Arlo Guthrie’s 1967 counterculture anthem “Alice’s Restaurant” inspired some to protest the Vietnam War draft or maybe just roll a doobie. But how many were inspired to go pick up trash?
Bruce Huff might be the only one. The Waco resident is inviting others to meet him at the Suspension Bridge at noon Saturday for an “Alice”-themed downtown cleanup.
Huff, a retired trucking company owner, has ramped up his crusade against trash this year, bending the ear of the Waco City Council and anyone else who would listen about the city’s unsightly rights of way.
“This is the continued effort of addressing the litter we pass every day, but no one seems to care about it,” he said. “I want all of us to take pride in our neighborhood.”
Aiming for tradition
He said he hopes to make the cleanup an annual post-Thanksgiving tradition. The city of Waco is supplying trash bags, gloves and grabbers for the event, and City Center Waco is supplying water.
Huff said he already has more than a 100 volunteers lined up, and he hopes to dispatch them to both sides of the Brazos River from noon to 3 p.m.
Huff, 63, lives with multiple sclerosis and is often seen cleaning up around downtown using a scooter or braces.
“Every day is a struggle for me with fatigue and strength, but this is such an important issue for me, I feel like I will do anything to get it done,” he said.
What a trash cleanup has to do with “Alice’s Restaurant” may not be immediately clear to younger listeners or to anyone with a hazy memory of the 1960s. You could listen to the entire 18-minute song, or just know this: Guthrie’s shaggy dog story is about running afoul of the law for littering on Thanksgiving Day, then getting rejected for the draft for his misdeed.
In the song, and the movie inspired by it, Guthrie is seated with other undesirables on the “Group W” bench when he addresses an Army bureaucrat.
“I’m sittin’ here on the Group W bench ’cause you want to know if I’m moral enough to join the Army — burn women, kids, houses and villages — after bein’ a litterbug,” Guthrie deadpans in the song.
Huff is calling his cleanup brigade the “Group W” bench in reference to the song.
Huff said the song is intended to ridicule the overreaction to a minor offense, but he has come to think littering should be taken more seriously.
“I’ve never heard of anyone getting ticketed for littering,” he said.
Enforcement could get the attention of some litterbugs, Huff said.
He also hopes to circulate a petition asking the city of Waco to vastly boost its spending on trash cleanup.
Increase in funding
The city-sponsored Public Improvement District, which funds downtown amenities through a surtax on downtown properties, has already agreed to step up its cleanup efforts starting this fall. In the next year, the PID is expected to bid a new maintenance contract and triple its maintenance and cleanup budget to $126,000.
City Center Waco executive director Megan Henderson, who administers the PID, said there is now a full-time employee on a golf cart cleaning the downtown area and watering planter boxes.
But she said volunteer efforts, such as Huff’s, help not only in cleaning up the area but in bringing the problem to public attention.
“I’m really grateful for the impulse that has caused him to throw himself into this issue, giving incredibly of his time and effort and energy to advance awareness,” Henderson said. “I think the opportunity is to rally around these new energizing calls to action and also link them to the ongoing marathon of community cleanup efforts by Keep Waco Beautiful and others.”
Huff said he has been in contact with Keep Waco Beautiful and hopes to coordinate with the agency in future downtown cleanups.