Nov 18, 1996, around 5:05 p.m.
Twenty-five years ago, Al White was at the top of his game. China had a voracious appetite for cardboard and White saw a great opportunity to start a business while doing good to his community, a theme that was present throughout his life.
“I had a recycling business in town, the Chinese started buying cardboard and they were buying cardboard like there was no tomorrow. So we said, let’s get into recycling the cardboard because nobody was picking it up, it all went in the trash, ”White said.
With a business partner, White obtained a grant of $ 17,000 from the Department of Environmental Quality.
“We have a 1984 front-load garbage truck and a hundred dumpsters that we’ve put up all over town for people to separate their boxes,” he said.
He added, “In the height of that time, we were sending three seedlings of cardboard bales a week and doing banking, really. I felt really good about it. I pretended I was saving the world one piece of cardboard at a time, and I was dirty all the time. I climb dumpsters all the time, take stuff out and get shit all over the place, but the cool thing is we keep it out of the landfill. We were doing everything the recyclers were supposed to do. “
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But White’s life was changed forever at 5:05 p.m. that day in 1996.
Sitting behind the desk at his double large mobile home in East Flagstaff, White recalled the day of the accident that left him paraplegic feeling senseless below his upper chest.
“The mechanic and the driver went out and picked up a (expletive) load of cardboard that day, more than they should have, and wrapped and wrapped it until it got stuck, and when they got back to the lot, we couldn’t get it out of the truck, “White said.” The hydraulic system of a front-loading garbage truck includes the arms at the front, the element that lifts the truck. backrest and the ram that pushes all the material out, they were complaining about losing hydraulic fluid, so we were looking for a leak.
“I was squatting in front of the truck looking at the hydraulic motor and the knuckles knocked down the bar at the front of the truck, this 8 inch bar grabbed me on the shoulders, pushed my face into the grid , tore my nose out and broke my back between my shoulder blades Bad day at work, you know what I mean?
“I will never understand why they were lowering their arms in the front when they were supposed to work on the ram pushing the box back,” he added. “I was 44 years old. When I was little, you broke your back, you died. I didn’t think I had a chance. “
White said he had a takeaway as he recalled the moments after the crash.
“Here’s the lesson… tell people you know you love them all the time, because you don’t want to be in that position realizing you’re not going to see anyone else, you know you’re about to die and the last person you’re going to see is your (expletive) mechanic, “he said. “I was lying with my head in my mechanic’s lap, my face covered in blood, and every time I looked up at him he would cry.”
Despite his catastrophic injuries, White did not die that afternoon and is soon back in his community and seeking a way to live a new life he had not chosen.
“I spent six weeks in the hospital, which seemed to me an unusually short period. When they told me they were going to release me, I had nowhere to go, “he said.
Friends organized a benefit concert and raised $ 17,000, which enabled White to make it through the first year. Then they found him an apartment in the city center and he rented his trailer on the east side.
“The big deal was ‘What are you going to do… you have no idea,’” White said of the period after his accident. “The Disability Awareness Commission was having a seminar and asked me to talk about the physical and emotional barriers I saw in Flagstaff after being recently disabled. I told them about a story I saw in the journal about Barbie’s dream house. Barbie had a friend in a wheelchair and the story was that the friend’s wheelchair did not fit into Barbie’s dream house. It was my life then. “
This talk and White’s experiences sailing in his community paid off along the way. At one point, White asked a few questions about the construction of Heritage Square and its underground parking lot.
“I asked how high the roof was and was told it was 7 feet, not 8 feet and 6 inches, which was supposed to be. I went to talk to the town’s community development department and I got four van accessible disabled spots in the parking lot across from Charlie’s, “White said.” I realized that one person can really make a difference.
This experience then earned him a seat on the city council, a position he held for 12 years.
“Then a bunch of people would show up for city council… It was Joe Donaldson, Toni Thayer and me. I liked the idea that people from different backgrounds could come together, put aside their differences, focus on five different things and get things done, ”he said.“ I was the freelance freelancer. , Joe Donaldson was the Republican, Zach Smith was the Democrat, and Toni Thayer was essentially the Communist Socialist (she was one of the founders of Friends of Flagstaff’s Future).
“We became Four For Flagstaff and tried to replace the majority on the council. Chris Bavasi was the mayor. We didn’t even reach the primary until we split up. Donaldson won and I won. It was in 2000 and I was on the board for 12 years.
Thinking back to the two and a half decades since the life-changing crash, White shared his thoughts on how to cope with an unexpected change.
“You have to mourn what you’ve lost, but don’t focus on what you can’t do, focus on what you can do. If you focus on what you can do, then those doors start to open, ”he said.
For White, this meant a life of dedication to public service, being involved in his community, and volunteering.
“Satisfaction and happiness are based on expectations. It’s really about setting realistic expectations that you can meet, ”White said.
Looking to the future, White always has goals he wants to achieve, but he’s also realistic about how much time he’s left to achieve them.
“I am 70 years old now. The average age of paraplegics in the event of death is 65 years. I’ve beaten all the odds, but I don’t think I’m until 90, so my perspective is now focused on family and friends rather than big, lofty goals, ”he said.
White is currently working on signing a new 75-year lease between the city and Theatrikos and for the theater to expand its activities, in particular the TheatriKids program in the east of the city with classes for children. He also hopes that Quality Connections will continue to grow. White has been on the board of Theatrikos and Quality Connections for many years.
“It’s been a great life. For 25 years of being (expletive), I feel like I made the most of it, ”White said with a chuckle.