It was quiet Uptown. Traffic lights cast red-and-green glows over leftover rain pooling in the street. The sidewalks were empty but littered with evidence of the Miami student population's Saturday night: Jimmy John's and Bruno's receipts plastering the sidewalk, crumpled balls of aluminum foil and half-eaten bagels lying abandoned by the curb.
There was one person Uptown, wrapped in a neon yellow jacket. He was collecting some more evidence -- discarded beer bottles -- at the edge of the park.
It was 5:26 a.m., and Dennis Estridge had just begun his shift.
After 32 years as a mailman, 24 of which were spent in Oxford, he'd planned to retire for good. But a friend of his asked if he'd be willing to take a job cleaning up the city and its surrounding parks a few days a week, and nine years later, he's glad he accepted.
Estridge loves helping people, and he fondly remembers the times he was able to do this as a mailman -- specifically, assisting an elderly woman named Helen by bringing her mail to her door and helping her fix things around her house.
Working in Oxford also provides Estridge with the opportunity to aid the community -- just in different ways. He's often able to find and return lost car keys, wallets and I.D.'s (many fake), and sometimes students themselves.
"Occasionally I'll find a student on the ground," he said (though it's pretty rare), after which he can call the police to assist them.
Estridge grew up in College Corner and now lives just across the border in Indiana, with his wife of 54 years.
"A friend of mine wanted to date a friend of hers," Estridge said. "My friend said, 'Hey, will you take her out?' And I said, 'sure.'"
When he was 19 and she was 16, they got married -- five weeks before he was drafted into the Vietnam War. After he returned in 1970 they had two daughters, with whom they now share Sunday night dinners, along with their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Now, Estridge works Saturdays, Sundays and holidays cleaning up Oxford's Uptown and parks, from 5 a.m. to 12 p.m. In his free time he enjoys fishing and mushroom-hunting, especially on his family's old farm in Indiana. In the summer, he and his wife run a College Corner ballpark and concession stand, completely on a volunteer basis. He's just happy to be able to provide for the community.
"We just go out of our way to try to help people too, not just picking up trash," he said, then laughed. "I'm kind of some of the eyes and ears up there."