SHREVEPORT, La. — It is a splendid fall morning and fatigue-clad "General Litter" is picking up pounds of rubbish along a riverside parkway, his long-necked companion, Major Llama, at his side.
It's enough to draw stares from passing motorists, although none stops.
General Litter is the alter ego of Bill McNeely, a meticulous eccentric who abandoned the mainstream to wage war on litter in a corner of the state often considered pretty dirty.
The 40-year-old Vietnam veteran is a self-proclaimed general in his campaign against litterbugs. His dress is authentic--from a brigadier general's star on his Army jacket down to camouflage pants and military boots, although he breaks Army regulations with his brown, shoulder-length hair.
Major Llama is McNeely's drawing card and the General Litter character is his symbol.
"When strangers come up and talk to me, it's not that negative. Just amazement," he said. "I've gotten no real negative feeling; the llama dispelled that. The idea of cleaning up is one of those things you can't argue with."
Eccentric? His decision to forsake the mainstream has caused bewilderment for "my poor mother."
"She wishes all this would go away," he said. "She's become more tolerant over the years. She liked it better when I was a reporter. She could show me off to her friends. It's been going on for nine years."
McNeely gave up a $10-an-hour job at a Shreveport television station, where he had worked 11 years as reporter, photographer and editor, to become General Litter, a project he had been tinkering with for years.
He lived in Colorado seven years after his discharge from the Army and then returned to Louisiana, where the amount of litter shocked him.
'Out the Window'
"I was just amazed how little regard people had for their immediate environment," he said. "They will unabashedly throw litter out the window."
It was last year that he began General Litter's work full time. He lives in a one-room cabin at a Shreveport youth camp, where he also works as a caretaker.
McNeely is trying to market the General Litter campaign and sell a line of anti-litter products such as litter bags and bumper stickers. It's starting slowly, and McNeely is using part of his savings to make ends meet.
McNeely picks up trash an average of three days a week, primarily on Louisiana 1, the state's major north-south highway. The rest of his time is spent as a caretaker, marketing General Litter and on youth education programs, where he takes his llama to invigorate lectures.
"Once I was obsessed with (picking up litter) 1,000 hours a year," he said. "Now education is the only hope. The only benefit, even after I clean it up, is it looks like it should."
McNeely at first picked up litter solo, but eventually drafted Burrito, an 8-year-old llama once used to pack trash out of a Colorado national park and so named for his culinary preferences.
They travel together in a half-ton pickup, with the "General Litter Earth Guards" logo painted on the side and the llama riding in the truck bed. Necks crane as the pair drive through downtown Shreveport.
"I feel like I have to be in Louisiana, because it's the dirtiest state, instead of wonderful Colorado," he said.