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As a road trip side-hobby, Tiffany Gee Lewis like to take note of all the leftovers that get strewn on the side of the road. She keeps a running tally of interesting objects.

As a road trip side-hobby, I like to take note of all the leftovers that get strewn on the side of the road. I keep a running tally of interesting objects.

On a recent Christmas trip to my home state, we drove from Dallas to Austin. The Texas highways are wide and flat, with generous shoulders on each side. The shoulders were a veritable treasure trove of strewn refuse.

During the three-hour drive, I saw an abandoned Corvette, a parked and abandoned motorcycle, fragments of shredded blown tire, an entire front bumper, plastic cups, empty shopping bags, a brown wool blanket, a mattress pad, various articles of clothing, a gasoline container, car straps, hubcaps, beer cans, cardboard boxes, a striped scarf, bicycle tires and a solitary purple sneaker.

It appears all of Texas is overdue for a highway cleanup.

To be left on the side of the road sends a certain message: I didn’t have the time to pull over and throw you away properly. Or: you went flying off the back of my truck without me noticing. Or: I walked away from you and didn’t turn back.

Once, a long time ago on a family road trip, a fly found its way into our car. This was one of those enormous black flies that buzz around slowly, and loudly, and bite if they get the chance. The whole car erupted in panic. As the quick-thinking oldest sister, I asked my younger brother to give me something, anything, to kill the insect. Also a quick thinker, he pulled off his white tube sock. The fly didn’t stand a chance. I pinched it between the folds of the sock. It was a goner.

However, when I went to release to fly out the open window, I let go of the sock as well. It whipped behind the car in a gust of wind and fell, forlorn, on the side of the road.

It all happened so fast, with our van hurtling down the road, and when the wails from my brother finally reached my parents’ ears, the sock was far behind, too unimportant for them to find a way to brake, exit, turn around and retrieve it.

Memory is a funny thing. I don’t remember most of my high school years. There are whole patches of childhood that are foggy. However, that sock incident is seared into my memory because my brother wailed for 30 minutes straight, and it was all my fault. I borrowed a sock, I killed a fly, I released it to the wind and it was too far gone for us to turn around. And somewhere, on a highway in the Midwest, a weather-beaten white tube sock has gathered with the water bottles and gasoline containers, the odd sneaker and the paper sacks.

2 comments on this story

I live in Oregon along the I-5 corridor. It has its own leftovers, including an astonishing number of Nike running shoes, strewn along the highway. But what I notice most are the people, shouldering massive packs and a lifetime of hardship. They’ve got their thumbs in the air or a sign in their hand, a silent plea on their weather-worn faces.

I often wonder at the story behind side-of-the-road refuse. The trash speaks of laziness and disregard. Tires and gas containers speak of the peril and realities of highway driving. But the rest, the blankets and mattresses, the sneakers and stray clothing, the homeless who traverse up and down the coast, perhaps those speak to a world in which we are always moving forward, too fast and furious to turn around, slow down, and pick up what we left behind.