Santa Clara, CA – Each Spring, when cycling's attention turns to classics on the cobbles of Belgium, cyclists here face an annual classic of another kind. I'm speaking of course about Trash week - the Hell of the Heap, a general amnesty for homeowners resulting in a communal purge to equal Hercules' labors in the Augean stables. For approximately seven days an avalanche of broken furniture, soiled bedding, poor choices and bad taste spills out of homes and garages and lands, you guessed it, in the bike lane.
Riding through this landscape of detritus is not for the faint of heart. Early in the week, the worst of it is concentrated at the curb, though with some precariously balanced piles rising six and seven feet high, you get the feeling you're riding by the face of an active glacier that's about to calve. If it wasn't for the absence of sea gulls visitors would think they'd driven into the world's largest subdivided land fill site.
It gets worse though. There are no gulls but soon another opportunistic scavenger, the relentless swap meet jackal, turns up. This normally reclusive species is easily identified by a white pickup truck sporting four mismatched tires. These trucks scour the piles, pulling up, or sticking out, at awkward angles into what's left of the bike lane. They lay claim to the choice items: broken car seats; infomercial-quality exercise equipment and avocado appliances from the 70s. When they've picked over things the smaller street-walking tinkers arrive. Unable to carry away the larger pieces they settle for blenders, mirrors and dislocated chez lounges.
All the while the piles are moving further and further out into the road. Bits and pieces, usually sharp, litter the street and shards of glass sparkle in the sun. Potential punctures are everywhere.
And yet, amidst all this ugliness, one shining hope never fades, the dream of spotting a classic frame amongst the rubble. It hasn't happened yet, but I never stop scanning the piles for a steel-tube treasure. With one stage to go in this year's Hell of the Heap I've passed the piles unscathed without flatting. Perhaps next year I'll capture that elusive prize.