Returning home from work in Tracy in the wee hours of Sunday morning, Romana Downer turned off of South Ninth Street toward her south Modesto home. She made the sharp right-hand turn onto Latimer and traveled only about 20 feet before hearing heavy thumps that sounded really bad beneath her 2007 Mustang.
"She ran over two tires that had been dumped on the road," said her husband, Jack Downer.
The tires caused about $2,500 damage to the underside of the Mustang, repair work that will have to wait because the couple has a $1,000 deductible on their auto insurance policy, and Jack Downer has been out of work since losing his job as a convenience store manager in May.
They live in what Jack and perhaps some other area residents call "no-man's land" -- a neighborhood that isn't in Modesto, isn't in Ceres and is off of Stanislaus County's radar when it comes to roads and public utilities.
"It's not a nice place to be stopped or stranded," he said.
The CHP arrived on scene before he could join his wife. They were able to get the car off of the tires. It made Downer think: With time on his hands, why not rid the area of discarded tires so what happened to Romana doesn't happen to anyone else?
Monday morning, he visited Alan Love, owner and manager of the Big O tire store on Herndon Avenue in Ceres.
"I asked that if I picked them up, would they haul them away?" Downer said.
Love said yes, and warned Downer that he might regret it. By midmorning, Downer had collected about 25 tires, stacking them in front of his home before turning them over to Love for disposal, and he still had the afternoon free.
Travel just about anywhere in Stanislaus County and you're bound to see tires, TVs, sofas and other assorted discards along the roads. Littering in any form is pathetic, but especially tires because of the costs to get rid of them.
Whenever customers buy tires at Love's shop, he charges a $2.75 per tire disposal fee that he keeps to cover the cost of having them hauled away. Law-abiding tire dealers such as Love pay a service about $250 a month to haul away the worn-out tires. He'll be able to dispose of the tires Downer collects -- to a point.
"I would do it just to help clean up the city," Love said. "I'm sure there's a limit (to how many he can take)."
Whether you buy replacement tires through a shop or they come on a new car, you're charged a $1.75 per tire recycling fee that goes to the state. Of each $1.75, the California Integrated Waste Management Board gets $1 to use for cleanups and for helping tire recyclers find new uses for the old tires.
In essence, you've paid for the disposal and recycling. In theory, tire shops, trucking firms or any other business dealing in volumes of tires are monitored by Stanislaus County Environmental Resources to make sure they can account for what they discard. It's a program funded by the state waste management board, another benefit of the per tire recycling fee.
So why, then, are there so many tires along our streets and roads?
A homeowner might hire an unlicensed service to clean up a yard that has numerous tires. The service owner or employees won't want to pay the $4 or more per tire fee to dump at the landfills, said Phillip Irons, the resource management specialist who oversees the county's tire program. So they'll dump them along rural roads, in alleys and sometimes even in neighborhoods.
Or one person might dump a tire alongside a country road. Then, another slob comes along, sees the tire and dumps his there as well. Pretty soon, you've got a pile. County crews try to pick up tires whenever they come across them to keep these mini-dumps from forming, but it doesn't take long to happen.
Jim DeMartini, a farmer and Stanislaus County supervisor, said it's not uncommon to see trucks motoring along West Side roads, with a guy in the back rolling out a tire every 100 or so yards.
"We've actually seen people doing that," DeMartini said. "And our neighbors said they saw somebody dumping (tires) out the side door of a van."
It isn't limited to tires, he said.
"My employees one time saw a truck going down the road with a guy in back, throwing computer monitors right out on the road," he said. "It's disgusting."
In the meantime, Downer said he's become a "man on a mission" to collect dumped tires like those that damaged his wife's car.
"There are lots out there," he said.
But unlike aluminum cans, there's no California redemption value on tires. And if there were, with high gas prices and all, Downer doubts chasing down stray radials would be profitable.
"I can't retire off it," he said.
No pun intended, of course.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2383.