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WKAR story on 'canners' brings back memories for listener who spent childhood in East Lansing

Small boy holding a black cat. Behind him is a rattan couch with floral-printed cushions.
Rob Moon
Rob Moon lived in East Lansing up until he was 12 years old.

Rob Moon was on his lunch break in Florida when he read a story produced by WKAR on NPR's website that brought back a flood of childhood memories.

WKAR's Sarah Lehr had reported on a tailgate tradition during home football games at Michigan State University where so-called "canners" collect empty cans and bottles to return for the 10 cent recycling credit.

Moon lived in East Lansing until he was 12.

He then sent an email to the WKAR team sharing memories of him and his friends collecting cans as children.

WKAR's Sophia Saliby spoke with Moon about his experience growing up in East Lansing.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: What was your reaction since you've not lived here for so long to be fully brought back to all these memories?

Rob Moon: It was fun to remember because when I was there was when the law first passed in '76, I think, or '77, something around there. And that's when we, as kids, would just go and pick up [and] just get the cans.

I think it was such a novelty then that the students thought it was just fun to give them to us, not realizing we were trying to get money to go buy and do whatever we wanted to with it.

I think it was such a novelty then that the students thought it was just fun to give them to us, not realizing we were trying to get money.

So yeah, and I think the story talked about people were making, you know, hundreds of dollars doing that. And we maybe would make, you know, $15 or $20 or something like that and go find the nearest arcade and spend it pretty quickly.

Saliby: What was it like to be this little, I would assume, like ragtag bunch of kids collecting cans on game day, right around Spartan Stadium?

Moon: It was just, I mean, it was fun. It was obviously a different time when you're, you know, seven, eight, 10 years old, and you're wandering around the parking lot of college football stadium pretty much on your own.

We lived across, kind of kitty corner from the campus, and there were, you know, eight or 10 of us in the neighborhood, I think, and we just kind of wandered around and just seemed like a good idea to pick them up.

Saliby: Did your parents know that you were like wandering around what I would assume might be, you know, some inebriated young college students?

Moon: I assume they knew that we were over there. It was pretty common that we would just walk over to the campus.

I remember going to the museums on campus. My father worked there, so walking over there was not a big deal.

And we would walk to school actually through all the the frat houses and everything were right there. So yeah, I think it was just pretty common back then that you didn't even think about it.

Saliby: And I remember in your email, you said like, of course, the drunker some of these students got, the more they were willing to just kind of give cans to random kids that were just wandering around, right?

Moon: Yeah, yeah. They just thought we were fun. They were just giving them away. You know, back then, well, to us, you know, 10 cents, because I think that's what it was, it was 10 cents a can or something like that.

I mean, that was a huge amount of money. I guess it just didn't faze them at all, and they just had fun.

Saliby: And then you would head to Frandor to use them to play arcade games?

Moon: Yeah, we would go there, and then there was another arcade that opened on, I think, it was Michigan Avenue that was right by the campus there that we would go to as well. That one I remember being kind of really big and fancy.

Saliby: What games would you play?

Moon: It was early, so it's like stuff like "Asteroids." I don't even think "Pac-Man" had come out yet.

Maybe Defender was out? Just some of those really early arcade games.

Saliby: Was this one of your favorite memories from growing up as a kid in East Lansing?

Or is there anything else that you look back on from when you were a kid and you're like, "I really liked doing that with my friends?"

Moon: This is one of the things that just jumped out because I remember that. I mean, we would do stuff that I don't think you could get away with today.

At football games, we'd actually try to find an old ticket, and we would, you know, someone would drop the ticket stub, and we would use that. I probably shouldn't say this too much. But we would use that ticket and pass it back through the fence, and so like three or four of us would go in on the same ticket stub.

It was just, it was a good place to grow up.

Because you know, there's no barcodes [or] no scanning or anything. All you had to do is just show a half a ticket stub, and you can get in, and so we would kind of get into the games that way from time to time just to go watch it.

We'd go to basketball games. We were there when Earvin [Magic] Johnson was there, his year he played at Michigan State and the year he left. I remember things like that. Yeah, it was just, it was a good place to grow up.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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