Howard landfill -- complete with a gazebo -- does not leave you down in the dumps

The Baltimore Sun

Most of us have probably visited our local landfill to get rid of dilapidated beach chairs and particle-board tables, or to recycle batteries, paint and motor oil. Perhaps we've spent a weekend pruning everything that's green in our yards, and now it's time to throw out our lower backs along with a couple of truck-beds full of branches and clippings.

In either case, the Alpha Ridge Landfill is the place to be in Howard County on the weekends. I go there often, and I find it to be a mysteriously beautiful and uplifting place.

Maybe I am so impressed with the Alpha Ridge Landfill because I used to routinely drive by "Fresh Kills, New York," which was a stingingly odoriferous landfill on Staten Island with a most unfortunate name. By contrast, Alpha Ridge is the Disney World of Dumps.

As you turn off Marriottsville Road, the entrance to the landfill winds pleasantly uphill. There's a charming wooden gazebo on your right, inviting you to stop and rest from your day of clearing yards or basements or attics. I must admit, though, I have never seen the gazebo occupied. I have lived here for more than 13 years, and not once has a neighbor suggested: "Let's take a bucket of fried chicken up to the landfill for lunch." But the gazebo beckons nonetheless. And I'm sure as taxpayers we could all meet there if we just set a date. But let us not get sidetracked by the compelling concept of a Janet's World-sponsored town picnic at the Alpha Ridge Landfill, and continue instead on our inspired journey to its business area.

Once you reach the top of the stately pine-lined hill, you arrive at the little booth for the residents' "drop-off" area. Usually, there is an attendant there to check your driver's license for admission, but I tend to think of these individuals more as "Maitre d's of the Dump" because they congenially send you off to the proper refuse area with a smile.

I always hope that my favorite county employee will be there -- a senior citizen whose name I do not know, but he appears to love me.

"Hello, sweetheart!" he calls out as I approach.

This is an effusive greeting, when you consider that I am always garbed in my sweat-streaked yard-work finery, basically the kind of ideal "before" specimen plucked from the audience of the Jerry Springer show for a makeover.

But I just get the feeling that in this particular gentleman's eyes, I am the American Landfill Idol. This man is so darn friendly and charming -- he turns a trip that is normally a downer of a drop-off into a happy little pick-me-up.

Often on weekends, my husband comes along, and this man always jokingly scowls at him and asks me why I had to bring him along. He then leans into our truck and asks, "Are you sure this guy is treating you well?"

Maybe I'm reading this wrong, but the implied thought here is that there's a disposal area for my husband at the Alpha Ridge Landfill if he's not working out for me. I find this ridiculously funny every time it happens.

I'm not naive -- in fact, I'm certain I am not the only person this man treats like a VIP. But that doesn't matter. What matters is that this guy has an outstanding positive attitude, and he passes it on to his customers every day.

Almost all of us deal with the public. But not all of us treat the public like potential friends, extending a friendly wave or smile, greeting customers with a genuinely enthusiastic "hello." But these are the things that make living somewhere feel less like anywhere and more like home -- a place where you belong.

And how fantastic is it that I can feel so at home at the town dump?

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