Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Marathon cleanup

In big, bold type nearly an inch high, the newspaper headline the day before the Philadelphia Marathon read “26.2 Miles of Security.” The Friday weekend section had called it “A Run of Fun.”

My headline for the race: “Pure Garbage.” Or, to be more precise, make that garbage, recycling, and compostable materials.

My running club has staged the water stop at the intersection of Kelly Drive and Fountain Green for years. The runners pass us twice: at about mile 14 on the way out, and at about mile 25 on the way back.

This year, there were more than 14,000 marathoners taking two passes at our water stop. That meant about 28,000 cups of water and Gatorade were filled, handed out, and picked up. With the race partnering with the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability on Green Initiatives, and ambitious goals for waste diversion from landfills, my day was pretty much spent in the gutter.

It’s amazing how quickly refuse piles up as runners zip by trying to sip water and rid themselves of their cups without breaking stride.I barely got to see any faces, so focused was I on raking throwaways out of the path of oncoming runners. (Wet cups and pavement make for a slippery surface, which we wanted to avoid.)

The winner crossed the finish line in 2 hours, 39 minutes, and 3.74 seconds. At that point, there were still thousands of runners and walkers who had yet to make it to our water station for their first pass.

The day seemed to drag on forever. So did the trash. I worked with a small subset of volunteers who stomped and separated plastic water jugs (blue trash bags), flattened the cardboard boxes that housed the water jugs (stacked separately), collected the waxy cups (yellow compostable bags), and scraped up sticky GU energy-gel packets and other trash off the road (clear garbage bags).

We called it quits at 2 pm – seven hours after the race started. There were still people, walkers mostly, out on the course. They would have to move to the sidewalks to reach the finish, because the city was going to open the streets to traffic.

Did I feel bad leaving them unsupported for that final mile or so? Not at all. My marathon day had been a full eight hours long, if you count setup time at oh dark thirty.

I would hope they had trained for the distance for weeks and months beforehand. Me? There is no training for trash...except to just keep cleaning up.

Friday, November 1, 2013

And is better

Commercials for EcoBoost-powered Fords feature an “And is Better” campaign. They show it’s better, for example, to get sweet and sour chicken, not sweet or sour; a bed and breakfast is better than choosing between a bed or breakfast. The point: their cars offer nice features in addition to great gas mileage.

My point: And is always better. Especially when it comes to technology. Too many tech entrepreneurs and corporations talk about category killers – how their latest and greatest will make previous technology history.

A New Yorker profile of Jack Dorsey – from Twitter and Square – relates his hope that one day his credit-card reader for mobile devices will kill the cash register.

Financial institutions hope they have the killer app to drive more consumers to adopt mobile banking, further reducing their need for tellers, as ATMs have done.

Netflix hopes whole seasons of killer content will appeal to viewers who binge-watch multiple episodes of shows, instead of following along week by week, changing the very nature of television programming.

But why kill off useful, if somewhat older, technology and customs when you can offer more ways for people to get to you? Some will adopt the latest, coolest, techiest approach. Some prefer the secure comfort of known ways.

If you’ve ever helped an elderly relative transition from analog to digital TV, with multifunction, many-buttoned remotes, you can see why for some people, in some cases, the old ways are better. Another elder vs. digital example: computers and smartphones. Some delight in learning new things; some won’t even touch them.

So why must it be one thing or the other? I want one thing and the others.

I want:
•    Email, text, and postal delivery
•    Newspapers, magazines, and books in print…and e-books
•    Terrestrial and satellite radio
•    A quality SLR digital camera and my smartphone camera
•    A touch screen and physical keyboard on my smartphone
•    Prime-time television and on-demand viewing and streaming video

The beauty of technology is its ability to bring out exciting new things. The draw of old technology can be anything from sentimental value to reliable workhorse to versatile options.

And is always better in my book (and my Kindle).