Tom Sites says half of his closet is now dedicated to costumes.
The collection includes crazy hats, capes, patterned socks, and a dozen more costumes to fit any upcoming holiday: Santa or an elf in December, Uncle Sam in July, the Easter Bunny in the spring and a few turkey costumes for November.
Sites, a Federal Way resident and the Mirror’s Hometown Hero for the month of November, walks Southwest 320th Street five days a week in these festive getups as he picks up litter along his route.
He originally started walking the journey from Twin Lakes Elementary to Decatur High School to ease his back pain. Now, his back is healed, but he still takes to the streets almost daily.
Those who drive by honk their horns and wave. Some slow down and unroll their backseat windows, which means the kids inside the passing vehicle wanted a better look at the man in the costume.
“As humans, it’s that good feeling back and forth,” said 74-year-old Sites. “We kind of re-affirm each other. They energize me and I energize them to throw more trash, I guess.”
During the initial quarantine lockdowns, Sites continued his routine. Then he caught the coronavirus from family members in early October.
The virus gave him ongoing sinus headaches, a loss of taste and smell (both of which have since returned), and ultimately took about a month to run its course through his body. While he’s back to walking about three miles a day, Sites has seen the pandemic’s impacts on close friends and family in the form of unemployment and financial hardships.
But when he takes to the streets, hope returns.
“The great thing about walking is I can see them smiling,” he said of the drivers passing by. “So I know for two seconds, three seconds out of their whole day, I’m getting them to smile.”
When King County entered Phase 2 of Washington’s Safe Start plan in June, traffic began to increase. And so did the amount of litter.
Sites carries a garbage bag and a trash picker, and often fills the bag half-to-three quarters full. On some days, he has filled two trash bags completely.
He fixed his back by walking, but now feels he has an obligation to the community. If he stops, or if people begin to see litter accumulate in his pick-up territory, “they’re going to find out where I live and they’re going to bust my door down,” he jokes.
Sites says people also enjoy seeing proof that someone out in the world is crazier than they are.
You’ll be able to see Tom Sites in his turkey outfit(s) until Sunday, Nov. 29. Then, he brings out the Christmas-themed costumes.
Sites’ smile radiates joy with each passerby, proof that looking silly for the sake of others’ happiness and city cleanliness makes it all worthwhile. And, his wife doesn’t mind sharing the closet space either.