It was dark now.
The conga line of beach-and-parkgoers was now heading westward, hauling now-empty coolers and now-full livers back to parking spaces, buses and home.
Dogs worn from a full day of fetch trotted sleepily after their masters. Children too, also worn from 16-inch softball, soccer, volleyball, Frisbee and just running like mad midgets between grass, sand and a freshwater lake trotted after their adults too.
Stomachs were full, muscles were tired and a family of garbage pickers was tipping over the recycling bins to fish out aluminum cans.
Yes, it’s another story of rich vs. poor. It’s another Chicago tale of heaven and hell sharing the same ZIP. It’s another preachy anecdote of how messed it is that some live in joy and some live in squalor because that’s the only story I know how to tell some days.
Because that’s the only story there is.
I don’t know if it was an entire family or just two groups who converged at the same moment. The trucks had already come by to empty the bins, so the pickers were just dealing with the ankle-deep refuse from the later-night drinkers and barbecuers, not a full beach day’s allotment of city trash.
They were dealing with fewer cans and bottles. They were dealing with mine and my friends’.
One pair of pickers appeared as man and woman in silhouette against the parking lot security lighting. I saw nothing and got no context.
Tipping over the recycling bin nearer a streetlight was an old woman. Eagle-eying through the garbage to point and scream at cans was a little boy.
He might have been 4, or a very active 3. He zoomed around, laughing and squealing at his task. He was the spotter, trash and plastic no distraction for his nimble young eyes. His grandmother would then locate and bag the valuable cans he saw. The child never contacted the garbage nor was put at any risk. He seemed happy, healthy and well-loved.
Once their task was complete, the old woman straightened the bin and replaced the worthless plastic bottles and paper bags. She seemed a better steward of the parkland than the conga line of weary beachgoers that continued unabated during the family treasure hunt.
And the boy zoomed and squealed, joy in every squeaky step, knowing only that he had helped his grandma find something special.