Garden Home man finds purpose on walks

by: Shasta Kearns Moore, Tom Grinnell fishes beer bottles out of a blackberry bramble near The Old Market Pub & Brewery on Southwest Multnomah Boulevard. Grinnell says picking up trash has made his morning walks a lot more interesting.

It's 8 a.m. on a freezing Monday morning and Tom Grinnell is on his morning walk - garbage grabber and plastic shopping bag in hand - around Southwest Garden Home Road.

Grinnell has been doing this three or four times a week since retiring from his post as a parole and probation officer with Multnomah County in 2001. After experiencing chest pain from a heart angina, Grinnell was under doctor's orders to get his heart rate up for at least an hour a day.

But, Grinnell says while picking up a cigarette butt with his orange grabbing tool, 'I think exercise is mainly boring.'

At the time, Grinnell was volunteering to clean up April Hill Park on Southwest Canby Street and then began helping out at nearby Hideaway Park. Soon, he decided to carry his grabber with him along roads and side streets on his walks.

'I figured this gives me a purpose,' he said. 'I use to kick all the bottles and now I pick them up.'

Most of the garbage is cigarette butts and fast-food containers, but every once in a while, Grinnell will find something interesting, like coins or lost identification cards.

'Never found a body,' he says, though he wonders if someday he will.

As often the first person to walk through two parks and several side streets, Grinnell does frequently report graffiti and other evidence of petty crimes to the local authorities.

The 65-year-old grew up in Detroit, and while his buddies all wanted to be policemen or firemen, Grinnell says he had a special fondness for the garbage men of Detroit Public Works.

They would let him ride on the side of the truck to the next house and Grinnell got to like them so well that he decided he wanted to be a garbage man.

Grinnell ended up going to college and settling down with his job in Oregon, but he laughs now that he has sort of fulfilled his dream with his morning walks.

Grinnell is nonchalant about his efforts to beautify the Garden Home neighborhood, but it does annoy him that people just throw trash out their car windows.

'I'm not trying to change the world here,' he said, 'but I just wish people would pitch in.'

Besides, getting exercise, making neighborly acquaintances and having a prettier community aren't the only reasons to pick up litter.

Stopping at Lamb's Thriftway on Southwest Oleson Road on the way home, Grinnell returns a couple of bottles he found along the way.

'10 cents!' he says with a laugh.