The bright red letters on the back of Richard Garza’s jersey ruffle as he rummages, bent over the side of the receptacle. He’s digging through the garbage behind a GameStop store in Stone Oak, looking for treasure — a poster, a cardboard stand-up of some fantasy warrior or, if he’s really lucky, an intact video game.
Garza is “OkChief420,” and he’s royalty in the small but passionate world of video-game Dumpster diving.
The 32-year-old Blanco resident holds court and cultivates his following on YouTube, where he and longtime friend Will Horner, 26, have their own channel featuring nearly 50 Dumpster-diving videos — all of them shot outside GameStops.
“The stuff that they throw out will never, ever, ever be printed again,” Garza says. “So if you’re throwing out all this stuff, it will never be attainable again because it’s all in the Dumpster. It’s all going to wind up in the landfill. We are a form of recycling.”
Their “recycling” operation is the bread and butter of a two-year-old YouTube channel that boasts more than 28,000 followers and a most-watched video with nearly 163,000 views.
Garza, who works with his family’s business in Blanco, and Horner, who works at a barbecue restaurant in Austin, also post videos related to video games, toys and food. But people mostly are watching to see what the pair can garner from their weekly expeditions to GameStop’s garbage.
“Before we started doing our videos, a lot of the (Dumpster dive) videos consisted of people just sitting in their room, showing what they found. They could have been lying,” Garza says. “We were like, ‘No, let’s show. Let’s take them on for the ride.’”
They go to Dumpsters behind GameStops, Garza said, because the company discards a lot of usable items.
And there are a lot of these stores. GameStop, which is headquartered in Grapevine, is the world’s largest multichannel video-game retailer, with 6,488 company-operated stores across the globe, the company’s website states.
In 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Dumpster diving is legal except where prohibited by city governments. Under the ruling, trash becomes public domain once thrown out. And in San Antonio, the practice appears to be legal.
GameStop spokeswoman Jackie Smith said she couldn’t comment on Garza’s and Horner’s Dumpster diving because she was not aware of it. But she said managers can take action against Dumpster divers if problems arise.
For his part, Garza says he didn’t proclaim himself “king” of the video-game Dumpster divers. Others did that.
On his channel, user comments often express their admiration for him and ask for his sage diving advice. One user even called him “an inspiration and a symbol of what it means to be a gamer.”
He accepts the mantle of leadership.
He and Horner attend video game conventions where they’re often guests and are recognized by fans who ask for their picture or autograph.
In September, Garza and Horner will have their own panel on Dumpster-diving for the first time at this year’s Retropalooza, a Dallas convention that highlights video game and nerd culture.
Horner says some fans have visited him at work to get a photo with him after the partners featured the restaurant where he’s employed in one of their food episodes.
In addition to meeting his fans at conventions, Garza presides over a Facebook page he created that’s devoted to Dumpster diving.
The page, which has almost 2,000 members, unites divers all over the country, setting up a marketplace to buy, sell or trade their finds.
But the page is not all business. It’s littered with posts discussing video games, diving tips and shared links. What Garza has fostered on the page is more than just a trading post for divers, it’s their cyber-homeland.
“There’s the gaming community, and then (within it) there’s the Dumpster-diving community,” Garza says. “The Dumpster-diving community is a close-knit community.”
Ryan Baker, a member of the Facebook page, said in a comment on a picture of Horner posing as he emerges from the Dumpster, “That’s not a party, that’s a Dumpster dive party.”
Like many of his fans, Garza started diving because he was inspired by YouTube videos detailing the benefits of the practice.
“I’m watching these (Dumpster-dive) videos and I am watching these guys in their rooms showing off all this stuff,” Garza said. “Sure as (expletive), I was finding stuff. I was finding stuff left and right there for the first times, until the game got big.”
Also, like many of his fans, Garza gets excited over the thrill of the hunt.
Outside of Dumpsters in Stone Oak, the results are turning around. After two failed attempts, Garza hopes the third Dumpster, which he says usually has something, contains what they’re looking for.
“Ooh, we got some games,” Garza says excitedly as Horner, whose head and shoulders pop out from the top of the Dumpster, holds up cases to show Garza.
Standing outside the receptacle, recording the scene on Horner’s Android phone, Garza scouts which boxes and bags might have hidden treasures in them and directs Horner to grab them. Horner holds up a poster that’s ripped in half, inciting some choice words from Garza about “field destroy.”
Divers say this is a tactic some GameStop stores use to discourage people from rifling through their trash — they destroy promotional materials and hardware before they’re thrown away.
The pair suspect that GameStop is trying to make diving a taboo, that employees are told to rip, cut and snap merchandise before taking it to the Dumpster — which the company says isn’t so.
“What if a curator in a museum was told, ‘Hey, we have too much of this (expletive); let’s destroy this Picasso — we need to get it out of here.’ I know that’s an extreme example, but to some people, that may be the case,” Horner says.
GameStop says promotional materials simply are thrown away unless they can be used again. Hardware, such as games, consoles and accessories, generally are sent back to the refurbishment centers where consoles and games are repaired. One-time promotional disks are the only items that are destroyed, said Jackie Smith, a spokesperson for GameStop.
Companywide, no materials are mandated to be ripped, torn or cut in any way. However, individual managers may ask their employees to do so if Dumpster divers have gotten the location fined by leaving trash out or created other problems.
Although GameStop may be ripping up what could have been good finds, Garza is satisfied with the outcome of this dive.
“We found a little bit of stuff that we managed to salvage from the Dumpster — nothing big, nothing ‘wow.’ But all this stuff can still be used,” Garza says in the video he shot of the dive.
The video had about 4,000 views within the first 24 hours it was online — a fact Garza is quick to point out.
Per tradition, Horner hops out of the Dumpster and the pair drive to a parking lot off-camera to go over the goods they found.
“I need to buy some hand sanitizer,” Horner says, looking up at the Target they’ve stopped at. Before the dive, Garza jokingly volunteered Horner to jump in the tall bin because he was the more agile of the pair.
Being the king doesn’t come without attacks on Garza’s empire. Some viewers complain about his openness with media outlets and how he reveals where his diving spots are. Garza said he once got a death threat in which the guy said he would kill him with a Braveheart sword.
Despite the complaints, Garza is a benevolent ruler, wanting to share his technique with his many loyal followers.
“Listen, guys, I know a lot of you guys are going to be pissed off because (expletive) it’s getting out in the media or whatever,” he says off camera. “It’s not like we (expletive) started or invented this (expletive). I mean, Dumpster diving has been around since (expletive) before prostitution.
“I mean, I am just trying to get out there and get this stuff saved. For those of you that are, like, greedy and want it all to yourself, shame on you. I try to show people so that they can go out there and get this stuff themselves because we can’t do it every day. We don’t like seeing this stuff being thrown away. So if you can go out there and save this stuff, whoever you might be, kudos to you.”