This is the first in a series of blog posts called “What Not To Do On A Youth Weekend.” With 35 years of youth ministry under my belt, I’ve learned a lot and have lots of stories. Some I can’t share, but others, I can, so I will, because we all need a laugh now and then.
It was a perfect weekend for a trip to the Delaware shore with a couple dozen of our favorite teenagers. The weather was perfect and the kids had a great time together. Now it was time to pack up. Just one more trip to the beach. They piled into the mini-bus and two vans with towels on their shoulders and smiles on their faces. Co-leader, Terri, and I stayed behind to clean up.
We cleaned the house, gathered up lost items, and packed the car. At the time, I drove an Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser, the biggest station wagon on the market. It could hold a bunch of kids and their belongings, but it was a foot too long to fit into the automatic car wash. We loaded whatever was left behind and, finally, two big black trash bags of garbage were squished into the way back.
Before meeting the gang at the beach, we had to drop off the trash at the transfer station. We pulled down the long lane and up to three dumpsters, each one with a number on the side. We asked a fellow dumpee if it mattered which dumpster we used. His response was, “Which one did the girl at the booth tell you to use?” I said, “Oh, there was someone in that booth I whizzed past?” I turned around to find booth-girl annoyingly pointing to dumpster #1. Oops.
I opened the tailgate, grabbed a bag of trash, and heaved it into dumpster #1. Terri grabbed another black trash bag and added it to the designated dumpster. We headed back the car, and she pulled out another black trash bag. I said, “What’s that?”
“But there were only two bags of trash.”
Sniff. “This is definitely trash.”
“Then what did we throw away?”
Terri started walking back to the dumpster to retrieve whatever it was we had thrown in. Just then, booth-girl hit the trash compactor button. My heart sank at the sound of the compactor motor, followed by the crunching of the dumpster’s contents. Terri stopped in her tracks, turned toward the booth, then back toward the dumpster. Booth, dumpster, booth, dumpster. She was swiveling back and forth but going nowhere. I spun toward booth-girl, waving my arms and pleading with her to stop the compactor.
The compactor sounds stopped. Booth-girl bewilderedly exited her booth and asked, “What’s the problem?” I responded, “We threw something in the dumpster that isn’t trash.” Looking past me, she said, “What is she doing?” I turned to see Terri climbing up the side of the dumpster. Uh-oh. Booth-girl and I ran to the dumpster just as Terri hoisted herself over the edge. Booth-girl yelled, “You don’t want to do that!” “I have to!” came the asthma-choked response.
Terri started sorting through the trash, checking each large black bag. Nothing. Finally, she reached the compactor area. Ripping open the bag wedged into the machine, she pulled out clothing that we knew belonged to one of our fellow leaders. Oh, no. Bracing her foot on the compactor, she pulled with all her might, and the compactor released its grip on a sleeping bag. Though she pulled and wriggled, the pillow was too far in to come free. Booth-girl and I begged her to give up. We reasoned that we had saved everything but the pillow. We could buy him a new one. It shouldn’t take this much convincing to get someone out of a dumpster.
Accepting that it was a loss and realizing just how disgusting the smell was all around her, Terri scrambled out of the dumpster. “Do you have somewhere I could clean up?”
“I have some cleaner in the booth.”
“Alright, that’ll have to do.” We followed her to her booth and used some all-purpose cleaner and paper towels, doing the best we could. At least it would kill any germs. We thanked booth-girl and turned to leave. To our surprise, we were greeted by a long line of cars waiting to exit. We looked at them curiously and asked the man in the first car, “Can we help you?” He said, “We were just wondering what you ladies are doing?” I wanted to say that we were training for the Olympic dumpster diving team, but instead, I just responded, “We’re from out of state.” And we nonchalantly walked back to our car.
Happy we could provide entertainment for the locals and smelling like a combo of rotten apples and lemon-scented ammonia, we laughed ourselves silly down the lane and to the beach.
Lesson learned: Do not pack your things in trash bags and take a good look at who you are leaving in charge. Oh, and do not ever laugh hysterically when telling the story to the person who lost their favorite pillow. Not ever.