Unclean Sweep

Greg Dawson gets all misty eyed—from debris sent airborne by leaf blowers.

When neighbors see me furiously brooming leaves, grass clippings and dirt into little piles on the driveway and sidewalk—shwoosh-shwoosh-shwoosh—they look at me funny, like I didn’t get the memo from the 20th century.

“Um, would you like to use my blower?” they ask.

“Thanks, but I find this therapeutic, and I need the exercise,” I say.

That much is true, but what I don’t say is the real reason for declining their offer: I hate leaf blowers.

Nothing reduces my quality of life more than the screech and stink of two-stroke, gas-powered leaf blowers. These weapons of mass distraction are a direct violation of the preamble to the Constitution which promises to “insure domestic tranquility.”

My domestic tranquility is shattered almost daily by the “filthy, foul, obnoxious cacophony,’’ to quote a sufferer on the Ban Leaf Blowers Facebook page. Some days the lawn company blowhards are on my street from morning to late afternoon, rendering my front porch and backyard patio uninhabitable.

Around town I see hired guns with ear protection marching up and down sidewalks robotically blasting detritus in the air or into the street or someone else’s property with hurricane-force blowers. It’s not just our sensibilities under assault, it’s our health. A study of street dust by the American Lung Association found scary stuff like chromium, nickel, mercury and arsenic—to say nothing of carbon monoxide and other toxic fumes.

But the true “ick” factor is found in the organic bouillabaisse of residential yards and common areas where blowers make noxious clouds of dried animal and bird feces, human saliva, mold and fungal spores, insect eggs, weed seeds and pollen.

“They put stuff in the air that Mother Nature said belongs on the ground,” says Judy Ellis, who lives in St. Petersburg and heads up Noise Free Florida, which sounds as likely as Kardashian Free Tabloids.

What is Noise Free Florida? “It’s just me—and anyone who wants to work with me,” says Ellis, who describes herself as “73 and mean.” She has been working to ban leaf blowers for 10 years.

“I have made what I consider no progress whatsoever. At first the council members were very responsive. Then out of nowhere from Fayetteville, Arkansas, comes The Man from Echo—their troubleshooter. He starts quietly lobbying the same people. It never came to a vote.’’

A spokeswoman for Echo, a leading manufacturer of blowers, said there is a Man from Echo: “A retired gentleman who is an expert on leaf blowers and helps educate communities on blower technology and its proper use. He was instrumental in the development of today’s quieter leaf blower designs.”

I guess those “quieter” designs (quieter than what—a B-52?) have not penetrated the Central Florida market yet.

Meanwhile, like nearly everywhere else in America except California, where dozens of cities including Los Angeles ban leaf blowers, local governments in Central Florida don’t hear the Echos or my screams. Orange County, Orlando, and Edgewood, where I live, all have noise ordinances—and all exempt landscape tools, including leaf blowers.

Thwarted in her demand for total prohibition, Ellis is now working for a ban in “quiet zones” near parks, schools and hospitals in Pinellas County. She recalls visiting a beautiful, quiet public park and “here comes this lunatic blowing dirt off the path. When did dirt on a path become the enemy?”

Among the unintended consequences of leaf blowers is the aiding and abetting of compulsive neatniks who confuse their driveways with the floor of a Lexus showroom and whip out their blowers at the sight of a few blades of grass trespassing on their pristine sea of concrete.

I agree with Ellis’ fellow activist, Karl Nurse, who says, “A lot of people have trouble understanding that their Constitutional right to blow leaves around ends where my nose and ears begin.”

There’s another reason you’ll never see me using a leaf blower. Twenty years ago I wrote a column for the Orlando Sentinel calling leaf blowers the stupidest invention of the 20th century and swearing never to use one again.

So, yes, I live in fear of being busted by a reader. But the fact remains that I still hate leaf blowers. I am a broom-and-rake man for life, a conscientious objector to the two-stroke, gas-powered war on our domestic tranquility and wellness.

Hell, no, I won’t blow!

Categories: Column