If you are looking for a good fire house story you may be disappointed today. This one is just a peek into my other-than-the-firehouse world. As a kid, collecting fascinated me. I started a candy wrapper collection, a patch collection, a sticker collection, a bottle cap collection, and a matchbook collection, just to name a few. In my preteen years beer can collections were big. It seemed like everyone had a beer can collection, and I admit, I thought they were really cool. Who could forget the Old Frothingslosh ladies, or the coveted Sunshine Beer can? The problem was that I got a late start. My friends had established collections, I couldn’t BUY beer, and my dad was not much of a drinker. How would I be able to catch up? Then one day, it hit me… I decided to collect soda cans. A friend of mine, Brian Schubel, was the only other person in the WORLD that collected soda cans. I have since found out that there are hundreds of kooks just like me and Brian
I used to collect soda bottles by knocking on neighbors doors. Back then, you could get anywhere from $.02 to a nickel for a returnable glass bottle that would be returned to the bottler, washed and reused (Now, kiddies, THAT was recycling!) I would haul my loot, as well as my grass cutting money to Mays’ Sandwich Shop in West Lawn and start buying cans of soda. My delivery system was mighty efficient, with my wagon hitched to the back of my bike. Supermarkets were a virtual smorgasbord of colorful cans and flavors as well. You didn’t have to buy whole cases then either, and two or three dollars could score you one of every Shasta flavor on the shelves. How I managed to survive that first summer without getting diabetes, I will never know.
I began to stack my umpty cans in a pyramid in my parents’ basement, and then took up shelf space where the games and puzzles used to be stored. One of my junior high wood shop projects was a pair of shelves designed specifically to hold 324 cans (counting the collection occurred weekly!) I can still remember carrying those buggers home, and to this day, I still have them in use! Thank you, Mr. Witman, for teaching me the finer skills of woodworking.
The passion became an obsession when my family went down the shore for vacation. Armed with a few empty trash bags, I declared to my mom that I was going to “check the nearby trashcans” for soda cans I needed for my collection. I think she was ready to alert the lifeguards, because I became so wrapped up in my hunt that I lost track of time. The beach is really long, and the rows of trash recepticles kept calling my name. Several hours after my departure, I slunk back to the family blanket area dragging three FULL garbage cans full of cans.
There was a bit of a fight whether this “garbage” was going in the car or not. I had to dig through food wrappers, dirty diapers, yellow-jackets, and half-eaten hotdogs to snag some of these beauties; I was not leaving the beach without them! As promised during my begging compromise, I sat outside at our vacation trailer with a garden hose and a sponge rinsing away the lipstick, sand, suntan oil, sticky residue, wadded up napkins and cigarette butts that infested my loot. Once I washed and dried them all, even my embarrassed family had to admit, some of these cans were really awesome. I found brands that I never heard of before, and a whole load of 10 ounce cans from Canada, written in French as well as English! I had an international soda can collection going! I can still recall how they sounded as they rattled in the back of the family station wagon on the way home
I have been collecting non-alcoholic beverage cans for over 37 years now and have upwards of 5000 different cans and counting. I store them in crates that state "USE BY OTHER THAN REGISTERED OWNER PUNISHABLE BY LAW". I know, I am such a rebel, right? Road trips always include random stops at mini-markets and grocery stores. I have learned to ignore the strange looks from cashiers over the years. I have had friends who travel send me cans from foreign countries, and I have made more than a few stops at post offices to ship myself cans. It saves the scrutiny I get from the TSA agents at the airport screening stations.
I can’t imagine NOT collecting cans. It has become part of me. One day I will pass my collection on to my daughters. I don’t think they share my passion, but they do keep an eye on the metal recycling rates.