Interstate Avenue

When I saw the No Washington Bottles sign on the wall at the Delta Park BottleDrop today, my first reaction was lol good luck with that. My second, much darker, thought was that OBRC might actually try to enforce the regulation against interstate smuggling. There’s absolutely no way in hell to enforce anything of the sort equitably. The closest thing to equitable enforcement would be a regime that uniformly checks the origin of every customer’s bottles. That would cause excessive burdens for the poorest, most desperate customers and choke the entire system on bureaucracy, bringing it to a sputtering halt. Compelling bottlers to label their bottles specifically for sale in Oregon as a condition of selling here is presumably beyond the pale politically. Bottlers have the operational and financial capacity to cope with a state-by-state labeling regime more readily than individuals can cope with an intrusive inspection regime, but they also have lobbyists, and the rest of us don’t so much.

The sign noted that some try-hard safety club administrative regulation allows bottle redemption centers to turn away bottles that they believe to have been purchased out of state and to refuse to accept bottles from customers with Washington license plates. To illustrate this, the sign’s background was a copy of the blue-on-white lithograph of Mount Rainier from the Washington license plate under the struck-through red circle from a no-smoking sign. Frankly, out-of-state tags aren’t probative of a damned thing. They’re going on the basis of prejudicial suspicion and nothing else. They don’t know where the hell anyone’s bottles were purchased because the inefficiency of certifying provenance and chain of custody, of treating like antiquities junk that someone just fished out of a fucking trash can, would crash the system. The cost of efficiency is some petty crooks bringing in bottles from out of state. Big fucking deal. Just this year the deposit in Oregon was raised from five cents to ten because the percentage of deposits redeemed had stayed below eighty percent for several years straight, so it’s a matter of public record that the bottle fund had a strong positive cash flow until at least last year.

So we’ve got this really fucking neighborly sign outlawing Washington two miles from downtown Vancouver (why, hello, neighbor!) and telling Washingtonians to fuck off and take their bottles to an appropriate recycling center that doesn’t offer deposits, in roughly the tone one would expect of a sign cautioning sexual perverts to go to McNeil Island for their civil commitment. Cascadia federalism will totally work, guys. It won’t be anything like US federalism, or even Canadian federalism. It totally won’t involve a state that sent an advisory team from its corrections department to teach its counterparts in Delaware how to revive the lost art of judicial hanging or had a death squad mace one of its own condemned men in extremis when he resisted his own Saddamnation. Nothing located anywhere between Clarksport and Blaine possibly makes Erin Sharma look human, and no one in North Portland has a beef with anyone on the other side of the Columbia for stealing the Oregon treasury’s shiznit.

The prospect of the regulations against the importation of deposit bottles actually being enforced raises the specter of authoritarian overreach by exactly the people who belong nowhere near positions of authority. If OBRC tries to bar the door against Clark County freeloaders, it will end up hiring police academy rejects whose love of power for the sake of power has them on course for jobs as casino rent-a-cops unless something else drifts within reach. The license to interrogate and interdict certain classes of people for improvable petty fraud is exactly the commission to convince a bunch of officious asshats who naturally suffer from hypervigilance verging on PTSD and suspicion verging on clinical paranoia that they’re Inspector Lewis. We’ve got a regime here that threatens to breed monsters for no other reason than to root out a few sad sacks who smuggle thirty-dollar loads of cans in from Hazel Dell. I honestly thought Oregon had more heart than to do something that vicious, but I guess not.

This regime–again, if it’s actually enforced–will fall heaviest on the poorest and most desperate. Bill and Melinda Gates aren’t showing up with bags full of cans. The Delta Park BottleDrop was mobbed this afternoon, and I was one of only two or three people in the building, other than the staff, who didn’t look utterly indigent. Most of the other customers were dressed for shit. I’m sure that some of them were wearing castoffs from Goodwill.

Everything that could be wrong with them, other than a late-stage Marlon Brando wheeling himself up to the hot tables in a Chinese buffet with nasal oxygen in tow, was wrong. They were slovenly, slouchy, shabbily dressed, out of shape, overweight in ways that looked indescribably but unmistakably abnormal, underweight in that classic somebody better feed Kid Rock way, and in many cases vaguely distempered, hostile, and of diminished executive function. One lady in front of me was feeding bottles into the machine without looking, causing herself to lose at least one into a deep crevice beside the conveyor belts when it hit another bottle that the machine had been rejected. I was afraid that she’d curse me out and turn into an in-your-face bitch if I pointed this out to her, so I held my peace.

Heh, I initially wrote that as “held my piece.” I might as well have been doing that, probably. Going in there with only $1.50 worth of bottles at all-day rush hour wasn’t a compellingly good decision. Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy. Nah, who am I kidding? These people are too harried to take a Sabbath. They were lined up out the door the first time I swung by; I came by a couple of hours later and joined a line that went almost back to the front door, then walked past several people who were lined up outside the door as I left after another fifteen minutes.

We weren’t there for our health. I have a cushion that will keep me going for another month of two on its own, for which I’m greatly thankful, but the extra money helps me, too. For most of the other people there, it must have been indispensable. They weren’t traveling kid grungy. They weren’t larping some crappy slumdog shtick. They were the real deal, the genuinely, generationally poor. I didn’t need to take a second look at them to tell that an extra twenty or thirty dollars would be a true godsend.

Police states tend to fall heaviest on the poor. An administrative police state enforced by non-sworn petty functionaries for the purpose of deterring petty bottle deposit fraud is no different. That has the effect of demonizing, menacing, humiliating, and degrading the poor. BottleDrop often attracts the lumpenproletariat, but the Delta Park store attracted the hell out of them. I was surprised by the sheer numbers, but not so much by the overall mix, although I was a bit taken aback, because the neighborhood ain’t so hot. There’s no telling how many cold homeless are living in the woods or on disused patches of land around industrial properties in North Portland, but the number is sizable. The revulsion of higher classes to this crowd is natural and to some extent inevitable; frankly, some of them really are the dregs; but it should not be encouraged. We all should aspire to something better, something more human.

I felt really uncomfortable with the implications of an official sign in an unpleasant built environment menacingly accusing an exceptionally destitute customer base of wholesale criminality and threatening to take extreme actions to thwart it. Examining license plates is extreme. Demanding proof of purchase in Oregon is extreme. The sign was probably posted due to the facility’s proximity to the Washington state line, not due to the poverty of its customers, but its presence in a facility used overwhelmingly by the visibly indigent was disturbing.

These are people who go through their entire lives, sometimes generation after generation, associating exclusively with other members of the underclasses. Their only contacts with anyone from the lower middle class or above are with police, teachers, social workers, jail guards, and maybe other professionals, most of whom do not regard them as anything like equals.

The rest of us treat them like dogshit. We other the hell out of them and leave them to their separate and unequal world of check-cashing joints, ghettoside 7-Elevens, and bottle redemption centers. (As bad as the last can be in Oregon, the ones in California are a whole other quantum of misery and degradation.) We pretend that this other world doesn’t exist. God knows I mostly try to avoid it, because it sucks, and because most of the companies and individuals who set up shop there richly deserve to go out of business.

The chronic degradation of the very poor is one of the reasons why Robert Pickton got away with serial murder for so long. The women he murdered weren’t just prostitutes; most of the prostitutes among them were homeless or housing-insecure streetwalkers with hard drug habits. He also targeted a number of indigenous women living on Indian reserves, which are about as bad in Canada as in the United States. He went after women who were effectively second-class citizens. That’s who I saw in BottleDrop today, too: second-class citizens living in a second-class society. No, more like third-class, to be generous.

These people won’t assimilate into middle-class society if they continue to be treated like thievish losers who deserve monitoring worthy of a prison visiting room. They need to be shown some good faith, some benefit of the doubt. The affluent wouldn’t put up for fifteen minutes with the shit that the poor face on a daily basis.

We can’t expect the disorder that we’ve encouraged in poor neighborhoods not to seep into wealthier ones, or to flood in unexpectedly, triggered by something equally unexpected. Bad shit taking root on the margins isn’t good for anyone. We encourage the maintenance and proliferation of reservoirs of ill at our own peril, not just at the peril of those who get stuck living in such environments.

In my own experience, Washington is a weak-ass canning state, but take your ass up to Battle Ground and get some bottles. Take your ass up to Puyallup and get some bottles. Take your ass all the way up to Lynden and get you some damn bottles. Take your asco over to Pasco, bitch, and get bottles. It isn’t a Wesley Willis song (sic), but it should be. Amen, in the name of Jason Lee, I duly abet ye all.

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