Sunday, March 17, 2019

Tim Rowland: Adirondack Redemption

All Brands Redemption Center SignOn moving to the North Country for good a couple of years ago, I kept seeing all these “Redemption Centers,” and I thought to myself: I had no idea the Adirondacks had this many Baptists. And I certainly didn’t know they drank that much Bud Light.

Of course as it turned out, Redemption Centers up here are places where you go, not to be saved, but return your empty bottles and cans for a nickel apiece.

Because my brother lives here and considers bottle-deposit revenue to be his ice cream money, I was aware of the concept and I knew better than to toss out the bottles — but I couldn’t bring myself to turn them in, either. I was disinclined to go to one of the bottle-swallowing machines outside the grocery store, with the gaping maw that looks disturbingly like one of those inflatable sex dolls that you’d see advertised in the classifieds of filthy magazines ca. 1975.

No, I take that back, I did try at least, but the first time I lugged a bag up to the vestibule there was a guy in front of me with the alacrity of a coral reef, and somehow I felt ashamed to be waiting there in public with a bag full of garbage. I’m a man, not a raccoon.

The second time, the very first bottle I inserted into the machine was spit back out at me with the e-message that this particular brand of water was not sold by this particular store. Ergo, no nickel for you, bottle boy. I didn’t like the machines to begin with, and I don’t handle rejection well, so that was that.

But the redemption centers were scarcely better. Most of them seemed to be built out of wood pallets and aluminum foil, and made the refugee camps on the southern border look like Bolton Landing.

So the months went by, and the bottles piled up, and the garage reached the point where the car would no longer fit. Finally, I swallowed my pride, loaded about 12 lawn and leaf bags full of bottles into the truck and drove to the nearest redemption center. It was closed. It was open, the hand-painted sign said, Mondays 9 am til noon, closed Tuesdays, open Wednesdays noon til 4 pm, open the second and fourth Thursdays 9 am to noon and first and third Thursdays 2 pm til 4 pm, and so on, and then the capper to it all, “hour’s suBject to chAngE.”

So I decided to let the bottles take up permanent, legal residence in the bed of the truck, where they would stay until I chanced to drive by a redemption center at some point that happened to be open. Maybe two weeks later, I passed a redemption center with a guy sitting out front with no other apparent obligations, so I put on my brakes and pulled into the lot.

I off-loaded the cargo, and his first question was, “Did you count ’em?” To my mind, this was like asking if I’d counted the number of bones at a perch-fry prior to throwing the plate into the Dumpster. He was a good man though, and he said he’d count them himself. Somehow, and I learned this is a skill peculiar to all redemption centerists, he was able to count and talk at the same time.

He was chock full of fascinating information. He said you can tell what Adirondack neighborhood you’re in just by looking at the discarded cans and bottles. His was a Pepsi/Bud Light community, but one valley over it is Coors Light and Coke. Closer to the Peaks, another proprietor told me, it’s craft beer, particularly in the summer, and water tends to be more popular than soft drinks.

It is interesting to me that they bag the cans by brand, so there will be big clear sacks of nothing but Budweiser cans or Diet Coke cans. A guy near E-town said the state makes them do it that way, but when they take them over to be processed in Burlington, they’re all dumped on the floor together in one big, nonstorted pile.

I don’t know how accurate any of this information is, and Lord knows don’t feel like researching it. Some redemption-center guys (a century ago, they would have been sitting around the general store’s wood stove playing checkers) have that look, as if they’ve been waiting these yea-how-many years for a mark to come along and start asking them questions so they could spin their wildly inflated yarns. But many stories have that ring of truth.

For example, they say that people who bring in large quantities of alcoholic-beverage containers always feel the need to explain themselves. Like they just had a party, or they’re “collecting for the neighborhood.” At a redemption center in Lewis, one guy came in with 2,000 beer cans, explaining it was the byproduct of a hunting camp. But he must have done some quick mental math and determined that even this sounded a bit excessive, so he added that the pile had been accumulating for a number of years.

But my favorite story was that of a disheveled wino who pulled up in a battered pickup and asked the redemption-center proprietor, “Can I have the full ones?”

The owner said he was new to the business, and that the ne’er-do-well knew something he didn’t: That of all the beer cans that are thrown into the recycling, there is a certain percentage that are unopened. It’s not a high percentage, but based on volume it was enough to keep the man comfortably numb in perpetuity.

It just goes to show — you should never judge an industry until you have checked it out on your own. Because now I pop in to the once-dreaded redemption centers and listen to their stories even when I don’t have any cans.

Photo of All Brands Redemption Center Sign in Chestertown by Greg Dower.

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Tim Rowland is a humor columnist for Herald-Mail Media in Hagerstown, Md., and a New York Times bestselling author. His books include High Peaks; A History of Hiking the Adirondacks from Noah to Neoprene and Strange and Unusual Stories of New York City. He has climbed the 46 high peaks, is an avid bicyclist, and trout tremble with fear when they see his approaching shadow. He and his wife Beth are residents of Jay, N.Y.

35 Responses

  1. Suzanne says:

    At the Keene Valley Transfer Station (still known as “The Dump” to us old-timers) there is a place to leave recyclable beer and soda cans and bottles. The Keene Central school turns them in for the nickel deposit and the money is put into the scholarship fund.

  2. adkDreamer says:

    Poor taste! Redemption businesses provide a valuable service to our communities. The folks that provide the service rely on recycling for their income and I think it in poor taste to compare their structures as less worthy than refugee camps, it may just be their home as well as their business. These folks live here and are our neighbors – show some humility and common decency with your so called humor – it just may suit you and your compulsion to write – better. Denigrating the less fortunate will never win you friendship or honor, it just makes you appear arrogant and without compassion – definitely not a person of deserved respect, regardless of how many articles you intend to post.

  3. ADKresident says:

    I really appreciated the creativity of the article given the subject and didn’t not find it to be degrading at all! But then again, I’m not easily offended and can decifer when something is written with a tinge of tongue and cheek vs. when one is being condescending.
    Cleverly written :).

  4. M.P. Heller says:

    It’s an age old passtime.

    1.Move to the Adirondacks.
    2.Think you are clever based on your previous bourgeois lifestyle.
    3. Do and say things to alienate the locals through poor behavior.
    4. Call local people and places names when they don’t conform to your narrow world view.

    Humor can be a great thing when it’s relatable. It can also be very offensive when it marginalizes certain segments of society in order to get a cheap laugh. Mr. Rowland needs to learn how to be a better neighbor if he wants to live here. Publishing disparaging snark in the Almanack might garner a few laughs here and there, but it’s not going to make him any friends.

    • Boreas says:

      FWIW, I have lived and visited in most parts of the state, and this article could apply virtually anywhere. I don’t see Tim’s article as being specifically pointed toward people within the Park or people who run these centers. NYS should do a better job of making reclamation centers easier to visit and not something that makes redemption centers look like an after-thought of the deposit laws.

      • M.P. Heller says:

        Except it’s not about elsewhere, is it? Tim lives in Keene and is writing about it, he’s not writing about “virtually anywhere”. He writes about specific places, the people who work there, and his perception of the quality of the structures on said properties, going so far as to compare them to refugee camps.

        So Boreas you once again totally miss the mark. I might add that even though you have an obvious compulsion to drop non – sequiturs repeatedly in nearly every article that appears on this blog, it doesn’t mean that your diarrhea of the mouth delivers anything remotely valuable to the conversation.

        • Boreas says:

          You interpret things your way, I interpret them my way, Tim interprets them his way. Your disagreeing with me is typical and is meaningless to me.

          I am saying, the places he is writing about are not unique. But, as I said, IF NYS put more effort into improving the reclamation system, I believe many of the negative aspects that Tim refers to would be minimized. Wouldn’t it be a good thing if people who run reclamation centers made more money from their services and were able to put that into their business? I think so.

          • adkDreamer says:

            If any comments in this forum were meaningless you would refrain and not respond. But you simply cannot control yourself. For the sake of sanity stop bothering everyone with your endless dicta garbage. #annoying.

            State your ‘position’ and then stop and just read other comments. Show some self control – the forum will be better for it.

            • M.P. Heller says:


            • Boreas says:

              Right back at you, my stalking friend!

              Tell us, what does your statement above have to do with the topic? If your sanity is at stake, don’t read my posts. We should leave it to the moderator(s) to control the content and weed out any trolls.

              • adkDreamer says:

                In the course of public discussion and in particular the instant issue my comment is so simple it passed over without particular notice. Less is more.

                Endless comments, comments on comments, blah, blah, blah et. al. Its all the empty cans of drained and tired dicta conflations you are littering in this forum.

                Essentially, you need to recycle all those empty cans of useless keystrokes – recycle them in your head first before you scatter them in nearly every article, and certainly make sure each can or bottle of combative-condescending spewage is fully drained of your incessant need to argue with everyone and/or emptied of your self entitled, self proclaimed authority of which you profess but have none.

                You are leaving too many redeemable cans of argumento in this forum the sight of which is hard to ignore. The landscape of comments in this forum is littered with your redeemable cans of annoyances, empty of any useful public purpose in the first place, but more than likely filled up with the lonely musings of someone who has nothing better to do and you probably drink too much of it.

                Simply recycle the cans of #annoying in your head before you scatter them in this forum.

                • Todd Eastman says:

                  You sure rise to the bait! ???

                  • Boreas says:


                    You can say that again! But be careful, that may be considered spewage or even worse – a redeemable can of annoyance – and you too may gain a stalker.

    • Balian the Cat says:

      I am going to respond to M.P.’s comment in a vacuum of sorts. My first thought, upon having read it, was to blurt back something to the effect of “lighten up, etc.” I got distracted and never wrote that out. So, the 1-4 sat in my subconscious for a day and I started to think “sigh, I do this too.” Technically, I live in the Foothills, not the park – but the same vitriol rolls around in my head each day as I commute to work and back. While I believe there are legitimate observations to be made about the choices people make and the conditions those choices create, it’s basic intolerance on my part that guides my views. Lawrence G. wrote an article about racism here a month or so ago that got me thinking inwardly like this too. Thanks everyone for the comments.

      • M.P. Heller says:


        Yeh, I know, it comes off as rather cynical. It’s true though, unfortunately. Probably more so in recent years than the past due to the influx of retiring baby boomers. There is a lot of them leaving the workforce now and places like the Adirondacks, Vermont, and Maine are attractive places to relocate to for the more active and longer lived retirees of today.

        The trouble (and sometimes animosity) begins when folks from urban and suburban population centers arrive and expect life and attitudes to be the same here as they were in places like Hartford, Long Island, and Bergen County. Coming for a week or a weekend a few times a year is not at all the same as living here, and I think that many folks find that out the hard way.

        Unfortunately once some people find out its not the same as the lifestyle which they are accustomed to, they set out on a quest to change things with what they view as their superior knowledge and skills. This usually goes quite poorly because the populations of the small Adirondack towns are generally happy with the lives they lead and don’t appreciate being told how wrong their way of life is. In the worst cases the animosity builds to the point where everything deteriorates into name calling and other ad hominem type attacks.

        Everyone can make an effort to get along better and it shouldn’t matter if you were born and raised in Long Lake, or you just moved there last month from New Jersey. For the long timers, a bit of welcoming hospitality towards your new neighbors can go a long way. For the newcomers, understanding your community and what makes it go will help integrate you into your new home faster and will make you a better neighbor. It’s a two way street. One I hope Tim Rowland will get on, and soon.

        • Sula says:

          I believe (although I may be mistaken) that BabyBoomers who retire to the Adirondacks are mostly long time summer residents who are familiar with the “lifestyle,” rather than “outsiders” who wish to change things. My family have been summer residents since 1867 and we have never tried to change anything, other than helping to start a library. As to superior knowlege and skills, we deferred to Baddy Beede for sensible advice. We pay our school and property taxes and get along fine with the year-round people whom we regard as old friends and neighbours. There is no division in our little village, but only friendship. No animosity here! I feel that comments such as yours only add to the very disturbing divisiveness that is destroying our Country.

    • Dave says:

      That was your take away from this article? Phew.

      Your comments here have been way more snarky, disparaging, and far more divisive than anything written in the actual article. You pontificate about being a good neighbor while telling people they have narrow world views, poor behaviors, and diarrhea of the mouth?

      And the funny thing is that the article is about how the author’s views changed once he took the time to get to know people (“Redemption,” get it? Did you read all the way to the end?). It’s a story that reinforces the very thing you are ranting on about.

      I suggest you take your own advice here, maybe get to know the people who move to the Adirondacks that you so clearly resent and despise, and then maybe we can all be better neighbors.

      • M.P. Heller says:

        Must have struck a nerve with you Dave. Pontificating? What exactly do you call that verbal auto-fellatio you just posted?

        • Dave says:

          Yes, hypocrisy and projection strike a nerve… as does your trolling. But thank you for reinforcing the point by throwing out yet another comment that includes “disparaging snark,” all while acting like the champion of good neighborly behavior.

          If there is a problem with neighborliness in the Adirondacks, it seems clear that you are contributing to it. But thankfully, in my experience, that’s not the case, the Adirondacks are by and large a wonderfully neighborly place, despite your best efforts to make it not.

  5. Robin DeArmas says:

    In Indian Lake, the bottles and cans are collected by the American Legion and redeemed by them. It provides much of their funding for their good projects.

  6. Charlie S says:

    ADKresident says: “I really appreciated the creativity of the article given the subject and didn’t not find it to be degrading at all!”

    That’s because you’re a lot more open-minded and cheery than adkDreamer! We need more of your kind I assure you.

  7. Charlie says:

    M.P. Heller says: “Humor can be a great thing when it’s relatable. It can also be very offensive…………..”

    Why is it I did not get these same thoughts when reading the above from Tim Rowland? It must be that my mind is less polluted than others.

    • M.P. Heller says:

      Because Chuck, Rowland speaks to your world view and you don’t dare do anything that might interrupt your own feedback loop.

  8. Charlie S says:

    Boreas says: ” I don’t see Tim’s article as being specifically pointed toward people within the Park or people who run these centers.”

    That’s because there’s less of a density about you Boreas!

  9. Charlie S says:

    I like and appreciation your style and your humor Tim! Thank you for adding more cheeriness to my already cheery space.

  10. Charlie S says:

    adkDreamer says: “For the sake of sanity stop bothering everyone with your endless dicta garbage. #annoying………….State your ‘position’ and then stop and just read other comments. Show some self control – the forum will be better for it.”

    In other words limit yourself Boreas. Do not speak freely what you wish to speak freely about, narrow your scope as you sure as heck do not wish to annoy someone who has a narrow gauge….evidently.

  11. Todd Eastman says:

    Looks like humor is lost on some poor individuals…

    … imagine the offended posters reading Dave Barry or HL Menken!

    • Boreas says:


      Good point, but I don’t believe the attempted humor in Tim’s article is the real issue here. To me, the darker thread here is the ingrained “us vs. them” culture – both within the Park and in other enclaves around the world. If you were not born here, we don’t want your input, just your tourism and money. Native Adirondackers lament the loss of business, jobs, and population from the Park, but do they really want anything to change? You can’t, on one hand, hope for a boost in economy (which brings in “outsiders” and their ideas) and on the other, marginalize those “outsiders” when they attempt to point out things that could be improved.

      This is basically a culture clash that has existed for decades, and won’t likely change until people on all sides become more tolerant and begin to listen to each other instead of shouting at each other.

  12. Matt M says:

    Jeeze….this was a good article. Some folks need perspective.

  13. Wendy Taylor says:

    Very funny, thank you!

  14. Charlie S says:

    Boreas says: ” the darker thread here is the ingrained “us vs. them” culture…If you were not born here, we don’t want your input.”

    Or…if there’s open-mindedness to you you’re considered a scoundrel because there’s limited space in the craniums that are opposed what you have to say whether it be rational, truthful, not fake, reasonable…………humorous.

  15. David Plumley says:

    Hey Tim –

    “All Brands Redemption” is for sale! Your future business enterprise awaits your good faith offer:

    Can’t wait to see the improvements you make!

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