Air Force veteran creates signs to call out those who toss litter on Rowan County roads

Mr. Dave sends hours collecting trash, shaming litterbugs
Published: Aug. 4, 2021 at 2:45 PM EDT
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ROWAN COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) - A veteran who earned a Bronze Star in the Vietnam War is now in another battle. David Johnson has declared a war on trash on some of the busiest streets in Salisbury. He doesn’t just volunteer to pick it up, with his handmade signs he publicly shames those who litter.

The signs don’t exactly say “Welcome to Salisbury”…in fact, they take on a hard edge with messages such as “Ya Big Dummy,” “Chump,” and “Lazy or Stupid-both.” The artist always signs his work, and he doesn’t mince words when he explains why he does this.

“We’ve got what I call feral hogs that run through the county dropping their litter anywhere and everywhere,” Johnson said.

Johnson, known locally as “Mr. Dave,” spends hours each week collecting bags and bags of trash along busy streets in Salisbury. Jake Alexander Boulevard is one of the hotspots. Johnson isn’t alone in his efforts to keep the streets clean.

“I work with a group called Happy Roots, Clean Up Rowan County. I’d been doing my thing for a while, Ashley Honbarrier with Happy Roots, she’d been doing here thing and I said we need to meet.”

What prompted all of this for Mr. Dave?

“I got mad. I got mad,” Johnson said. “I mean it’s ridiculous that people throw stuff…Rowan County could be so beautiful but you drive through and see this litter…it’s wrong, it’s got to stop.”

He says they draw attention to the problem. “I think the signs are working. They’re making people think.”

And he’s not above name calling. Recently, he had just finished cleaning a large area when he looked back and saw a mess that had just been thrown from a car. The trash included items with the person’s name.

“There was two coffee cups and a receipt, and it had Kathy on it,” Johnson said. “I just cleaned the area, Kathy comes through, I made my little sign, ‘Kathy are you a pig,’ and stapled that stuff to it.”

On Wednesday he collected two bags full in the space of about 100 yards on Jake Alexander Boulevard. Mr. Dave next calls DOT and they come and pick up the trash. The signs themselves are litter that Mr. Dave has repurposed. But while the sign is up, the message is clear, even for a man who told Mr. Dave that he didn’t like what he was doing.

“He told me I was wasting my time, I said it’s my time to waste,” Johnson added. “I don’t think it’s a waste of time. I think I’m making a contribution.”

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