A Magical Place Called the Dump

Something I never experienced while growing up was having to remember to take the trash to the curb on garbage day. Because Fairbanks is sort of spread out, the city limits only encompass a portion of what most people refer to as Fairbanks. The Fairbanks North Star Borough is an area a little larger than the state of Connecticut and has just shy of 100,000 residents. Within the city limits there are garbage trucks, but if you live outside of the service area you have to haul your own trash to a place called the transfer station. This is a magical place many refer to as the dump. My dad would always call it Treasure Island because of all the neat things one can find there.




This isn’t like a big landfill full of gross, rotting, and broken things, it’s pretty much just a parking lot with a large covered concrete pad for usable items and a few dozen dumpsters surrounding the perimeter. If I was in a hurry and didn’t have time to get out and thoroughly look, I would at least drive slowly past the concrete pad to see what sort of goodies people had left there. Over the years I’ve seen everything from a refrigerator full of food, to a satellite dish, a few books from the Encyclopedia Britannica, even pink corduroy American Eagle bellbottom-like pants. Even if I don’t take anything home with me, it’s often amusing to see what sort of things people have collected over the years and have finally decided to cleanse from their lives.

I don’t mean for any of this to sound off-putting or gross. I certainly didn’t take any food from the questionable fridge, any clothing I procured was always washed, and I never really felt like it was garbage at the dump; it usually felt more like stuff people didn’t want to take to donate to a thrift store. There are a number of transfer sites on the various sides of town, but the one closest to my childhood home always seemed to have the best loot. One day my dad saw a truck with a brand new mattress and box springs, still in the plastic. It became my bed and for years was the best bed in the house. I use that bed to this day.



During the six months I spent living with my sister in northern Denver, I think it took me at least half of my visit before I got used to the paradigm of garbage day. You have to load the trash into the bins, remember what day of the week your specific company picks up, and get it to the sidewalk before they get there or before you leave for work. Plus they charge you! Wow! What a hassle. I much prefer just running a quick errand at my own convenience and taking a few bags to the dump every week or two.  There’s just something unique about taking your garbage and usable items to a public place and displaying them for the world—okay, maybe just the Treasure Island pirates. But still, they’re all there to do the same thing with their personal belongings too! It’s a sort of community feel. It reminds me of taking dirty laundry to the laundromat and showing it off to all the people in the same boat as you.



Depending on convenience or preference, anyone could take their trash to any of the transfer stations around town, each having their own merits. The West Farmer’s Loop dump always has people there waiting for the best finds; it serves many college students like myself living in dry cabins. The one in Ester, just down the Parks highway seems to collect items that appear to have been re-purposed a few times before finally making their way to their final resting place. I don’t go to the dump on the far end of Farmer’s Loop very often, but whenever I do I feel like I usually see at least one broken down car sitting between the concrete pad and the dumpsters. I always felt privileged living so close to the Chena Pump one because it’s the one the people who own nice homes on Chena Ridge would take their trash to, so the bits of treasure I found there were frequently in great condition or at least clean.

Other than really sweet items, I took something else home from all these years of going to the dump. I got to see different people’s standards of living. I was given a sliver of someone’s life and was only left with my imagination to determine why someone would throw away a perfectly good hat. I got a lot of cool clothes, true, but I also got in the mindset of clothing just being fabric. It doesn’t matter if it was a lady’s blazer purchased from a high-end store in Paris or some cheap Fred Meyer sweater, they’ve both found their way to the same dump before joining my own wardrobe. The same dump where the rich and the homeless alike take their trash and occasionally find things to make their own. I’ve mostly stopped caring about lending my clothing out to friends indefinitely or losing a shirt or things like that. I know it’s all just fabric that anyone can use and pass along. Like a community of pay-it-forward type mindsets. Who knew someone could learn life lessons like these at a place so shabbily yet affectionately nicknamed “the dump”.

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