IT TAKES A (VILLAGE) RECYCLING SHED
Want to find community in Woodstock? Set off your car alarm.
Hillary Clinton said, “It’s takes a village.” What I think she really meant was, “It takes a recycling shed.” At least in Woodstock.
I recently moved to town and am going to be wandering around the area like the newcomer I am, sharing my discoveries along the way. Little did I know that my first adventure — and experience in community — would start with a garbage run.
After unpacking stuff and generating no small amount of cardboard, paper and trash, I stuffed my little blue Toyota and headed to the muddy lot behind Woodstock Beverage on Route 4. Unlike some Upper Valley communities, Woodstock doesn’t have a town recycling center. But every Saturday morning two brothers collect bags of garbage and boxes of recyclables from a steady stream of men, women, kids and dogs — yes, dogs — who show up between 8 and 11 a.m.
For the most part, the process unfolds smoothly. People hand off their refuse and recyclables to Cayleb and Sawyer Potwin, who collect a small fee ($2 for small bags of trash, $4 for big ones) and deposit the stuff in a compacting truck or a steel recycling container serviced by Able Waste Management. The brothers pat customers’ dogs on the head, invite children to throw items in, trade small talk with the regulars.
On the Saturday I arrived, however, the morning peace was shattered by a car alarm that bleated on and off while its owner frantically punched buttons on his key fob, opened and slammed doors, yanked open the hood.
Yeah. That was me.
For a few long minutes, I toiled alone, sweat beginning to pour from my head as I realized I had exhausted my supply of mechanical prowess somewhere between the key fob and the hood latch. But then the brothers ambled to the rescue.
Cayleb, a wiry guy with bright eyes and earlobes stretched by gauge earrings, opened up the driver’s door and began removing electronics panels. Sawyer, his long hair spilling from under a baseball cap, peered under the hood for a way to disconnect the wires. Before I knew it, a crowd of other guys had descended, each bearing a wrench, a screwdriver and a word of advice.
“I’ve got a hammer,” one joked.
These guys all knew a hell of a lot more about cars than I did, but none of them brought a whiff of condescension to the guy whose vehicle was causing a scene. I wondered, would a city crowd be so friendly?
In the end, nobody could figure it out, so we disconnected the battery to end the racket. Cayleb helped me push my rig to the garage next door and wished me luck. (The garage also stepped up in a big way, but that’s another blog post.) When I stopped by a week later to thank him and Sawyer, they assured me it was no big deal.
Both brothers work full-time jobs during the week — Cayleb as a mechanic and auto body specialist, Sawyer as a propane service technician — and pick up the weekend shift as an extra. Anymore, they say, it’s as much about the experience of community as it is about making a dollar.
Over the years, they’ve gotten to know their increasingly large group of customers, savored a familiarity cultivated over, of all things, trash. Cayleb said, “There are people I worry about if they don’t show up.”
And lending a hand to a new customer? Cayleb shrugs. “Help out anybody who needs it,” he said. “It’s how we’ve been raised, I guess.”
- Jeffrey Good
Jeffrey Good is roaming Woodstock and surrounding towns this summer, chronicling his discoveries. Got a cool place, fascinating person or intriguing issue you'd like him to check out? Email him at Woodstock@DailyUV.com.