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Happy Holidays: A hellish downtown vignette

Original post made by Still Coughing, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks, on Dec 7, 2006

Walking across the El Camino at Santa Cruz Avenue after buying a book at Kepler's this morning, I spied a huge, foul cloud of dust around the area in front of the ceramic-painting shop. The closer I got, the more painfully my ears were assaulted by not one, but two roaring, fume-spewing leafblowers, one of which was blowing dirt into the street and up into the air -- our breathing space. And as I walked closer still, my throat began to close up as I breathed in the fumes from these stupid and cruel machines.

This charming little scene took place, ironically, under the shadow of the enormous banner strung across Santa Cruz Avenue: Shop Menlo Park -- Buy Locally, Support Local Economy. Although I had planned to stop at at least two more shops before leaving the area, I instead dashed straight for my car and fled the scene, still coughing.

Menlo Park came close to banning leafblowers a few years ago, and I -- and I'm sure most other people with asthma and other respiratory problems -- am so sorry the ban wasn't enacted. I am still coughing.

The only aspect of this sad scene I was able to smile about was this: After I was past the blowers (though not past the pollution), I heard a horrific shrieking -- so loud it pierced through the brutal noise of the twin blowers. I stopped, looked back, didn't see anything. But just as I started walking again, I heard the shrieking again, and whipped around to see a short, elderly woman at Doyle Street, trying to walk onto Santa Cruz, screaming at the men to turn the damned machines off so she could pass. They did. And in my mind I thanked this outraged woman with the heroic lungs. She screamed for me.

Comments (8)

Posted by Allergy sufferer
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 7, 2006 at 4:16 pm

I feel your pain. Not only do those of us with respiratory complaints hate leaf blowers, so does anyone who 1) dislikes horrible noise 2) practices organic gardening 3) has healthy lungs and would like to keep them that way.

One of the more minor menaces of modern life, but a scourge, nonetheless.

Then-councilman Steve Schmidt was a big supporter of the leaf blower ban, but leaf blower manufacturers poured a lot of money into a campaign to defeat Menlo Park's proposed ban.

Posted by The Peripatetic Observer
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Dec 7, 2006 at 4:44 pm

I have to disagree with Allergy sufferer on one point: Leafblowers are a major, not minor, menace of modern life. I'm a die-hard walker. Alas, I'm afraid "die-hard" may one day become a literal description with all the fumes and dust in the air from leafblowers, because I also have asthma. I often walk with a handkerchief in my hand, which I regularly have to raise to my mouth and nose to breathe through when I walk past a yard where gardeners are working (or when a diesel truck or Mercedes drives by). Leafblowers are one more example of the insanity of a world in which profits trump the needs of people.

Posted by George
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 8, 2006 at 9:04 am

I don't like leafblowers. They never made sense to me. Blowing dust and leaves to the next neighbor will only prompt them to have their dust and leaves blown back. The debris needs to be thrown away, not brushed under the rug.

The solution?

When hiring a gardening service, all of us should ask for no leafblowing.

The hiring parties are the ones to be responsible... not the leafblowing manufacturers... not the gardening services

Posted by The Peripatetic Observer
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Dec 8, 2006 at 10:01 am

I wish it were so simple. One big problem is that many people aren't willing to ask for no leafblowing because the gardening work would take longer. On several occasions I've heard people -- some of whom wouldn't hesitate to dine at the most expensive restaurants and buy huge luxury vehicles and otherwise consume consume consume -- say that they want their gardeners to be able to use leafblowers because otherwise they'd have to pay them extra for the additional time. That crazy argument becomes all the more dumbfounding when you consider how much extra time might be involved. 10 minutes? 20? Amazing.

Posted by Reluctant Peninsulan
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Dec 10, 2006 at 1:19 pm

How dare the labor-saving equipment of the common proles interfere with the quiet enjoyment of bourgeois patrons of Keplers! Why, they should use rakes, small ones, and utilize ten times the effort to rake those pesky leaves in ten times the time! Why, we bourgeois insisted on all those trees, and now it's up to those of lower class to take care of them in a way that does not offend our delicate sensibilities.

I wonder if people would react that way if the gardeners were white.

Posted by Still Coughing
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Dec 10, 2006 at 11:08 pm

Reluctant Peninsulan's sarcastic response -- playing the race/class card in a discussion that focused almost exclusively on adverse health effects of leafblowers -- suggests that his/her reluctance has more to do with engaging in honest, analytical thinking than anything else. If Mr./Ms. Reluctant is truly concerned about the "lower class" non-white gardeners, he/she should start paying attention to how many use protective masks, goggles and earplugs while at work. I do pay attention, and can tell you that a miniscule number of them protect themselves against the deleterious physical damage from these "labor-saving" respiratory-system killers. If you have any doubts about the adverse health effects these machines present, there's plenty of literature out there with which to inform yourself. If it is too unspeakably elitist a behavior for you to patronize a local independent bookstore like Kepler's to find the literature, you can find many informative books and other publications at the library just across the way.

If you're still intent on playing the race/class card, please at least be honest enough to acknowledge that not a single person who has engaged in this discussion has suggested that a gardener should not be paid for the extra time that would be needed to use non-mechanical equipment instead of a leafblower. In fact, one writer injected a note of irritation, if not disgust, with people who would rather have their gardeners use leafblowers than pay them more for the extra time needed to use other methods.

Posted by Allergy sufferer
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 11, 2006 at 10:31 am

I have to agree, again, with Still Coughing.

Most of the many gardeners I see around Menlo Park are completely unprotected when they use leaf blowers. Rarely do I see anyone with a mask -- more often, when they've got anything on at all, they have a bandana tied over their mouths and noses.

Respirators and filtering masks can be expensive, but I can't help but think that OSHA wouldn't allow factory employees to be subjected to such horrible air quality in the workplace.

Reluctant Peninsulan, you can count me as a member of the proletariat. Asthma and other respiratory complaints are a big problem for those of us scraping out a living on the fringes of pricey Peninsula.

Posted by Calm Down Downtown
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Dec 13, 2006 at 12:36 pm

Wow, I couldn't imagine how you people with your horrible conditions have been able to cope with living for so long. It must be so difficult to carry out your lives with these intense breathing problems you suffer from. But you know what I do? I walk around the leaf blower, behind him, and if he blows the dust in my face, then I yell at him and possibly have a talk with his manager, call the phone number on the side of his truck, about being harassed by his blower. If you let people get the best of you, they will. When I was younger I used to install insulation in homes, and that was after I was diagnosed with Chronic Asthma. It must be a miracle that I can still breathe today with all of these Prius' driving around.

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