“How come you don’t take a lot of this stuff home,” I ask Frank Uhr. “I mean, the good stuff.” Frank’s the guy that works on Wednesdays at the Spanish Pass dump—really just a little trash drop-off run by the county.
“Oh I’m tempted to, sometimes,” he says. “A lot of this stuff is useful, still in good shape.” “But only if you have use for it.”
Frank wears a droopy, wrinkled fishing hat and bifocals that seem to have another focal thrown in. He’s the friendliest, most pleasant person I’ve met in Kendall County, and I actually look forward to getting rid of my garbage every Wednesday at his dump, just to share a few words with him.
“Uhr means ‘clock’,” he tells me on this occasion.
It’s Frank’s job to get rid of garbage and junk dropped off there, by one of two methods: either he sells it off to someone who comes in to drop off other junk, or he throws it in a giant trash compactor.
A gauge on the compactor is marked with numbers in green and red pie slices. I ask for a technical explanation. But he merely chuckles and says, “They tell you to watch the thing, and if it gets to the red you better shut the thing off.” I notice that he speaks as if it’s a struggle. The sound of air filling his lungs separates each word, but his laughs sneak out easily.
It seems like the junk selection is different each week. Today it’s a kids bike, a lawnmower, a couple of ripped up chairs, a cylinder with a mask attachment marked, “Aviator’s Air Supply,” a badminton racket, and yes, a kitchen sink.
Each week we go through the same routine. I look at items, handle them a bit and he says, “That there might be useful, still in good shape…but only if you need it.” I never take anything. I haven’t found anything I need.
Frank points to the lawnmower. “A guy asked me about the lawnmower there. It still pulls, isn’t frozen or anything, but I’m not sure how much it would take to fix it. I told him I’d give it to him for $5. ‘No,’ he says, so I tell him $3. And still ‘No,’ so I say, ‘go ahead and take it for free.’ He didn’t want it.”
Frank, along with another county employee who works the dump on the other days, has a small trailer as his headquarters. It’s equipped with an air-conditioner, an old, ripped recliner, a radio, a miniature TV, and an ample supply of old National Geographics.
For some reason, I worry this Wednesday. I wonder if Frank gets lonely out here on this quiet country road.
“It gets pretty busy,” he says. “There’s too many people moving here.”
I break the usual routine and inquire about him, ask specifics. It turns out he’s been working at the site for 10 years, retired, so to speak and moved to Boerne from Bexar County, which became San Antonio as boundaries expanded, started just after his wife died of cancer, took over for another guy who had medical problems that could only be addressed by military doctors on Wednesdays, now he himself missed a Wednesday recently, since it was the only day his doctors could check his pacemaker, is confounded by commercial builders trying to dump their stuff—not allowed—laments that he has too many oak trees around his new home, but remembers when he had nothing but cedar…
Then we go over a few more items of junk, but I leave with nothing. On the way home I pass a line of cars rusting in a field. “I could use a convertible,” I think. But more importantly, I give thanks for Frank on Wednesdays.