As soon as the city of Sacramento declared it illegal to throw batteries in the trash last February, every battery-powered object in my house went dead. My remote controls, my tape recorder and my travel alarm clock all needed new double-A’s, and I had no idea where to take the old ones. As months went by, I assembled an ever-lengthening row of batteries on my bookcase.
They didn’t take up much space, but just the knowledge that I could not— under penalty of law—throw them away incited a small panic in my chest. I had anxious visions of myself at 95 in an apartment crowded not with cats or newspapers, but with batteries. Boxes of batteries stacked to the ceiling would block all the windows, leaving precariously narrow paths to each overstuffed room. Neighborhood children would dare each other to ring my doorbell and then run off, yelling crude taunts about the Energizer Bunny. When I died, the city would have to send two trucks to collect the boxes, and my neighbors all would shake their heads pityingly as the workers loaded dusty crates of nine-volts into the vehicles.
Clearly, I needed to solve the mystery of the battery-recycling process for my own sanity, as well as for the good of the environment. So, when I read that Sacramento’s Earth Day festival offered free battery disposal, I gathered my collection and hopped a bus to California State University, Sacramento.
The bus stopped right at the festival entrance, and I was only a few booths in when I spotted a piece of neon poster board reading, “Dead batteries? Bury them here.” Eureka! I practically skipped to the table, where young volunteers in Earth Day T-shirts sat among bags and boxes overflowing with batteries—just like in my nightmares! As I dug the last triple-A out of my bag and added it to the pile, I felt hugely relieved.
Mission accomplished, I was free to enjoy the festival. As I wandered the rows of booths dedicated to saving every possible facet of the environment, I was bolstered by so much goodwill and eager to do my part. I made a new resolution every 20 feet: I will start composting. I will ride my bike more often. I will go hiking. I will buy organic all the time. I will give more money to charity. My bag was stuffed with pamphlets on bicycle commuting, vegetarian-friendly restaurants and (perhaps most importantly) battery-recycling locations.
Eventually, the informational booths gave way to performance stages and vendor booths. Somewhere beyond the third tent filled with silver jewelry, batik sarongs, velvet purses and knit Rasta caps, I started feeling crabby. Everything seemed too cliché. Earth Day, being a celebration of the entire planet, theoretically could be represented by any of its cultural traditions, so why do these festivals always have the same drums and didgeridoos, belly dancing and capoeira, silver Celtic jewelry, tie-dyed T-shirts and Hacky Sacks? Nothing against those things, but why not also celebrate the Earth with kazoos and harmonicas, krumping and flamenco dancing, pajamas and mini skirts, Double Dutch and croquet? When was it decided that Earth Day was best represented by the sort of culture and merchandise available in the parking lot at a Grateful Dead show?
Realizing I hadn’t eaten, I pinned my sudden attack of cynicism on low blood sugar and headed over to the food carts. Five dollars later, I was sprawled in front of the main stage eating a vegan Emma’s tamale and a Sun Flour Baking Co. banana-nut cookie. Mumbo Gumbo was singing and accordion-ing its way through a rousing set, as happy couples danced around the stage and toddlers stood on blankets doing that excited, rhythm-less knee bounce they all do so well.
As nourishment hit my bloodstream, I remembered what I love about outdoor festivals: people dancing, enjoying the air and smiling easily. Earth Day begins a whole season of park concerts, fiestas and fairs—so many chances to get out and dance in the sun. Having shed my fears of perishing under an avalanche of batteries, I felt light enough to start right then.