What’s green and brown and good for the environment?

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I once had an idea for a public service announcement to promote carpooling. It would begin with a 1964 Impala lowered to the ground pulling up to a beautiful house in the suburbs where a professionally dressed woman clutching her briefcase is waiting at the curb.

She hurriedly gets in the back seat and is suddenly sandwiched between two heavily tattooed homeboys.  Everyone greets her with a “Good morning Samantha,” to which the businesswoman responds “Step on it, Beto, traffic is heavy on the I-10!” “Orale, Sammy,” Beto says, and then, looking into the camera: “What are you staring at, we invented carpooling!”

Sure, creative carpooling is one way we can reduce our carbon footprint, but in this economy we should all be doing much more.

For some reason, it seems easier to be green if you’re Latino. Maybe our childhood experiences prepared us for a life of “waste not, want not.” Remember how the empty jars of mayonnaise and spaghetti sauce would become our new drinking glasses? How about sneaking into the drive-in stuffed in the trunk of a car? Well, maybe that was more about saving some green than about being green…

Still, it was this and the times we spent crammed like sardines in our typically lone family car that paved the way for a life of resourcefulness. And when we couldn’t get a ride in a real car, we would take the pata-mobile (everyone has one). Heck, a paletero can’t get much greener. Peddling his tasty Mexican frozen sweets, the only footprint he leaves is on Van Buren.

Felicia Ruiz has also managed to successfully reduce her carbon footprint and that of her restaurant, Lola Tapas.  She credits her artistic and resourceful parents for her ability to take seemingly throwaway items and transform them into chic décor and even art. “I guess we were brown but green,” Ruiz says.

Most of her home and restaurant furnishings are found objects, Ruiz confides. She believes these items hold more “soulful energy” and, presuming they could, “feel good being used again.” She explains that the sink in the men’s room at Lola was fashioned from an old bureau that was being thrown away and that the lights were salvaged from an abandoned theater. A white table by the side door was off to the yonke before being saved by Ruiz. The place is a sanctuary for what would otherwise be discarded items.

At home, her light fixtures are from a thrift store and her dining table is made from an old door. (I’m wondering if you rap on it, will a bowl of beans emerge? That would be heaven.)

But it’s the small red tins used as vases that caught our eye during a recent evening of tapas and sangria at Lola. When we complimented her on them, Ruiz explained that they were actually empty paprika tins from the kitchen. She felt the tables needed a “pop” of color so she simply emptied the tins and filled them with cuttings of herbs or succulents from her landscaping. “It looks natural, colorful,” and, as Ruiz excitedly points out, “nothing is being thrown away!”

See Kermit, it really is easy being green.

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