Tuesday, September 28, 2010


If you’re my age, you might have childhood memories that go something like this:

Saturday night is bridge night.  You love bridge night because your parents take you and your sister with them to these parties.  The grownups sit around one or two card tables playing a game that is impossible to understand. While the cards distract the adults, you can walk right by and snag handfuls of “bridge mix” (chocolate-covered who-cares-what) from little crystal dishes found on every corner of the  tables. 
Your parents bring your pajamas because bridge usually goes late and includes several martinis for them and lots of TV and candy for you.  Eventually you fall asleep in front of your friends’ TV wearing the fuzzy pink jammies with feet that will become a bunny costume for Halloween. Once the grownups have washed down the last martini, you head home.
            Your dad carries you to the car and carefully places you on the back dash of the Chevy Impala so that you can stretch out there to sleep. Your sister sleeps across the back seat. It’s practically bunk beds.  Brilliant.
            On the way home, your dad (who always drove) pulls in to Dunkin Donuts for a large Styrofoam cup of coffee to counteract that last martini.  If he finishes it before getting home, he might simply toss the cup out the car window.  The world was huge back then and one little cup didn’t make a difference.  Or did it?

It sounds absurd now, but back in the ‘70s, no one gave any of this a second thought until:  the Indian got sad, the moms got mad and the word got out.

If you recognize the story above, you probably recognize this guy too.  Advertising executives jammed him into our brains on Earth Day, 1971 where he has lived ever since.  The “Crying Indian” came ashore in his canoe, walked up to the edge of the freeway and stared hopelessly at smokestacks and traffic as one passenger threw a bag of fast food garbage at his feet.  He made our moms cry.  He made them think. And then they taught us not to litter.
Car seats existed in 1971, but none of the children whizzing by the dismayed native was in one. Then someone showed mothers that children were dying needlessly every day. Can you imagine tucking your toddler into the back dash of a Honda? Today, carseats are an inconvenient, ugly, expensive but completely accepted fact of life.
Once I could drive myself, I didn’t hesitate to drive home from a party after uncountable beers. It never crossed my mind that I might kill myself, or someone I loved, or someone that someone else loved.  All I can say for myself is that I was not the only one. It was considered acceptable - until it wasn’t.  In 1980, a mom buried a child and started Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) the very next day. She has dedicated her life to making us think about the consequences of our actions.

·      We don’t litter.
·      We don’t let our children ride unrestrained.
·      We don’t drive drunk.

It sounds absurd now.  We don’t even think about it.

·      We drink our coffee then throw the cup (and its plastic lid) out the window into a landfill. Every day.
·      We pay more for water than gasoline.
·      We use plastic grocery bags for an average of 12 minutes and leave them on the Earth forever.

It sounds absurd now.  Please, think about it.


  1. Authors Note: My mom just asked me if I wrote the story about bridge night. She said, "It sounded just like us until you got to the coffee and styrofoam cup which Barry would never have thrown out of the car!" SO, I want to be perfectly clear that my dad did NOT litter, although so many people did back then. That's why I avoided saying the above was "my memory." Don't want to give my dad a bad name, but didn't want to make it sound like other people were littering, just not my perfect family. :-)

  2. I totally remember that Indian -- he was a serious buzzkill during Mary Tyler Moore! You're right, we've come a long way but still have a VERY long way to go. That said, I for one, could use a bridge night every now and then...!