130: John Lee Dumas, part 3: One year picking up beach garbage (transcript)

February 2, 2019 by Dani Mihaleva
in Podcast

John Lee Dumas

This is the third episode with John Lee Dumas. If you’ve listened to the first two you know the podcast format, you know the introduction, the music and all that stuff. I am going to skip all that and go right into completely unedited my third conversation with John Lee Dumas. I want to highlight, I met him before our first podcast in person but after that you’re hearing almost the full relationship between me and John. Acting on your environmental values and sharing them opens you up, you share. I think it’s pretty clear we’re becoming friends. He hasn’t been over at my place yet but it sounds like it’s going to happen pretty soon. Come to think of it that’s another part of it. My famous no packaging vegetable stew brings people together. It builds community. If you click on my site, you can see I’ve cooked for 50 people and things like that. This is what happens when people share openly about their values and act on them. So let’s listen to my third conversation with John Lee Dumas about him picking up garbage in Puerto Rico, my first guest’s one-year commitment.


Joshua: We could do video or we could also do audio.

John: Sure, audio works.

Joshua: I’m just going to jump right in. Welcome to the Leadership and the Environment podcast. This is Joshua Spodek with John Lee Dumas. How are you doing?

John: Joshua, the sun is shining, the birds are singing in Puerto Rico. Life is good.

Joshua: You know I knew you’re going to say something like that because I checked that it’s twenty-nine degrees Fahrenheit in New York City right now. So I guess it’s best that we do not have video on because last time…No, two times ago you showed me outside and…

John: Oh, it’s beautiful here.

Joshua: But I will say you know regular listeners of this podcast know that I’d like to ask how things have gone for the other person. And there’s a lot of people out there who have taken on their challenges and I get e-mails almost every day of someone saying, “After talking to you I started doing this thing of…” maybe they’re using mugs instead of disposable cups or they’re going without meat for a while. Something like that. And I’m going to start by telling you that after our last conversation I think you might remember that I was thinking about plogging which for people who don’t know means to pick up garbage while you jog and it’s not hard to do but you know it turns running into periodically you do lunges like just at random times.

And in New York you have to work out like if you stop to pick up every piece of trash you can’t get a block. But I’ve basically switched from running to plogging. And it’s because of our conversation last time. And I thought it was going to be annoying but it’s like from an exercise standpoint my quads start burning earlier and partly you like running straight but partly these random lunges add a really interesting element to it. And from a pollution standpoint it feels really good about cleaning up my neighborhood because I tend to run near where I live. I’m cleaning up my world.

John: I love this because it’s doing a lot of things. Number one, it’s kind of adding a little adventure to your run like you’re actually looking for trash, going to find the trash and then you’re successfully completing the mission of throwing that trash away. One of my questions for you though is has anybody kind of like stopped you and said, “Hey, dude what are you doing? Like that’s pretty cool.” Or is anybody like sparkling conversations from that?

Joshua: You know it is funny because I have this funny thing where I want to ostentatiously do it but not ostentatiously do it. No one so far has stopped me. I have garnered a few looks but no one’s said anything to me. However, there is a New York City meetup group, that’s the plogging group, the guy who started it was covered in The New Yorker. So plogging is making its way into the headlines.

John: The hat is baller.

Joshua: Yeah. I’ve been trying to organize with him to do… All of the events that they’ve done have been outer boroughs and really hard for me to get to. I’ve been trying to organize one closer but that hasn’t happened yet but it’ll happen.

John: Cool.

Joshua: Yeah. So it’s funny because I talk to people about them taking on their challenges and not many people came back and said, “What about you?” But if everyone who I gave a challenge to or if everyone that I posed the idea of taking on a challenge posed it back to me, I’d have to take up like multiple ones per week. That hasn’t happened but it’s every now and then there’s someone like you that somehow your enthusiasm of picking up garbage has translated into behavior change for me. So I appreciate that. And partly you’re also one of the examples I give most partly because your web page shows your monthly income. And one of the things I like to say is this guy makes six figures a month, you can look it up, everyone can see it on the page and he can pay someone to pick up his garbage for him. He does it and he likes it. You can tell me. What I’ve been telling people is that you like it. You did it with your nephew… Oh, sorry, with your niece and your neighbors.

John: And my nephew is actually here at the first week in January and I went out and I was like, “Hey, I want you to pick up every piece of trash you see. If you get 25 pieces of trash, I’m taking you to the plaza. You can choose any piece of candy you want.” And he was so excited about doing that.

Joshua: Wow, that’s…I take it he made it.

John: He did it. It was like too quick. I was like, “I should have made it 50 pieces.”

Joshua: Was it fun because he liked picking up garbage or because he was doing something with his uncle or the reward?

John: It was because he wanted that piece of candy.

Joshua: How’s it been? Because last I spoke with you, I think was about six months ago, and I’m sure you haven’t been home the entire time but I am curious how it’s gone.

John: It’s gone really good. Actually, it’s not long after we chatted Kate and I went on a sixty-five-day 17 country European trip. We did three days in 17 different wonderful cities including a 10-day cruise leading out of Rome and coming back through Rome through like Montenegro and Greece and those other areas. And it was just a wonderful trip. And then after that we got back. We kind of closed the year down strong, went home for the holidays to spend time with our families and then we hosted for that first week I was telling you about in January 15 family members, including my four-year old nephew.

Joshua: That sounds like quite a life.

John: It was awesome.

Joshua: I just traveled across the country by train not flying and the food in California, in Southern California was amazing. And when anyone says Italy, I can’t help but think of the food.

John: It was so good at Naples. I had the best pizza of my life. It was so good.

Joshua: I’m curious if… Did you pick up trash in any foreign places?

John: You know I’m going to be honest and the answer is I did but not to the level that I would have wanted for myself.

Joshua: Even at all? That’s interesting. I mean because most people wouldn’t at all.

John: But I did. I did.

Joshua: Was it partly related from our conversations?

John: Oh, yeah, totally. Like I just kind of got into the habit a little bit like I feel like I just see trash so much more now.

Joshua: And here I am fishing for compliments, not compliments but like fishing for credit or something like that. All right. So you are doing these things and I presume you’re also going on the beach not just when your nephew is around. I think it was once a month if I remember. Or while you’re just traveling? You weren’t there for that at that time. Are there times you’re still doing it?

John: What was the question?

Joshua: Are there times, when you’re actually there, are you still doing it roughly once a month or so?

John: Actually, we get more now because I go on an evening walk through my community now. So I do that jungle run that I told you about which [unintelligible] at the beach. We do a pickup at least once a month there for sure. Probably more often because I’m having so many visitors. I’m taking them there. But now I’m doing these evening strolls on my neighborhood and what is pretty cool about neighborhoods is we have these like little green trash cans everywhere that are just kind of like on poles so I can specifically be like going on my walk, picking up trash and I’m probably carrying it for a couple of yards at the most and then I’m able to get to that next trash can, drop it in and so I just kind of find myself between these like different trash can checkpoints. It’s like getting a little bit of this, a little bit of that and picking it up and then before I know it you know I’m back home again.

Joshua: It’s interesting because when I go running, I don’t like to… A lot of people when they plog, they bring a bag with them but I don’t want to bring a bag with me. So one of my rules that I made for myself is that I don’t have to pick up if I don’t have a trash can in sight. So you’re saying how you’re running to look for trash. I’m also running and see where there’s a trash can is because I’ll pick something up and I’m carrying it for like a mile if I’m down by the river and it’s funny how these similar things work out in parallel. How’s the emotional experience? I mean I’m reading that it’s fun but maybe you’re just acting that way because we’re being friendly on the recording.

John: No, it really is. I wouldn’t know if I would use the word fun but I would say just to me it’s adventurous. I just kind of like the whole kind of Pokémon GO! thing where I’m leaving [unintelligible] much is going on this kind of blind walk. I’m trying to get my steps in but there’s just kind of a purpose to it. Like the purpose for me is like I’m going to go out there and get my steps and I’m also going to make the community a little better place. And to be honest I live in a different community than New York City where people frankly live in this community too. So they’re running by me or they’re in their golf carts or in their cars and I can see them like looking at me and waving, smiling and they’re like happy that I’m picking this trash up because it’s like our community. So it’s kind of a good feeling there. So I get that vibe that you’re kind of searching for but I am not necessarily getting it in New York City.

Joshua: Do I remember right that the trash is mostly washing up from the ocean or is it down…

John: On the beach for sure but in the community on my walks it’s just from like everyday things because we live in this community of 36 000 homes so there’s like workers and this and that and there’s just always trash like it’s not a lot but there’s just trash around.

Joshua: And so its purpose, that’s like people search for purpose in life. And I’m not going to say like this isn’t like huge purpose like life meaning but still it’s something that’s… I’m glad to hear that.

And one of the next questions asked people is how did it affect relationships. And you’ve talked about some of it already about the nephew and the niece and the neighbors but I wonder if there’s any anymore. Like a lot of people changing their behaviors environmentally they think, “Oh, it’s going to be burden, it’s going to bother people around me.” That doesn’t sound to be the case but I wonder if there’s more to it.

John: Yeah. I mean I just feel like it’s more of an inspirational thing where like you kind of have that feeling of you’re doing this and that, like you’re going out, you’re getting exercise and you’re making the world a better place and you’re kind of inspiring other people and you’re getting the feel good vibe of just doing what you know should be done in this world as well. So it’s just kind of like a mix of all good emotions that just kind of seem to stack up on top of each other.

Joshua: And do people…Have there been any frictions? Has there been anyone who doesn’t get it or has it been someone who’s like, “That is amazing!” What kind of reactions from people around you?

John: Mostly it’s like smiles and waves like no one’s actually taking the time to kind of stop me like, “Oh, that’s so cool what you’re doing.” or “Thanks for doing that.” Because people are kind of on the move so much but there’s definitely been like nods and smiles and ways of acknowledgement. It’s like people get it and they like it.

Joshua: So now that it’s been a year are you going to keep doing it? Are you going to augment it or are you going to taper off? Do you think you’ll apply it to other areas?

John: I’m going to keep doing it. It’s just kind of part of my routine now. Now that it’s a habit. It’s just not going anywhere.

Joshua: That’s so cool. So it’s not going anywhere. And also another big thing people are like, “Oh, if I have to keep doing this, it’s too much effort.” It sounds to me sort of a brush-your-teeth thing. Yeah, it’s like you do it every day but whatever, you do it every day. Is it like that? Or is it…

John: No, it’s like something that I kind of look forward to like an additional reason that you know I get to do something. So it’s kind of like I would compare it to like I know that I should be doing my infrared sauna every single day but it’s like an extra bonus that I get to watch Netflix while I do it. Now for me it’s like I know that I should be going for a 10000-step walk every single day but now it’s a bonus that I get to kind of make my community a cleaner place while I do it.

Joshua: It reminds me of… This woman contacted me and she said, “Hey, I want to help publicize your podcast and stuff.” And she has been going on a walk every day for years where she lives, a little north of New York City. And she decided that she was going to pick up trash while she walked. So she’s going to bring a bag with her. Now she also said that she had this, I don’t know, phobia. She didn’t like germs, she didn’t like dirt. And she said she’d thought about picking up trash before but didn’t want to touch it. So while we’re talking she just comes out bringing gloves so she’s going to do it for a week or two and then we’re going to talk about it. This wasn’t on a recording. This was just me talking with her. So I talked to her a week or two later and I say, “How did it go? So the second, maybe third day she was out she forgot the gloves and she’s walking along and she’s like, “I like what I’m doing. I can’t stop.” So she just decides, “Alright. I’ll pick it up with my hands.” So not only does she like doing it and she’s kept doing it since, this like phobia that had been around for years just disappeared. And it’s so easy, it’s so you know… She was just like, “Look, I’m just going to pick it up. It’s no big deal.”

John: That’s cool.

Joshua: Yeah. It feels like that with you. I feel like if I talk to you next time you’re in New York and I see you I’ll probably say, “How’s it going?” And without missing a beat, it will be just, “Yeah. I picked up some trash today.” Well, New York is lot easier.

John: Hopefully, during one of your infamous dinners you’ll be cooking.

Joshua: Oh, yeah. [unintelligible] last time. Actually, shortly after we hang up, I’m going to head off to my CSA and pick up a whole bunch of vegetables.

Here’s something tangentially related. I was walking to the… Well, I passed a supermarket, Whole Foods, the other day and they just had stacks and stacks of boxes of perfectly good apples, oranges, pears and eggplants. They also had all these apple pies like still sealed in the box just sitting there and it wasn’t even like there was trash. But this wasn’t in the trash. And I just filled out my bags of all these apples and oranges and stuff. People are just throwing stuff away. And I’m like I’m kind of on the fence about dumpster diving like people do it. They seem really proud of it and this wasn’t that. It’s like we have so much of the stuff, we’re just swimming in it. It feels like to me how we are with food and waste with the world is kind of how we are with food and waste with our bodies that if you stuff your body full of it, too much of it, you’re going to get lipid, you’re going to get fat on you. And if you put it into the system it’s just going to be bursting at the seams. Sorry, I haven’t told…

John: I really like that analogy.

Joshua: Yeah. So if you stuff yourself whether you being your culture or your body, if you keep stuffing it, it’s got to go somewhere.

John: It’s got to go somewhere.

Joshua: It’s so much of it that it’s just literally on the street. And I guess I shouldn’t say “literally on the street”. It’s on boxes on the sidewalk. I haven’t told anyone about it so I just told you about it. Now it’s on the air. I’m curious if you want to extend it to something else and move it to another level.

John: What do you think would be a level extension that would make sense?

Joshua: I don’t know because usually when I… I guess just continue it. But you already said you want to do that. Usually when I ask people about things to do I start by talking to them about their values not about the task so that they can act on something that matters to them. With you, you might remember, it was you were talking about running and seeing the beach on the way back from your runs if I remember right. And that’s what led to it. I don’t know. Is there anything else that…

John: This actually just reminded me of something when you were talking about the beach thing is as far as like running back I was hiking back with my dad just about a week ago, maybe ten days now, and there was this huge metal just like kind of like a rebar actually like just laying across the dirt path. It seemed like it was really out of place. I don’t even know how it got there. I was like, “You know what? It’s not going to be easy to carry this big piece of rebar back but it’s so out of place here. It looks just like it does not belong.” So I picked that thing up and I carried it all the way back to my house and I put it right by the trashcan and sure enough you know the trash came a couple days later picked it up and gone and yeah, that was like something I was just like you know, “It’s got to be done.”

Joshua: I’m totally telling the story to others because now I’m going to augment… On top of like, “He can pay people to do this for him he doesn’t have to. Now he’s picking up like rebar that’s hard to carry.”

John: Yeah. It was like a mile out. I had to carry that thing a mile. It was like awkward. It’s pretty funny.

Joshua: If you want to come up with something now, we could…

John: I kind of want to give it a little more thought because I feel like if I say something, I want it to be meaningful and doable so I’ll give it some thought. Let’s follow up on it maybe a few days and see we come up with.

Joshua: So I’ll put on my calendar a week from today. I’ll e-mail you if I hadn’t heard from you. And then if something comes up and there’s something to record later, then maybe in six months’ time or something like that we’ll record again. And it also sounds like… I have a feeling that even if we didn’t do that, something would come up anyway. It would just be… Because once you’re rebar…

John: Once you go rebar, you don’t go back.

Joshua: Yeah, yeah. Rebar is not like a little step. It’s like a ratchet. Yeah.

John: Well, cool. It’s been great chatting. As always, I am going to jump to the next interview but I look forward to hearing from you in one week. And if not earlier, if I feel the impulse to reach out with a spark of an idea and it’s not 100 percent in the books but it’s looking like I’ll be in New York City from the 10th to the 20th of March so we may be hanging out at that point.

Joshua: All right. So I’ll put it in my calendar to check with you in early March in case you’re on then.

John: Yeah. I’d say do it because I probably won’t know until March 10. So that’ll be the time to reach out to me.

Joshua: OK. And then around then the spring vegetables will start coming in and it won’t be like the root vegetables we have now which are delicious but they are not like the [unintelligible] ones like lettuce, tomatoes.

John: [unintelligible] It was great chatting and we’ll be in touch in a week.

Joshua: Same here. Talk to you again soon.

John: Take care, brother.

Joshua: Bye.

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