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Blow & Go
© 2001 Stuart Vail

As a boy growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I earned extra money by doing yard work in my neighborhood, our own yard included. I took special pride in my attention to detail: a careful snip here, the meticulous weeding there. The lawns on our street had my “touch,” and I was complimented for such. This was in the days of push mowers, rakes, and clippers—a far cry from the gasoline-powered machinery of today’s typical gardener service my wife calls “Blow & Go.”

Whereas I used to take my time in doing a good job, the “Blow & Goers” rip through the neighborhood in record time. They barely turn off the engines of their pickups while they do the job. While one worker races across the lawn with the power mower, another blows off the driveway and side yard, whipping up clouds of dust, pollen, pesticides, powdered leaf and insect remains, pet dander, and particulants of dried animal feces for the entire neighborhood to share in. Woe to any house whose windows are open. Not a nod of apology for rudely interrupting the child’s back yard birthday party next door, just as the cake is about to be cut. It doesn’t matter, either, that perhaps behind the window with the blinds pulled lies an elderly woman with a crippling migraine who hasn’t slept for two nights. For her, the one small consolation with “Blow & Go” is the last word of the term: the focus is on speed, not quality. They are gone in a flash. The more yards they can skim through, the more money they will make. Isn’t that the case with most industries today? More on that later.

It’s bad enough that there is usually a different service for each house on any given street, all having completely different schedules. To make matters worse, the surrounding streets for many blocks all employ various fleets of gorilla gardeners armed with the cursed weapon of choice: the two-stroke engine. Any day of the week, from 7:00 in the morning to 7:00 at night, is “Blow & Go” season. No day is sacred. It used to be that weekends were reserved for yard maintenance. On any Saturday or Sunday one could hear the quiet shushing sound of push mowers and smell the lush perfume of freshly-cut grass. Now it’s the roar of internal combustion and a smell much like that of a downtown public transit station. If somehow an entire neighborhood could schedule yard jobs at the same time, at least we could batten down the hatches and go to a bookstore or to the beach for a few hours while our yards and streets were overrun with roar and stench only a NASCAR race fan would love.

As mentioned above, the tools have changed. Gasoline has replaced muscles, and preoccupation with day’s-end receipts has usurped care. The rare homeowner who actually cuts his own lawn usually has a quieter, more environment-friendly electric mower, but the “Blow & Go” crowd works with sheer unplugged horsepower. A simple rake, which used to provide wonderful cardiovascular exercise, sits idle while the power blower roars through the yard with the destructive powers akin to Hurricane Mitch. I used to improve my grip by using clippers to edge the lawn—another tool of the past. The edgers I now hear almost every day sound uncomfortably like dentist’s drills as they can’t help but trim yet another micro-millimeter of concrete from the edges of sidewalks and driveways.

As a young “Grounds Maintenance Engineer” I mowed, trimmed, pruned, raked, bagged, and watered. It would have been easy to ignore a patch of weeds or some stray leaves, but I knew that prolonged laziness would shorten my employment. Skimping on the details to go skate boarding or play basketball would have eventually caught up with me and I would not have been asked back. My pride for a job well done stems partly from a story I once read when I was much younger. It told about two boys, John and Mark, who set up a strawberry stand on the side of the road to sell baskets of fruit from their parents’ farm. John filled each basket with less-than-average berries covered with a top layer of the best and ripest specimens. He explained to Mark that it increased the number of baskets he had to sell, and bragged that he would make much more money by the end of the day. Mark decided to do the same, but when his first customer came, his conscience got the better of him and he quickly filled a fresh basket with quality strawberries. And so it went for the rest of the day: John consequently made more money by selling more baskets. The next week all of Mark’s customers returned, and some who had bought from John wanted Mark’s berries because they had been disappointed by what they had been sold the week before. John had made his impression upon the world as a con-artist. For him, there was no going back.

That story had a big influence on me, one that exists to this day. My ancestors’ integrity was unquestionable, and their actions built fine reputations. A man’s word was his bond and his handshake, a contract. Faced with certain situations I find myself asking what my parents would have done. Their ethic continues to guide me, sometimes consciously, sometimes silently, under the surface. I’m sure that part of their code of morality is that of their parents, and of their grandparents, and so on. On the flip side I can see how a “bad seed” can create generations of ne’er-do-wells and criminals, for if the father is a thief, a liar, or a drug addict, how can the son not be influenced?

In today’s “Blow & Go” mentality, integrity and craftsmanship are anachronisms. Assembly-line attitudes preclude pride in one’s work. We stamp-out the product and never look back. Gone from the mainstream are fine examples of woodworking, healthy restaurant food, good clean story telling, and well-built houses. Instead, we create plastic furniture, fast food, racy sitcoms, and decorative ceiling beams made of Styrofoam. We are a society of unethical used-car salesmen, chain-saw sculptors, “fix-it-with-a-band aid” repairmen, and defense lawyers arguing about the meaning of the word “is.” From the President on down, we have to imagine our sons and daughters emulating our behavior, and use that as a gauge to qualify our own actions. The legacy we leave by eating the best strawberries ourselves and not caring if everyone else chokes on the rotten remains is dooming the future of humankind.

If every aspect of our lives were to be conducted with the “Blow & Go” attitude, there would be so many loose ends, details overlooked or forgotten, and uncorrected mistakes that our lives, businesses, and economies would soon collapse in such disarray that no one would have the foggiest idea of how to put them back together again, since we hadn’t the foggiest idea of what caused the problems to begin with. We are totally deaf and blind to the ramifications of our selfish actions. We are completely unconscious. If first we blow, then we will really go. Forever.

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