Travel is not about different places, it is who you meet and embrace in those places. A cheery welcome then to the world of rural legend, Beer Can Bob of Patagonia, Arizona, an eighty + year old, the illiterate husband of a mentally retarded and severely diabetic wife.
To avoid welfare and buy needed medicines, Bob rises each day to scour the alleys, trash barrels, and highway for aluminum cans. Once he accumulates a measurable quantity, a nephew, owner of a pick-up truck, transports them to a Nogales, Az. recycle buyer. Bob’s car, a beat up, aging 4 cylinder Subaru, running on only three, is endangered in normal traffic. His vision only marginal, Bob is no match for Mexican truck drivers.
Too, he often cannot afford to buy gas, so he does his collecting with a small, pull-behind grocery cart.To complete the picture, imagine an elderly man, clad in filthy Liberty bib overalls, shuffling past your house. Because he has ankylosing spondylitis, he appears to be a slow moving comma, his greying beard exhibiting an unusual yellowing around his mouth.
At first glance you might assume him to be another of the burgeoning population of the homeless, our disgraceful national epidemic, but two years ago Bob made the news. You see, Bob would often pillage the recycling bins behind our Post Office. Never mind that the trash was being transported to a Tucson recycler for governmental profit, his presence made several local residents uneasy.
‘It doesn’t look good for the town to have an elderly man dumpster diving’, they railed in anonimity.
So the sheriff was dispatched and sent into action. Then the Marshal (this was the Wild West) issued him a warning ticket and Bob deferred for several days. However, the lure of the aluminum was overwhelming ( some A/S owners relate to this impulse ), he returned, caught red-handed, and issued a second warning. Finally, after the third episode, he was arrested, ticketed, and ordered to appear in court.
Word spread like a Brittney rumor. By the day Beer Can Bob was to appear in the magistrates’ court for his hearing, the town hall filled with more than a hundred remonstrators. A prominent criminal attorney arrived to defend Bob, pro bono. Without a plea agreement, all the charges were dropped, and it was ordered that trash barrels be placed around town dedicated for Bob’s aluminum can collection.
The courtroom burst into applause. Bob shuffled to the front and signed the document as asked. It was a large X. I stop and visit with him often. My dog, Jack, and I have become disciples and most days we retrieve several pounds of cans on our walks. It is very humbling to be in the delicate presence of someone who asks for nothing, who is driven to support his ailing wife; unconditional love.