cross-country trip, he said — the volunteers are scouring every mile along two-lane highways and surface streets. Sometimes the trash is so dense that they cover only a quarter-mile in an entire day, but they keep walking.
He calls it a “bi-polar journey,” with rewarding moments of joy mixed with the utter despair of endless litter on roadside shoulders that never end.
“It’s pretty depressing picking up other people’s trash,” said Chen, who was inspired to start the trip when he climbed Half Dome and spotted garbage on the side of the trail.
“The whole point of this is to create a conversation about why we create waste, why we consume so much waste and why corporations aren’t taking much responsibility for the waste they’re producing.”
For the record, Chen is so far unimpressed with the cleanliness of Central Valley roads.
“It’s been particularly trashy in the Central Valley, probably rivaling our more trashy parts of West Virginia and Ohio as well,” he said.
The joy of the experience, he said, is meeting people everywhere he goes. Chen always wanted to walk across the country. His small group has been welcomed into homes and churches and businesses, learning about cultures and religions all over the United States.
The end is in sight: San Francisco marks the end of the journey, said Chen.
I couldn’t help but think he sounded tired.