Two Baltimore Department of Public Works employees stood ready in Cherry Hill yesterday morning to turn Christmas trees into wood chips.
But perhaps it was too soon for Baltimoreans to take down decorations. Only five cars arrived with trees in the morning.
Employees appeared a bit disappointed, shuffling around the machines but perking up whenever a car drove near.
"People will just throw them in the alleys," Quentin McCready said.
The Christmas tree program works like this: City machines chew up the Christmas trees, and residents can take the resulting mulch. Leftovers go to neighborhood groups to cover parks and playgrounds. City workers will offer the service every Saturday this month.
The city also picks up trees from homes along with the trash on the second garbage day in January, but those don't get recycled.
A few residents did make it to the Citizen Drop-off Center yesterday. Margaret and Philip Ferreira of Canton got a good deal. They exchanged their tree for two garbage bags of mulch - much more than their single tree yielded.
"It smells so nice," Margaret Ferreira said.
Others let the city keep the scraps of their Christmas trees.
John Wesby of Patterson Park pulled up about 11 a.m. with the top of his tree dangling out the trunk of his car. He felt no sentimental attachment to it, declaring, "Now it's time for playoff football!" as the tree disappeared.
A recent Manhattan transplant stopped in with two trees and gushed about the Baltimore program. "In New York City, it is a big deal," Joe Rooney said. "What do you do with your tree?" The city won't pick them up there, he said, and nobody has cars.
Perhaps it was good that not many people showed - the mulching machines didn't appear up to the job.
For 20 minutes Marvin Hayes, a city worker, struggled to stuff one dumped Douglas fir into grinding blades. At times, the machine stopped, choking on the stump.
"I like the challenge," Hayes insisted while taking a minute to reposition the tree. The tree is too moist, he explained. At one point, the machine bucked, causing Hayes to twist an ankle as he jumped back.
A reporter suggested that he quit and chuck the tree in a garbage bin. Hayes refused, explaining that he's under orders to recycle all the trees.
He finally prevailed, and a green spray of needles spit into a bin. "I knew I would get it sooner or later," he said, mopping sweat from his brow.
The city will mulch residents' trees from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays this month at the Citizen Drop-off Center, 701 Reedbird Ave., Baltimore.