Homeless in Vancouver: Silent night, cartless night

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      Christmas Eve is a magical time—it gets sooo quiet.

      I imagine you could hear the beat of tiny hoofs and sleigh bells, but there were none of those last night. More importantly there were no shopping carts clattering through the alleys—not just the alley off my parkade—any alley in the vicinity.

      Usually one or two intrepid binners come through in the early morning hours between 2 and 4 a.m. They move rather slowly and haltingly, but they still manage to generate their own kind of sonic boom.

      This is partly the result of a known physical law: a shopping cart’s audibility is inversely proportional to how full it is.

      Three wine bottles bouncing around in an otherwise empty steel-wire shopping cart can make a helluva racket. And only some binners take the trouble to put a piece of cardboard in the bottom of their cart basket.

      In the dead quiet of the night, with the sound bouncing back and forth off the buildings lining an alley… oh my!

      Fully-loaded carts have much quieter, monolithic loads and the weight reduces wheel noise considerably, but they are never quiet.

      Run silent, run circles around some binners

      When I’m binning, particularly in the evening, it’s a little like the submarine combat scenes we get in movies.

      Only I don’t need sonar to know where the binners pushing shopping carts are.

      They however, can’t hear me; not only can a bike and trailer rig run silent through the lanes, but the folks pushing shopping carts can’t hear anything over their own rattle.

      There was no clatter of shopping carts in the alleys on Christmas Eve, so far as I heard. There was me, a few others on bicycles, and one fellow with an electric scooter hauling a trailer. Nice and quiet for the residents for a change.

      The electric scooter guy is well-known to me. One day he saw me eying his scooter and trailer in a bottle depot and explained with a grin and a thick French accent that he was lazy.

      Well that certainly set a tone!

      I love the French but intensely dislike non-homeless people binning using cars, vans, pickup trucks, motorcycles and electric scooters, so this fellow only slightly annoys me. I still like him enough to teach him valuable binning lessons.

      He imagines his speedy electric scooter gives him the upper hand over mere shopping carts and bicycles. Maybe, but once again, last night I left him idling stock—still on a corner wondering how—with only one or two other visible binners in the lanes of Fairview. He was finding nothing except the occasional heavy wine bottle.

      I’m not discounting mobility and speed, but you only collect volume by stopping and looking—by lifting the lids. The more you stop, the less advantage you have over anything or anyone else: shopping carts, bicycles—Tiny Tim with a crutch.

      Then there’s the limited role strategy and tactics can play in binning.

      I can’t stress just how limited, but the brain can occasionally play a part. For example being able to predict and visualize the relative position of several binners—and one guy on a scooter—that’s handy.

      Fundamentally, binning is a race for the sure, rather than the swift. It’s  about slogging through lanes and looking—not getting discouraged—just doing it, until you’re done.

      You can recognize most veteran binners by their measured pace and the thoroughness with which they check everything—container pins, paper bins, dumpsters, garbage cans. They never fret about the guys on bikes who fly ahead of them. Where binning is concerned, the tortoise always beats the hare.

      All things in moderation, even binning

      The scooter guy was at least finding some wine bottles last night—I heard his poorly-balanced trailer rattling with glass—because, in part, I was leaving them. Not for him but because I was watching my weight.

      A 700some ml wine bottle weighs way over twice what a 300-some ml beer bottle does, and “infinitely” more than an aluminum beer can, yet each of those three containers can only earn me a maximum of 10 cents.

      With bottle depots closed on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, I’ll end up carrying over two days worth of of binning. I don’t worry if I’ll find a load of returnable containers; I have to worry about overloading my bike trailer.

      A trailer like mine is only rated for about 100 pounds. I can easily find more than I can possibly carry, or reasonably pull.

      Two years ago on December 27, I sheared bolts in the front chain ring of my bicycle, riding up a slight incline. The repairs cost over half the value of the near $150 load that did the damage. That’s false economy for sure.

      So this year, as with the last, I’m pacing my binning, just the way I trust the rest of you are doing with your festive board.

      Peace, Joy and Love to all.

      Stanley Q. Woodvine is a homeless resident of Vancouver who has worked in the past as an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer.