BLOOMINGTON —On a dreary mid-December day, David Brown rolls silently along North Lee Street, his eyes affixed to the curb.
Sitting in his motorized wheelchair, in two overlapping sweatshirts, Brown leans over, with some extra effort, to reach a flattened aluminum Coors Light beer can. He shakes the remaining stale beer out of the can, leans over his shoulder and tosses it into a red wagon. The can clanks across a used radiator, steel hangers and two discarded electrical switch boxes.
Brown is making his rounds.
Disabled after breaking his neck after a fall at a job site in Florida in 2008, Brown, 53, is a full-time resident of Asta Care Center on the north side of Bloomington. He is paralyzed from the waist down. He also has diabetes. But he's not bitter, and sitting around asking ''why me?" doesn't fit his character.
"I like being outside, I like keeping busy and I LIKE people. This earns me a little extra money and I am kind of helping the environment,'' said Brown, who has to carry a colostomy bag and is catheterized, even while making his rounds about once a week. His wagon, made by a neighbor of Asta Care using two discarded child's bicycle wheels, is hard to miss, with signs that include his phone number so he can do more pickups.
Brown said employees at Asta Care support his efforts and collect cans for him as well.
The rear of his wagon, equipped with a can crusher, could probably use some reflective tape, but Brown is satisfied with what he has.
As snow begins to swirl, Don Wichmann yells out to Brown from his North Lee Street home: ''Hey -- I've got something for you!''
Wichmann pulls the garage door open and reappears with a smile and three large black bags filled with aluminum cans.
"That helps me a lot! It's going to be a good day," says Brown. "I don't suppose you have some rope?"
Wichmann dives into his garage, walking out with a short section of rope. ''It feels good to help him, but he looks cold,'' Wichmann says.
With some direction from Brown, Wichmann ties the bags to the red wagon, and Brown's motorized wheelchair recycling unit slowly heads south, destined for Behr Iron & Metal, at 501 S. Stewart St. on the Bloomington's south side. "They give me a good price, and let me come in to get warm," said Brown.
Even with an extra charged battery on board, his wheelchair died on the return trip to Asta Care. But a stranger helped him with a quick charger and he was on his way.
"We love David. He is the first one to help me," said director of nursing Tracy Bourlet, who added that when a delivery truck arrives, Brown sometimes beats her to the door.
"The people here have been great to me. I love them," said Brown, rolling through a double door on the way back to his room.
"I don't have no one, really," said Brown.
But his wish list is small.
"The only thing I really need is a computer, one of those lap ones. I'd like to see what's going on in the rest of the world."