Saturday, December 11, 2004

Dumpster Diving at the DMV

On a bone-cold February morning I took part in what’s long been a newsgathering tradition: dumpster diving. This time it was behind the DMV, where a year earlier my reporter for the day uncovered a soggy cache of decidedly un-shredded expired drivers licenses. Having milked that stash for a whole series of special reports, we were back for more, dressed like ninjas and poking our lens through a few more stout vessels of refuse. As I pierced the darkness with my camera’s top-light, a young lady who once sat in some lofty hall of Journalism and fantasized about a glamorous job in TV News squeezed herself through the smelly opening of a rusty dumpster. So much for dreams.

Before long we hit pay dirt: more intact licenses, sliced a little and nicked on the corners, but still clear bearers of easily-exploitable data. ‘Witness, the spoils of Garbalogy!’ I thought as I twisted the focal ring until the image was razor-sharp. People go to school for this? My partner sure did and she squealed with delight at her next discovery: processed speeding tickets, stacked and intact - chock full of easily viewable personal information. The reporter suppressed a chuckle as she fanned the familiar pink ticket slips in front of my lens and narrated her find. I squinted through the viewfinder and thought about breakfast. A few phone calls to this new list of lead-foots and we’d surely uncork someone to point a camera at. The rest would write itself. I love the smell of sweeps promos in the morning.

We could have stopped there, and probably should have. But as the pitch black of night melted into morning light we put off the breakfast bar for an impromptu strike on a certain cross-town waste container. Like junkies on the prowl, we soon loitered at the edges of a different DMV’s back parking lot, shifting from foot to foot and jonesing for another hit.

Trouble was dawn had turned to daylight and all elements of subterfuge were lost. Tough break, that. You try sifting through a DMV dumpster with a flashy TV camera while a dozen state troopers pass by on their way to morning muster. More than one of the high-and-tight haircut set crept by painfully slow in their unmarked Crown Vics, no doubt committing my face, logo and license plate to memory for future possible harassment. I’m still waiting to be pulled over for 36 in a 35 and immediately strip searched for having sunflower seeds in my ashtray and a half-opened RC Cola in the back.

I hate when that happens.


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