Flashback: The River Wild

Two Mays ago Susan and I pitched in and picked up trash along the L.A. River:

May 1, 2004 — As planned, but a little later than expected, Susan and I made it over to the Friends of the Los Angeles River’s annual clean-up at the Los Feliz station (one of 10 stretching from the Tujunga Wash in Sun Valley down to Long Beach.

We kicked ass and not only scored free t-shirts, but also two tickets (a $38 value) to the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, a place I’ve not yet been. Coolio. Plus it was a gorgeous morning and a beautiful day.

Parking at equestrian center where the LAPD’s gorgeous Mounted Division’s horses are stabled, Susan and I walked back down to the sign-up table just north of Los Feliz Boulevard and were set up with trash bags and work gloves.

Deciding to head south of the boulevard picking up crap along the west bank, then cross the river at the Sunnynook Drive footbridge and head back up the eastbank to the boulevard.

As we’d gotten there about 10 a.m., the first several hundred feet of riverside were picked up pretty well. So I finally found a way to hop some rocks onto one of the river’s islands and found a motherlode of papers and plastic wrappers and such (Susan was sure I would be taking an unplanned dip in the brackish waters at some pointl; I didn’t disagree).

Upon Arrival & After Pick-up

The majority of crap looked like the content’s of a students notebook (it chilled across my mind fleetingly to hope that the student’s body wasn’t nearby), and most noteable of the stash I picked up was an L.A. Times Calendar section from June 15, 1990, an unused hair curling iron (still in its plastic bag) and an item (also still in its original packaging called “Bear Paws,” an item that looked like giant brass knuckles (but made of plastic) with a series of sharp-ass claws used to skewer and transport large hunks of meat from pan to the table.

They look like something X-Man Wolverine might envy.


Of course, I Googled the brand name and found a link on barbecue-store.com to the horrible things. And I quote, verbatim:

“Famous in the north and east, these sharp prongs can quickly turn barbecued pork shoulders & butts into PULLED PORK!”

Well shit-howdy, I’ll take two!

Anyway, by the time I hopped back onto dry land from the island, my haul was about 20 pounds. I was just getting started.

A couple more hundred feet down and we found another volunteer hauling a shopping cart out of the water. I helped haul it up the inclined bank to the bike path rail, hoping I’d be able to pull a cart of my own out of the muck.

Ask and the river shall provide, baby. Down at one of the Sunnynook footbridge’s supports, I found my prey wrapped around it. Another volunteer a few feet downstream suggested somewhat skeptically that if I wanted to test my strength I should give it a yank.

In no time, off came my backpack and onto the slippery rocks out over the water I went.


Bad knee and all, it took some serious concerted effort, soaked shoess and several dozen pulls, but damn if I didn’t feel as if I could move a mountain and soon up out of its watery grave it came — in several pieces.

Last but not left behind was a long piece of rebar that wouldn’t give up without a fight, but I twisted and turned and eventually took it out as well. Behold the proud hunter with his quarry:


After hauling everything up the bank to the edge of the bike path, we crossed the footbridge…

The Sunnynook Footbridge

…and Susan got a picture looking north at the stretch of river from which our salvage operations were running.


Bag on the river if you must, but it was gorgeous and serene and we saw a variety of waterfowl and swifts and swallows and silky smooth water this morning — made all the more beautiful by the hearts and souls and efforts of all who came out to pretty it up by getting rid of just a small portion of the shit with which we make things filthy.

Heading back north, we found, beer cans, bottles, butts, and even women’s hosiery, but once again, the place had been picked-up pretty well by those who had come before us. And without any islands in the stream upon which to hop, we resigned ourselves to wrapping it up.

Well, almost. Turns out I still had one last haul in me.

Up near Los Feliz Boulevard there was a green area at the bank and after traipsing down the concrete bank, at the edge I found a large rusted metal pole whose end had been planted into a large bucket of concrete… something that may have once been a tetherball set-up.

It had to go, and so it went.


It was one thing to wrestle it out of the reeds and rocks, but then I had to cope with dragging the ungainly thing up the craggy rise of the bank — and it easily weighed at least 200 pounds. Every six feet up I had to set the thing down and catch my breath.

Halfway up, another volunteer thankfully came to my rescue and shaved four minutes off the five more minutes it would’ve taken me to get it all the way up on my own.

With that mission accomplished, Susan and I meandered along the bank and picked up assorted bits of refuse until we arrived at the water station set up just south of the boulevard where we relinquished our work gloves and happily received our 15th Annual L.A. River Clean-Up t-shirts.

Back at the sign-in station north of the boulevard, we were awarded our choice of two tickets to the L.A. Zoo or the Long Beach aquarium. “I work at the Zoo,” I told the lady with a laugh. She handed me the aquarium tix.

With our work well done and finished, I was already looking forward to next year’s clean-up and thinking how handy a kayak would be in getting out to the untouched islands in the middle of the river.

I’m sorry it took me 15 years to get involved, but I’m certain that my efforts today made up more than a little for lost time.