Rick Wamre: What if trashy streets reveal a sad truth about our civic virtue? 

What if trashy streets reveal a sad truth about our civic virtue? 

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld tells a funny story about the unwritten pact between movie theaters and those who attend movies.

Movie theater operators, he says, understand that people who attend movies aren’t going to clean up after themselves. We’ll leave candy wrappers, half-eaten bags of popcorn and sweating soda cups strewn about the theater after a movie.

Why?

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According to Seinfield, we do it because we know and the movie theater operators know that’s our deal with each other: They’re “ripping us off” with movie and concession pricing, so when we finish whatever we’re eating or drinking in a theater, we’re going to just “open our hand and let it drop.”

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That’s the pact. We’re getting ripped off, so we aren’t going to clean up after ourselves.

It’s a funny story because it’s based on truth. The prices of theater tickets and concessions seem to be skyrocketing, so creating extra work for the low-paid kids cleaning up after us is somehow OK.

I wonder if we’ve let these thoughts trickle into our relationship with Dallas?

Crossing a city street the other day, I noticed two things: People were everywhere, and so was trash.

The trash wasn’t just lying there, either: It was blowing everywhere. Not the cotton-candy-creepy-gooey kind of trash, but plastic grocery bags and recyclable food packaging and empty plastic soda bottles.

As for the people, we were blowing everywhere, too — and always away from the trash. No one made any attempt to do anything about the trash, probably because we believe we aren’t the ones who created the problem.

That says something about the “ownership” we take in our “home,” doesn’t it? We’re willing to live with it because we just don’t feel like picking it up.

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Maybe that’s our pact with Dallas: We think we’re being stiffed with higher taxes and crappy streets, so if we feel like dropping something when we’re done with it, so be it. It’s the city’s job to keep our home clean, not ours.

It’s great that people are flocking to Dallas these days, great that we’re building apartments and homes and offices to accommodate everyone.

But if our fundamental response to growth is that it’s the city’s job to take care of everything, this story isn’t going to have a happy ending. Too many new people are going to emulate those of us who don’t care enough about the place, and they’ll think that’s the way to act, too.

And not just with trash, but with civic involvement, volunteering and making a difference elsewhere in Dallas.

I could have picked up some of that trash in the street. It wouldn’t have taken much extra time to grab something while walking to my destination; there was a garbage can right along the way.

But I thought to myself: I’m paying plenty of taxes; I’m doing my share. If Dallas is the world-class city everyone keeps saying it is, why do I need to be the one cleaning things up — isn’t that someone else’s job?

Maybe that’s our unwritten pact here.

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