Ground Scores

  • Posted by Mikail Price
  • On August 17, 2015
  • ground score, MAC, mosquito, mosquito abatement, san francisco, SF

Howard of the MAC Team

By Howard Williams


To those readers unfamiliar with the slang term “ground score”, Urban Dictionary’s most comprehensive definition (there are 9 in all) states: Verb – finding something of value on the ground. Noun – the item found on the ground. Ground scores are not stolen items – they are typically items that have been misplaced and lost. “I ground scored a digital camera today.” “This ground score has to be worth at least $50.” (1) That was the best definition I found. Others were incomplete or inaccurate. One definition from 2002 on the Online Slang Dictionary defines “ground score” as“Desirable food item found on the ground. ‘I totally ground scored this piece of pizza.’ ” (2) It is not known if the contributor is still alive or has since died of trench mouth. But as long as reasonable hygienic precautions are taken (remember the Precautionary Principle), ground scores can occasionally be a lucrative and fascinating fringe benefit for Mosquito Abatement Couriers (MAC) and other workers whose jobs take them outdoors.

At first, you may think that ground scoring a score (20) of dollars or a book by your favorite author is just pure luck. And yes, luck does have a lot to do with it but ground scoring is more than being in the right place at the right time. Ground scoring also requires alertness, discretion and sometimes resourcefulness. Of course, alertness is key to every ground score. You might think that $20 bill laying on the sidewalk will be snatched up in a nanosecond. But people get distracted, hot weather might dull their senses or they might miss it for other reasons. In any case, you were observant and now you’re the proud owner of that treasured item mentioned in so many blues songs: the $20 bill. And remember, being alert is valuable in its own right; among its many advantages, it helps keep you alive. Whenever you spot some money, look around. There may be more. This is especially true with coins which aren’t as obvious as bills.

Once, I stopped my bike to grab a dime. I noticed another … and then another. Soon, I had scored 12 dimes. My initial investment garnered a return of over 1000%! For some reason, there were only dimes and no other coins. But I’m not complaining. Discretion is important in many ground scores. Practical and ethical considerations often matter. When it comes to food, clothing and furniture, you should always think about your health first. With food, a ground score is the one case where canned is better than fresh. If food isn’t in a can or well packaged, I leave it alone. And when picking up a can, be sure to check the expiration date. A few years ago on my birthday, Fillmore Street gave me a present in the form of a box of KrustyOs. But I didn’t eat any. To this day, that unopened box decorates the top of my bookcase (also a long ago ground score.

In the past, I used to grab clothes and furniture. I scored some stylish sweaters as well as my futon frame and much of my other furniture. But with the bedbug infestation of recent years, I’ve quit scoring all clothing and furniture. Every ground score has an ethical consideration : Should I take this? Happily, the answer is usually “Yes!” Even if you find an item with a I.D. label on it you should take it … to its rightful owner. It is usually easy to trace wallets and cell phones back to their original owners. Don’t be tempted to sell the cell or take any remaining cash from the wallet. Your soul is worth more, no matter what your ex spouses say. After all, you don’t take their opinions about anything else, do you? When my daughter was just 3, she found a cool backpack on the playground. She walked over to me and pointed at the label. It turned out to belong to one of her friends. Whatever excitement she had in finding something cool was eclipsed by the joy of returning it to her pal.

So if there’s no identifying labels, should you just grab and go? If found on the street, yes. But if found at a public facility like a playground or library,  there’s a good chance someone is frantically rushing back there.  So you should turn it into the Lost & Found. What about money? It’s yours! But even this rule (one we like!) has exceptions. In 1991, I was in Peshawar, Pakistan. Ground scores are rare in poor countries and so one day outside a corner store, I was pleasantly surprised to spot a roll of over 300 rupees (about $12) on the dusty street. I scored it and went inside. While I wandered the aisles, leisurely wondering how to spend my newfound wealth, a man began angrily arguing with the cashier. I didn’t know much Pashto (the local language) but I kept hearing “dray soul rupee!” (300 rupees). I found a man who spoke English (not hard to do there) who told me the customer claimed he’d been shortchanged and hadn’t noticed until he was outside. The cashier denied it. Now, it was possible that the customer had been shortchanged and hadn’t noticed it until he was outside and that the 300 rupees I’d found had nothing to do with this matter. Possible … but unlikely. And I was tempted to hold the money rather than give it to someone so quick to accuse. But I interrupted the angry customer to tell him that I’d found 300 rupees and held it out to him. He glared at me and then, without a word of thanks,  snatched the scratch from my hand and stormed out. “Hey,” I yelled at his swiftly fleeing back, “did you want the dray sul rupees or did you just want to win the argument?” When my translator repeated this in Pashto, everybody else burst into laughter … especially the cashier. Some places actually try to offer ground scores. There are at least 3 Little Free Libraries in San Francisco. These little streetside booths that provide free books to passersby are part of a worldwide movement. If you can, you should leave a book (3).

Resourcefulness comes into play with many ground scores, especially the best ones. Last year, a MAC rider found a giant TV. It was way too big and awkward for his bike so he called a friend with a van. They took it to his home, hooked it up and it worked. My most memorable ground score was actually an underground score and tested my resourcefulness. I was on my MAC job inspecting catch basins (sewer drains) when I saw what looked exactly like a $100 bill resting peacefully at the bottom of a dry catch basin. “That has to be somebody’s practical joke,” I thought. I wondered if someone had made a copy of a C-note and dropped it down there to fool the next MAC rider, namely me. Nevertheless, like any patriotic American, I couldn’t let an image of our nation’s first Postmaster General be delivered to the bottom of a catch basin. So after work, I cut a 7 foot stalk of some kind of weed and bought some tape. Then I rode back to the catch basin. The green paper with Benjamin Franklin’s picture was till there. I affixed some tape to the end of the stalk and lowered it into the basin. On the second try, the bill stuck and I was able to reel it in. I took it home and put it in my oven which I set to 170 Fahrenheit. Anything that’s been on the bottom of a catch basin needs to be sterilized. Then I took it out and went to spend it. It was good. Other great ground scores include the hawk feathers scored by Jake Munoz which now decorate his bike, the smartphone Colin Sanders found that he tried to return but couldn’t, the photography book Joel Rayford obtained at a key point in his budding Web journalist career and last but never least, Kyle Barker’s giant stuffed bunny rabbit that he mounts on his bike’s front rack to ward off aggressive drivers.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Kyle Barker, Kevin Bolger, Jake Munoz, Joel Rayford, Toni Rodriguez, Colin Sanders, Pierre Sahmel and all the people and hawks who left us that cool stuff on – and under – the ground.

1. Ryan Meier, February 26, 2007,                                                                2. Pat (no surname), November 1, 2002,                                             3.



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