One Huntington Beach resident has made the cleanliness of the city his business. He spends his days scooping tossed rubbish off streets, yards, parks and beaches. His name is Lucky Day. And he's 9 years old.
Bouncing off the top of his head sits a wave of greens, blues, purples and pinks—the start of a rad mohawk that his mother, Trip Day, felt needed some verve. "I do his hair all colors because I figure he might as well have hair to match his personality—all wild and crazy," she tells us as we survey the family's inviting living room, adorned with vibrant hanging lanterns, tapestries and Buddhist gods. Our eyes continue scanning the space, meeting the top of Trip's right shoulder and lowering to admire her stunning tattoo sleeve. In between Lucky's infectious giggles, she tells us that her bearded, mustachioed husband, J.D., is a professional tattoo artist, crediting his skills to her arm. If there's one thing we know right off the bat, it's that the Days are a spirited family indeed.
Born six weeks premature and without a heartbeat, Lucky was revived and earned his unique name from day one. At age 3 he discovered his passion for a clean environment, inspired by the Rainbow Environmental Services disposal trucks rolling along his neighborhood streets, and also roused by two very serious and very misunderstood disorders: moderate-severe autism and severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Although he was unable to speak until age 5, he made it known as a toddler that waste removal was king.
"He could type 'Rainbow disposal truck' into YouTube and search for trash truck videos before he could say mama," says Trip. "Like years before he could say mama." Typically, people with autism discover new obsessions and leave their old ones behind, as has been the case for Lucky, aside from one constant fascination: trash. "We've had hundreds of obsessions, and trash has stayed through them all," says Trip. It's a world of repetition, routine and dependence, and Lucky's love for garbage has evolved over the past six years from garbage trucks, to dumpsters, to picking up litter at home and in public.
Happy to accommodate a hobby that keeps Lucky focused, calm and happy, the Days have molded their lives around their son's noble cause. His room has been designed with a trash theme, complete with a "landfill" of toy trash trucks—the only toy that holds Lucky's interest. The Days also drive around HB and surrounding cities hitting up Lucky's trail of dumpsters. He swiftly disposes of any nearby litter, then snaps a photo of the dumpster. Trip tells us: "It doesn't matter if he has 100 pictures of that dumpster, he still has to take one. It's autism, so everything has to be the way it has to be, or he will freak out. We try to work through it."
Show Lucky a photo of any dumpster around town, and he'll likely know exactly which business or building it belongs to. Trip focuses on raising Lucky, and when J.D.'s not inking customers at Port City Tattoo in Long Beach, he spends hours walking and bicycling around town in search of junk with his son. The two have walked and biked countless miles along pavement and sand, Lucky armed with his bucket and claw, as well as his parents' steadfast support.
The response to Lucky's almost daily cleanups has been mixed, with some Good Samaritans high-fiving his work and even tipping him. Those are the golden moments. However, the Days find themselves misunderstood on several levels, including Lucky's developmental and behavioral disorders, and his relief. As it turns out, many children with autism find solace in garbage disposal, some also partial to Rainbow. "It's a trip," says Trip, "because we've gone through years of people giving us dirty looks, thinking we're having our little kid trash-digging or that we're poor." Some people have even offered the family meals. For someone like J.D., who grew up underprivileged and "worked really hard to give his family more," says Trip, "it hits home to him."
When witnesses negatively approach the family, they either keep walking or quickly try to explain the situation. This does not always go over well. Quick on the defense, business owners have mistaken Lucky's photography moments as attempts at reporting them, and public meltdowns are met with assumptions of poor parenting and poor character. At least once a similar moment led to witnesses calling the police.
However, thanks to Michael Daly, creator of the buzzing HB Community Forum on Facebook; Johnny Kresimir, owner of Johnny's Saloon; and other compassionate locals, other locals are learning of Lucky's good deeds. As a result, the HB community is rallying around this pint-sized environmentalist.
Timed appropriately with the Fourth of July, a holiday that both celebrates and trashes our beaches, Daly, in collaboration with Lucky's parents, organized a surprise beach cleanup in his honor on the evening of July 6. For two hours, dozens of participants joined Lucky in his mission, plucking refuse from the sands of Surf City USA. "Lucky spends hours and hours cleaning up our beaches on a regular basis," wrote Daly on the FB event page. "Let's give him a hand cleaning up our beach after the long holiday weekend beach goers are finished making a mess of it." And so they did, and their banding together spurred a whole host of other actions in support of HB's coolest kid—including another beach cleanup in August.
Johnny's Saloon jumped aboard the beach cleanup train, and Kresimir and crew are lining up some good times for Lucky. Already a frequent flier at Disneyland, Kresimir is working to arrange a special trip to "the happiest place on Earth" that will include a disposal tour with the custodial crew and Lucky's chance to clean alongside professionals. The charitable watering hole has also placed a fundraiser jar for the family atop its bar, and bartender Howdy Doody recently donated his night's tips to the young inspiration.
Another ray of sun shining on the family is Sunshine Day, their new yellow labrador retriever puppy. Sweet as honey and patient as Trip and J.D., the pup will train and serve as Lucky's service dog—thanks to the help and connections of Kresimir.
The City of HB has also stepped up to honor the young hero behind its clean streets and beaches. On Monday, July 21, Mayor Harper and councilmembers will recognize Lucky during a special presentation portion of the scheduled City Council meeting at 6 p.m.
Additionally, Harmony HB Arts & Wellness Center yoga instructor Alison Zimmer held a fundraiser benefiting the Days on Tuesday, July 15, during her Tuesday evening Honorable Recharge yoga class at Vista Park. "We raised $80," says Zimmer, a HB native and genuine yogi. She wrote on her Facebook wall following the event: "He doesn't know me and I don't know him. But donating the money from tuesdays yoga class to Lucky just felt right. A kid who enjoys cleaning our beaches should have all of our support! GO LUCKY!!!!"
How does Trip feel about the flood of support? "It's awesome," she says. "It's cool for once to have the positive spin to it all." She adds, "It's almost like he's sponsored."
Lucky's name shines true to his effects on not only his parents, but his entire extended family. "It's such a hard life having a child with autism, but a lot of positives have come from it," says Trip. During the family's frequent dumpster tours, she has stumbled upon various pieces of abandoned furniture begging for revival, and has a newfound hobby in beautifully refurbishing these discarded gems. Before Lucky's birth, family members barely spoke, but following his entrance, they've reunited and are closer than ever. His grandfather, a Marine veteran, also overcame 30 years of addiction after Lucky was born.
"He's like having 10 kids," says Trip, laughing and gazing at her son with patience and love. This look continued throughout our conversation, even while noting that it costs roughly an additional $400 every month to pay for autism extras like gas, while summarizing shocking statistics, like "one in 68 kids [in the United States] now have autism," and while recalling Lucky's moments of exhaustion and overstimulation. There have been fits of rage, sleepless nights, episodes of oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), bouts of destruction and plenty of blood, sweat and tears, but such is living with autism, and the Days do it every day.
While money to help fund their daily field trips is immensely appreciated, Trip, who is humbled by the community's efforts, wants one thing above all: to spread autism awareness. "Autism in general...nobody understands it unless you're living it," explains Trip. It's a disorder that affects every person differently, and for Lucky, his release is giving back to his home by cleaning up the great outdoors. The causes of autism remain heavily contested, but Trip feels that in Lucky's case, it's a mix of genetics, his traumatic birth and environmental factors.
When you see Lucky, be it grabbing a chunk of styrofoam with his claw or peeking around the corner of a dumpster, thank him. Offer him a high five or a hug. Bow to his parents. Donate your money. Maybe even lend a helping hand to continue making this city a more accepting, giving and sparkling place to play. HB is lucky to have Lucky.