We've all had the pleasure. We're nosing the car into a parking space at a shopping center. We didn't look at the piece of pavement we're about to occupy as carefully as we might have. Suddenly, the air is full of the bone-chilling sound of a tire crushing a beer bottle.
It's annoying. It's dangerous. It's potentially expensive. But according to shopping center administrators around the Washington area, littering of parking lots is more and more common, particularly in the form of beer bottles, either intact or smashed.
"We play ring-around-the-rosy every weekend with groups of kids who use our parking lot to congregate and drink beer," says the security director of a major Prince George's County mall who asked not to be identified.
"We get kids leaving beer bottles around just because they're too lazy to dump them in a trash can, or because they think it's 'cool.' Of course they're going to get broken. How can we stop it?"
"There's no way we can intercept people who would leave beer bottles around," adds Paul Huitt, manager of Bethesda's Montgomery Mall. "About the only thing I know we can do about it is clean them up."
Huitt says it's well known in shopping center management circles that "a place that's kept cleaned up is less likely to have trash dumped around it than a place that isn't." As a result, all major shopping centers in the Washington area do daily clean-ups of their lots, using both men and machines. Although a total annual cost isn't readily available, the administrator of one Fairfax County mall said $2 million wouldn't surprise him.
What the beer bottle smashers and leave-them-behind artists never consider is that that $2 million has to come from somewhere. Typically, it comes from increased fees charged to tenants at the shopping centers. If you think those merchants are willing to "eat" that kind of expense, you probably believe in Santa Claus, too. Of course, they pass it along to you and me.
Shopping center management isn't blameless. There certainly could be more litter baskets around parking lots, just in case a group of teen-aged bottle-busters suddenly gets religion, or in case some other citizen wants to "make a deposit" of a still-intact bottle he finds.
But the finger points squarely at the teen-aged beer drinker. He must be made to understand what a menace his "harmless littering" has become.