I found your piss. Twenty-three bottles, to be exact, in the grass along an I-94 entrance ramp. I assume you intended to leave them there. Why else would there be so many? The golden-amber hue of my first find—a gallon jug of Arizona Iced Tea—implied, well, tea, so I picked it up with less care than I otherwise would have shown. The lid, which you failed to secure, fell off, and your stench splashed out onto the grass and splattered across my tennis shoes.
In the heat of the late summer morning, the odor overwhelmed me, and I heaved into the grass. What sort of monster, I thought, would do such a thing? That was before I found the other twenty two bottles. Mountain Dew, Sobe Peach, Propel Berry. Some of you, in a surge of irony, had chosen Aquafina or Ice Mountain with its terrifying, eco-friendly half-cap.
I am not unacquainted with your plight. The peeing into a bottle I understand. My own father drove truck for nearly thirty years, and, informed me, he never pitched his piss tanks out the window but instead threw them into the garbage when he stopped for gas.
Which brings me to the first, most salient question: Why not throw them away? Are you ashamed, in that short walk from cab to can, of how dehydrated you are, your urine’s orange pekoe not remotely identifiable with the Country Time yellow its container suggests? Do you fear that marching your own lonely pee pots to the barrel while your peers are eagerly tossing theirs into ditches will strike them as pretentious? Or do you simply remember only as you wind your wheel onto the ramp that your piss missile is rolling pell-mell over the passenger-side floor, threatening to detonate and sour your air for the next three hundred miles?
And when you finally do crank down the window and make the pitch, do you consider who will find it? There are, as I can figure, only two possibilities: One (less probable), a down-on-his-lucker desperate for refunds; or two, your Adopt-a-Highway volunteer. Because I am the most likely candidate, each find was a slight, a little “screw you, churchie.” But who am I to say? Maybe you chuckled at the thought of my foiled Pollyanna routine, maybe you winced with guilt as you sent your sediment sailing, or maybe you didn’t think of anyone at all.
I try to give you the benefit of the doubt. You may be tired, or you may have felt compelled, by your bottom-line boss or your four hungry children, to start snorting speed. Or you might have developed a meticulously timed dependence on those ubiquitous vials of 5-Hour Energy. Or you might, according to some informal research I’ve recently conducted, simply rely on a combination of sugar and good, old-fashioned caffeine.
The truth is that I have no idea what you’re going through. I’ve never made a cramped bed in the back of a truck cab. I’ve never subsisted on pre-packaged Danishes or hot dogs blistered on a gas station grill. Though my dad drove a truck for a living, I never followed suit, not even for a summer. Nor have I personally ever had to feed a family of five—or even two—with my work alone, and when the wolf did come to the door, it was a cat, who informed me in a bored voice to stop spending so much money on sushi.
People don’t make my profession the butt of jokes. At the somewhat-elite private college I attended, I told my German class what my father did for a living, and they thought I was joking. I burned through ten shades of red as all eyes turned toward me and the laughter skittered to a stop.
I don’t think that’s your fault. It’s certainly not the fault of my father—a smart, talented and poetic man who holds no college degree but who encounters the world with a unique and perceptive eye unrivaled, to my mind, by most of my alma mater’s academicians.
The truth is that, though I am a social climber, I have not exactly pulled myself up by my own bootstraps. Directly after high school, I fell into a significant sum of money as the result of a car accident. One morning, before another long shift at my summer job in a nursing home kitchen, my mother sat me down and informed me that the insurance company was awarding me fifty thousand dollars. I dropped it all on school.
The truth is, had money not fallen from the heavens, I’m not sure I would have had the gall to jump state and strike out on my own. Also true: This serendipity terrifies me. It disrupts the whole narrative. It means that right now I could just as easily be squeaking by on diner tips or a factory salary. Your whizz grenades whisper that fate has hauled me up onto the bank of a swiftly moving river, that those less lucky are driven along by an undercurrent of such desperation that many cannot even take the time to locate a suitable place for their bodily fluids.
So perhaps I have no right to complain. Perhaps collecting portable toilets is my just desserts for veering off our shared path through little verve of my own. Penance for my degrees, my work, my marriage to a white-collar man who has never once felt compelled to relieve himself into a pop bottle in order to better provide for his family. Perhaps your highway ditches are your graveyards, each battered plastic urn a marker of the countless hours you spend alone. Each golden bullet a reminder, as I bend again and again in my awkward dance, that you and I are the same.
Hold up. Yes, we are the same, and correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that means you should be collecting your own sewer ewers and splashing your own pee onto your own tennis shoes and sending your own vomit to comingle with the other liquids your own body has abandoned there.
You’re the volunteer! you might counter, and technically you’re right, I am. But only because some crazy person from our church thought adopting a piece of highway was a great idea, and then fewer people started showing up (surprise, surprise), so I felt obligated to throw my younger spine into the mix. To you, the term volunteer may connote a happy frivolity reminiscent of high school cheerleaders hosing each other at car washes. So stay with that image and then take one cheerleader away from her friends and drop her alone on the side of a highway and toss on sixteen years and a sore back and replace the spray of water with a splash of urine and the laughing with retching, and you’ve pretty much got it. It would be more accurate to consider me not so much a volunteer as a pawn spawned from the soil of your heedless ribaldry.
In short, I’m appealing to your decency.
In short, I encourage you to imagine your own daughter, all grown up, stumbling one day, in a reluctant act of goodwill, across your own bottled remains.
In short, please throw your waste into the garbage, where it belongs.
Your Adopt-A-Highway volunteer