13 January 2006

Blowing Leaves And Other Oil-Powered Abominations

I can't remember how long gas-powered leaf blowers have annoyed me beyond reason - probably ever since they were invented. For that matter, I've got an even longer-standing grudge against gasoline-powered lawn mowers, and not just because by the time I reached my teens, I was one of the only boys left on my block who still had to cut the grass with with an old-fashioned push mower.

No, I was far more aggravated by neighbours who thought a suitable observance of the weekend meant firing up the old power mower at about 6 am on a Saturday or Sunday morning, an hour at which I would just be beginning to sleep off the previous night's excesses. And even now that I'm a relatively early riser, I'm still of the opinion that anyone who runs loud gardening equipment before midday deserves to be fed into their lawn mower as if it were a salami slicer.

I don't think it's particularly Luddite-like of me to insist that anyone not caring for an estate of more than an acre or three is perfectly capable of using an old-fashioned hand mower (if indeed they still make the things; not having been possessed of anything resembling a lawn for some decades now, I wouldn't have any idea). Considering that about 90% of the Anglo-American-Australian male population is obese or bordering thereon, I'm in favour of banning most labour-saving devices until they whip themselves into shape.

But lawn mowers are as nothing compared to the fits of rage produced in me by the increasingly ubiquitous leaf blower. Not only is the noise maddening - and the rising and falling sound is actually worse than the steadily obnoxious tone of the power mower - but that accursed things have little if any point, as far as I can see.

I came across one leathery old cow (to be fair and honest, she was probably no older than me, but she was definitely leathery and bovine) shattering the morning calm all across Rushcutters Bay. Were it not for this one oblivious simpleton, all that would have been heard would be the gentle lapping of the waves against the shore and the creaking of the masts of the boats anchored there in the harbour (okay, and the forced laughter and amphetamine-based dance music from the fourth-storey apartment of the drug-fucked queens, but that didn't carrry more than a couple hundred metres).

But I could hear this lady (and I use the term advisedly) and her leaf blower all across the park and all up and down the streets for several blocks around. To get where I was going, I had to walk past her, and it was all I could do to keep myself from strangling her (I'm engaging in a bit of bravado here; her biceps rivalled my thighs in circumference, and she looked as though she'd spent a few years out in the bush whipping kangaroos and other outback=dwellers into shape before migrating to the vicinity of Darling Point). What was so maddening wasn't just the noise, but the fact that there seemed to be no apparent point to what she was doing.

She was ostensibly clearing the leaves off the forecourt of her apartment building, but in actuality, she was blowing them all toward the street, then trying to blow them into piles in the street, whereupon at least half of them would wind up back on the forecourt, whereupon she'd start over again on the forecourt, etc., etc. This had been going on for at least half an hour already by the time I passed her (I'd been doing my kung fu stuff on the other side of the park and wondering what on earth the racket was) and it continued after I walked up the hill and blessedly out of earshot, and I still couldn't grasp what exactly she was hoping to accomplish. Even if she finally succeeded in arranging the leaves in neat little piles (something that could have been achieved in five or ten minutes with a perfectly silent push broom), did she suppose that the leaf fairy was then going to come along and magically transport them to the great compost heap in the sky? Or that the first breeze off the harbour wasn't going to send the leaves right back to where they had started out before she spent the better part of an hour sending her neighbours insane?

Not that I want to blame all the ills of the world on this particular lady; by the time I finished my walk, I had passed half a dozen more avid leaf blowers, none of whom seemed to be accomplishing much more than she was, i.e., blowing leaves back and forth and irritating people for blocks around. There was one exception: a gentleman who was using his blower to dislodge the leaves from under his car, something that couldn't be done so easily with a broom, but then, if they're under a car, who cares, right? Of course you're listening to someone who never saw the point of sweeping or raking up leaves at all; I mean, they're just going to turn back into humus (that's a fancy word for dirt, you heathens) anyway. Why not give them some time and just let them do their thing. Not to sound like a hippie, but it's only natural, right?

The whole thing has convinced me all over again that petrol/gasoline/energy/whatever is still far too cheap: if people can continue to waste it on the scale they do, then the price needs to go a lot higher. Instead of subsidising cheap fossil fuel consumption by fighting wars or providing the auto industry with a ready-built road network on which to run its smogmobiles, people need to pay the real cost of energy consumption. It's only then that they will begin to make rational decisions about transport and city planning issues.

Speaking of which, the dinosaurs of the New South Wales Labor Party, who've been running the state's infrastructure into the ground for lo these many years, have denounced plans to rebuild tram lines in some of Sydney's busiest transport corridors (like many cities, Sydney engaged in a massive act of environmental vandalism by tearing up its extensive tram lines back in the 1950s to make room for more cars). Now that the centre city is becoming choked with traffic and the diesel fume-spewing buses are forced to crawl along at little more than walking speed, some sensible people are pointing out that trams would speed up travel times and reduce pollution, but the Labor Party dingbats, none of whom has probably set foot on public transport except possibly for a campaign photo-op, claim it would be a terrible idea. Why? "It would interfere with traffic," says one clown. In other words, it might limit the apparently divinely ordained right of every Australian yobbo and yuppie to drive his personal global warming machine up and down George Street going nowhere very fast indeed. Or actually very slowly. If petrol goes up to $10 a litre, I'll be standing on the sidelines cheering, except that then we'll probably be taxed to compensate all the poor auto drivers for their utes (that's Strine for SUVs) becoming worthless. Never mind, roll on the end of the petroleum era. It'll probably come just in time for me to hauled to my grave in a good old-fashioned horse-drawn hearse.

No comments: