Last night I left a fancy party in Aspen. I had stuck out like a sore thumb in a blue blazer while everyone else had long flowing scarves and ponytails. Later, standing on the front steps of a mansion and waiting to pick up my car, I started talking to a woman I’d already met that night but who didn’t remember me.

She asked what I did and I said I was the environmental guy for the ski resort. And she said: “Boy, my family, we have come a long way. We’re from Texas, and you will hate to hear this, I almost don’t want to tell you, but…when I was a kid, driving along the highway, my Dad, he used to just chunk the Jack in the Box trash out the window…” And then she mentioned the crying Indian commercials, then suggested I was too young to remember him. (I said “Oh, no, I remember, Russell Means, he created a generation of trash picker-uppers!”)

 My car arrived, but this woman had tweaked an abiding question of mine. What was her dad thinking when he did that? And I’m not asking that in the sense of “What the hell were you thinking?” I ask it in the sense of “I really want to know what was going on in his head.”  People are unfathomable, what drives and motivates them to do things is beyond our imagining, and in a curious, anthropological, sociological sense, I want to know what process led to the KFC and Micky-D’s bags going out the window over all those years of her childhood.

 Remember, Ed Abbey, the great southwest environmentalist, had a trap door in his pickup, all the easier to drop the empty beer cans on the highway. And when Ken Sleight, his friend, was asked about it, Sleight gave one of the most beautiful commentaries I’ve heard about humanity: “He was just a simple kind of man,” he said. “He was still looking for answers.”  

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

 I said to her: “Is your father still alive?” Yes, she said, he’s actually pretty young, only 65.

I handed her my card. And I said, “Look, I am the least judgmental, least preachy ‘environmental’ guy you’ll ever meet. In fact, I don’t even call myself an environmentalist. And I guarantee your dad is a good person, an honorable, upstanding, good person. But I really would like to know what he was thinking when he threw the trash out the window. I want to know what was going on in his head. Not to make fun of him, or to disparage him, just to know. Will you please ask him for me?”

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

She agreed. And I wait, hopeful, curious, eager, looking for a bit more insight into the secret workings of the world.