Monthly Archives: May 2009

Leaf Blowers

You know what I’ve been thinking about lately?  Leaf blowers.

Recently my son and I were out on a walk, enjoying a rare sunny day in the Pacific Northwest.  As we made our way home from the playground we passed a man who’d just finished trimming his hedges.  Now I don’t mean “trimming his hedges” as some sort of erotic euphemism, I mean he literally had just finished trimming his hedges.

Leaf-Blower

Stupidest. Power tool. Ever.

With his greenery now pruned to his satisfaction, said man was in the process of cleaning up the hedge refuse.  And by “cleaning” I mean he was using a leaf blower to push all the trimmings into the street.

I’m not a homeowner so I cannot pretend to understand the burden that comes with having to keep a front yard perfectly pruned.  But when I do someday take on this responsibility, my hedge clippings will be swept up and placed in the trashcan specified for green waste.  It shouldn’t be terribly difficult to find since these receptacles tend to be painted green.  What I WILL NOT do is fire-up a noisy, gas-powered blower and push my waste into the street so that someone else has to deal with it.

I wish the man I saw on that sunny afternoon was a unique case, but sadly he is not.  When I lived in Los Angeles I saw leaf blowers as often as I saw fake breasts.  Okay, not that often, but you get the idea.  In upscale neighborhoods all over the Southland, underpaid gardeners of the rich and famous would routinely blow dirt and lawn waste into the street.  Down there, it is just the way things are done.

Personally, I believe leaf blowers to be more than just a semi-useless power tool that epitomizes laziness.  I feel they’re also a microcosm of our modern world.  When we make messes, we don’t feel the need to clean them up.  We’d much rather blow them into the street and have someone else do it for us.

This regrettable attitude is clearly evident when it comes to our government.  Take the recent brouhaha over the detainees at the soon to be closing Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp in Cuba.  Now that President Obama wants to do away with this human rights atrocity, we have gutless politicians from both sides of the aisle claiming that it would be dangerous to bring these prisoners onto U.S. soil; as if they’d simply be set free and given traveling money along with a map of nuclear power plants.

Terrorists aren't going to go Andy Dufresne on us.

Terrorists aren't going to go Andy Dufresne on us.

Call me crazy, but I don’t think these prisoners would be any more of a threat to our safety than the other murderers, serial killers and terrorists who currently reside in our maximum-security prisons.  I mean, not even Andy Dufresne could spoon his way out of one of these fortresses.

Yet despite these facts, the brain surgeons we’ve elected to the Senate would rather pander to their clueless constituents and send these alleged terrorists back to their home countries – because Middle Eastern nations have such a long and storied history of locking up dangerous Jihadists.

What some in our country can’t seem to come to grips with is the fact that these prisoners are now our responsibility.  They became our responsibility the moment we swept them up and brought them to Gitmo.  And as a nation that dove headfirst into a ridiculous war based on a need to spread democracy (or at least that was the premise after our failure to find WMDs) these enemy combatants should be brought into the U.S. and introduced to one of our most basic democratic principles – the right to a fair trial.

Or we can continue to ignore our own laws and simply blow these men into the street like grass clippings.  If we’re lucky, someone else will come along and sweep them up for us.  Of course the more likely scenario involves a stiff wind picking up these alleged terrorists and and blowing them right back into our front yard.

Then they’ll be our problem all over again.


Parades

You know what I’ve been thinking about lately?  Parades.

This past weekend Poulsbo, WA (the small hamlet I live in) hosted Viking Fest – their annual celebration commemorating Norwegian Constitution Day.  The three-day gala featured all the usual festival fare – rides, games, high-calorie foods, surly teenagers, and, of course, a parade.

Vik2.2

The quiet before the Viking Fest storm.

Because we reside on one of Poulsbo’s main boulevards the parade route swung right past our apartment.  So after spending the morning in town visiting a replica Viking village and wolfing down funnel cakes, my family returned home and settled in for the parade.  Aside from a few Norwegian themed floats, this parade was just like any other and featured marching bands, fire trucks, clowns, local beauty queens and Shriners.  After twenty minutes, boredom began to set in and I found myself wondering exactly why so many people chose to spend an afternoon this way.

Now that’s not to say this wasn’t a lovely parade.  It was just as good as most, but I guess the bigger issue I found myself contemplating was why we even bother with parades at all anymore.  It seems to me parades are a product of a bygone era; a simpler time when men were men, entertainment options were scarce, and sitting still for hours in order to watch people walk by was a heck of a way to spend an afternoon.

But this is the 21st century.  Our modern world provides an abundance of ways for us to waste time.  There are hundreds of cable television channels, DVDs, video games, the internet… it’s basically a never-ending smorgasbord of mind-numbing fun.  And yet despite all of these options parades continue to exist.  Apparently they’re a form of entertainment that can’t be killed by our technological advancements and our shrinking attention spans.  They’re the cockroaches of the entertainment world.

Parade3.3

I'm with the band!

So why have parades managed to maintain a healthy presence in our fast-paced, everything at our fingertips society?  Is there a powerful parade lobby I wasn’t aware of?  And if so, do these lobbyists line the pockets of local politicians in order to ensure that, at least once a year, our streets will be flooded with bad marching bands and creepy clowns?

Or is it something far less cynical.  Perhaps Americans, and other societies around the world, actually continue to watch and participate in parades as a means of carrying on tradition.  We don’t really embrace tradition the way we used to.  In fact, nowadays embracing anything outside of your immediate family is grounds for a lawsuit.  So maybe dragging our overstimulated butts off our couches and onto the street once or twice a year is  merely a rare opportunity to reconnect with a simpler time.  And that’s a good thing.  I think.

Around the time I was questioning the very existence of parades, my two-year-old son Jack had seen enough and was ready for a nap.  We’ll give the Viking Fest Parade a go again next year and maybe by the time he’s five he’ll be able to stay awake long enough to see the whole thing.  On that day I fully expect my son to turn to me and ask a simple, straightforward question.

“Daddy, why do we have parades?”

And when he asks, I’ll rub his head lovingly, look him in the eye and answer as honestly as I possibly can.

“Son… I have no idea.  But I can tell you this, they’re not going anywhere any time soon.”


Subway

You know what I’ve been thinking about lately?  Subway (the sandwich place, not the mode of public transportation)

In just about every town in America, small mom and pop businesses have been replaced by corporate stores and eateries.  And while we’ve collectively contributed to the downfall of these establishments, we’ve also developed a selective dislike for some of the multinational retailers that’ve taken their place.

Without a doubt, one of the most loathed of these franchises is Starbucks.  But why is that exactly?  Is it because of the overpriced espresso drinks?  The pretentious jazz music?  The mood lighting?  The most common gripe I’ve heard about the coffee-grinding juggernaut is its ubiquitous nature.  Their stores are seemingly everywhere and, in many cities (Seattle being one of them), you can often find more than one on the same block.  Which is convenient if you really want a latte but are too lazy to cross the street.

subway_store

One of Subway's 30,000 locations.

But if Starbucks’ overabundance of locations is indeed what leads people to curse the coffee giant, why don’t these same people direct a similar level of disgust toward an even more ubiquitous chain: Subway.

I’d be willing to bet a kidney there are actually far more Subway locations than Starbucks stores.  In fact, I challenge you to find a strip mall that doesn’t have a Subway.

Go ahead, my kidney and I will wait.

(Waiting… Waiting… Waiting… That’s what I thought.)

This past year, Subway became the #1 franchise in America surpassing the thirty-thousand restaurant mark.  They’ve even managed to bump the mighty McDonalds down to second place despite their lack of deep fryers and playgrounds.

In some regards this development makes perfect sense.  Subway is one of the simpler and more inexpensive franchises to get off the ground.  The restaurants don’t require a great deal of space or a great deal of culinary skill.  Their employees don’t even need to know how to cook.  With the bar set so low, I’m convinced even Levi Johnston could open a Subway.

In addition to the plentiful amount of locations, Subway also boasts a marketing presence that is as powerful as any major brand.  Their recent commercials have been consistently drilling the five-dollar footlong jingle into our skulls and, before that, Subway spent the better part of the decade making sure every man, woman and child alive was familiar with their formerly super-sized spokesperson Jared Fogle.  Most American sixth-graders are probably unable to name a single U.S. Senator, but my guess is they’d have no problem picking Jared and his giant pants out of a police lineup.

And while Subway may seem like a simple, non-threatening alternative to fast food, I’m convinced the company has but one  goal: world domination.  It might seem like a strange premise, but something more sinister has to be afoot.  No one likes submarine sandwiches enough to require thirty-thousand locations.

jaredfromsubway

Jared Fogle = dark overlord?

I’m not sure what they’re up to exactly, but something tells me they won’t stop expanding until the entire planet subsists on a steady diet of Subway sandwiches and Baked Lays.  By the time we realize their fiendish plot, it’ll be too late.   We’ll be purchasing our footlong Italian BMTs with currency that has Jared’s face on it – Fogle bucks – and saluting a flag that looks like a giant pair of trousers.

Call me crazy now.  But when all of this comes to fruition, I’ll be here to say, “I told you so.”

So the next time you turn your nose up at a dimly lit Starbucks that’s playing Miles Davis, just remember they won’t be your dark overlords in the not too distant future.  That honor will belong to another food chain.

All hail Subway!