Breached Dunes at Fowler Beach

During a 2008 Nor'easter the Delaware Bay breached the dunes at Fowler Beach, allowing salt water to freely flow into the man-made fresh water areas of Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge.
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White Trash

I never knew there was so much white trash in Sussex County. You just don’t see it very much over here on the “fashionable shore” where everything sparkles and shines. That is, once you bleach away the winter’s mold and mildew…

Drive inland, though, on Beaver Dam Road or via the John J. Williams Highway and you’ll soon encounter a treasure trove of rusty refrigerators, old washing machines, busted fry cookers, and lots of analog televisions that don’t work anymore.
I’m talking, of course, about the dump, better known as the Route 5 Transfer Station, which if you don’t know is in Harbeson and part of the Delaware Solid Waste Authority. White goods — white trash as it used to be called — is the official name DSWA gives to a whole host of discarded refrigerated and non-refrigerated items like ovens and air conditioners, not all of which are white. Some are avocado green and red. Last year, Sussex Countians got rid of two hundred and three tons of white trash last year.
I recently took a Saturday morning drive out to Harbeson to dump some white trash of my own: a set of Martha Stewart wicker furniture that had seen better days and five old Christmas trees.
The dump is a fascinating operation, very well-run, clean, and extremely organized. Your adventure starts when you pull up in to the scale house where your vehicle and its contents are weighed. It costs only $7.50 per load up to one hundred and eighty pounds. That’s less than a cocktail and tip at the Blue Moon. Anything above one eighty and less than a ton will cost you eighty dollars – about the same as a round of drinks for you and your buddies at the Blue Moon. What’s with that? Anyhow, I digress.
Your second stop at the dump is a small drop-off for household yard waste. There certainly are a lot of Christmas trees in late March. Next you encounter a series of signs and pull-ins for tires, refrigerant goods, and non-refrigerant goods. There are cars and trucks all over the place and it sort of feels like a driving test course. As I attempted to take artsy photos of lawn mowers and appliances for this article, one almost cute DSWA employee kept asking if I needed help. After a half dozen polite declines and shooing off motions, he finally went on his way, turning around every so often to stare. Guess he was making sure I wasn’t preparing to detonate a bomb or abscond with an old Weber grill.
The best part of the whole experience, though, is driving up the ramp into the enclosed facility and pulling your vehicle up to one of three big open windows bays. From there you toss your old stuff down onto a big pile of rubbish on a concrete floor. A backhoe continually crushes it and carefully pushes it into a big truck below, which then hauls it to the county landfill. Hence the name: “transfer station.”
A trip to the dump kind of reminds me of going to church. You arrive burdened with stuff and you leave feeling you’ve had an encounter with a supernatural being and everything is going to be okay. It’s very cathartic, this cathedral to crushed dreams and forgotten loves. Attractive too. I’m not kidding. Delaware must have some of the most attractive dumps in the entire country. The Route 5 Transfer station was built to look like a big red barn and to fit in comfortably in the countryside, which it does. In 2007, the station was honored with an award from the American Academy of Environmental Engineers for being an aesthetic facility that is efficient and protects the environment.
You’d never know it was a dump. Martha, though, would be proud to know her white trash ended up in such a tasteful facility, don’t you think?

Letter to Bill Bryson

Dear Bill,

I just finished reading your book The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America. Exploring the country and re-tracing some of the family car trips from your childhood is a fabulous premise for a story.

My family used to travel 800 miles each summer in a Buick station wagon from the mountains of North Carolina to sunny south Florida. Unlike your car trips, ours were never dreary.

There was the time my mother tried to cook a pot roast in the engine of the car. I swear it’s true. Somewhere off I-75 at a Stuckey’s in South Georgia, we stopped for our “carbecue” supper. Hungry and tired, we watched her lift from the engine a silver foil packet bulging with half-cooked meat, potatoes, carrots, and onions. It reeked of oil, and my father flung the hideous mess out into a field beyond the picnic table area. We ate hot dogs and pecan rolls instead, and my parents didn’t speak to each other until we got to Miami.

But, I digress. I’m no literary critic and you, Bill, are one of the world’s best-known travel writers. I’ve read all your books. So, naturally, I was disappointed that you skipped Delaware on your car excursion through America.

I know you didn’t actually skip it. You drove through Delaware up north along I-95 on your way to Philadelphia. The state, you wrote, was vanishing from your memory as you drove through it, like one of those children’s drawing slates where you erase the picture by lifting the transparent sheet.

A vague, semi-industrial landscape was how you described little Delaware. Well, maybe that’s true where you were. But you missed the best part of the state — Sussex County — where we have real American scenery like piles of watermelons at mom-and-pop roadside stands, old family graveyards, two-story trailer homes. There’s beauty in an abandoned chicken house and the rows of old wooden telephone poles. It’s all there, Bill, the picturesque countryside you set out to find on your travels. If you’d just taken another route.

You could have motored up through the heart of the state on the old DuPont Highway, now called Route 13 and sometimes Route 113 — I can’t keep it straight. But, it was Delaware’s first paved road, financed and constructed with private money given by Thomas Coleman du Pont. Yes, he is one of those du Ponts and also a U.S. Senator.

An early proponent of the automobile and a big thinker, Coleman envisioned a grand boulevard running north to south through the state, with a 200-foot right of way on each side for trolley tracks, bike lanes, and tree-lined pedestrian walkways. He wanted lampposts lining the highway, and room for air-landing strips.

Unfortunately, that’s not quite how it happened. Coleman started the concrete road in 1911, but it got too expensive and local farmers fought the land purchases. The state stepped in to eventually finish it in 1934. The final highway was much more modest than his original vision. It was, however, the nation’s first highway with two lanes divided by a grassy median.

About his highway, Coleman was quoted as saying, “others may build their monuments to the sky, but I am going to build a monument a hundred miles high and lay it down on the ground.”

I want to invite you, Bill, to give me a call or drop me an email anytime you want to come back to Delaware. I’d be my pleasure to take you out for a spin through the countryside in my aqua convertible. We’ll drive Coleman’s Highway. The car has a V8 engine, so we’ll air it on some of the smaller back roads. There’s nothing like the exhilaration of passing a big ol’ country girl driving a tractor or coming upon three big turkey buzzards gnawing some roadkill and wondering if they’ll move or if you’ll hit them.

You won’t forget Delaware this time.