One of my duties here on the drawbridge is to keep the sidewalks and bike lanes clean. I used to do this with a hand broom. It would take several hours and I’d come away each time covered in sweat and with an angry set of blisters.

But it needs to be done, because you don’t want debris falling down into the machinery below, causing repairs at taxpayer expense. Also, garbage accumulates moisture, and has the potential to freeze, thus making the bridge dangerous for anyone crossing it. Safety first.

You’d be amazed at how much crap winds up on a drawbridge. Don’t even get me started about cigarette butts. I’ve ranted about them before. Why smokers think that throwing them on the ground makes them magically disappear is beyond me. Someone has to deal with them. And in this case, it’s me. It’s disgusting.

We also get a lot of leaves and sand, and I’ve found all sorts of garbage, car parts, and all manner of organic hazardous material which I won’t go into detail about for your sake. It’s not unusual to find the contents of stolen wallets, the occasional suspicious package, and various items of clothing. Bridges seem to be society’s dumping ground.

After about my 20th set of blisters, I suggested that the City of Seattle provide us with leaf blowers. That way we could at least blow all the stuff into a pile and then bag it. But I insisted it be the rechargeable battery type of blower, not the gas type. I do care about the environment. I was thrilled (and frankly shocked) when my request was granted. Now I can do a much better job on the bike lanes in about 30 minutes.

So, the other day I was out there with the leaf blower, taking pride in the quality of my work, and smiling to myself for getting the city’s cooperation against all odds, when a bicycle zoomed past. That’s not unusual, of course. But this rider gave me one of those disapproving head shakes that a tiny, yet extremely annoying minority of Seattleites seem to have honed to a razor-sharp edge. As he passed, he said, “Wasteful!” and then continued on, depriving me of the opportunity to discuss his pompous, baseless judgment with him.

But the more I thought about it, the angrier I got. The guy was riding a bike worth at least 500 dollars. How wasteful is that, in a city with a homeless crisis? His shoes were leather. Cows are one of the most environmentally destructive animals on the planet. He was carrying a Starbucks coffee. It takes 37 gallons of water to produce one cup of coffee. I’m quite sure his computer uses much more electricity than the occasional use of my leaf blower does. And what do you want to bet that his privileged butt replaces his iPhone every time a new model comes out, whether he needs to or not?

Gimme a break. Yes, a leaf blower is wasteful, but I weighed the alternatives, and I took the situation seriously. I’m trying. None of us is perfect. I’m doing the best I can.

You know what I’m not doing? Riding around on my $500 bike, passing judgment without having all the facts, or giving people the opportunity to provide them. Arrogant coward.

End of rant.

university bridge sidewalk level

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Not My Problem

I spent the first hour of my shift today with a battery operated leaf blower, cleaning off the sidewalks and the bike lanes of my bridge. A clean bridge is a happy bridge. At least that’s my motto. I take pride in showing this drawbridge in its very best light, and in my quarterly reviews it’s usually noted that this is the cleanest bridge in the system.

Leaf blowers are fun. They give you this sense of power that is normally beyond your reach. Out, damned spot! Out I say! You just have to be careful not to get so caught up in your own head trip that you get mowed down by a bicycle. Talk about a reality check.

The only down side to blowing leaves is that you’re not really getting rid of your problem, you’re just relocating it. Which is fine, if you follow through and bag them afterward. But I’ve seen many a landscaper just blow them down the street. “Not my problem anymore.”

Yeah it is. Because a certain percentage of them are going to blow back into your yard eventually. Count on it. And if everyone has your attitude, a whole lot more debris is going to be blown into your yard by the equally lazy people up the street.

This is also why most medical funding is not focused on prevention. Even though prevention has proven time and time again to give you a much better return on your investment, society in general is much more willing to deal with the problems that have already occurred, when there is no longer a choice.

It’s the same with the environment. Does it really surprise anyone that so many people are willing to ignore global climate change? We’re doing all right for the time being. We still can fill our bathtubs and eat our avocados out of season. Why make sacrifices? And I’m not just shaming the climate change deniers, here. I live in one of the most environmentally conscious cities in the entire country, and yet even as I write this I’m looking out on a highway that is so choked with vehicles that they can hardly move. And yes, I drove home to write this.

One of the few problems with short terms for politicians is that they, too, can blow their problematical leaves down the street. “Let someone else deal with the tricky stuff a decade from now, once I’ve retired.” We now find ourselves hip deep in a political leaf storm, people. Having fun?

Humanity has a lot of growing up to do. We have to start behaving like adults. We need to take responsibility. We need to act with integrity. We need to take society’s ills seriously even if we aren’t feeling particularly feverish as individuals.

It’s time to start bagging up our leaves.


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