The Inhaler as God

John G. Taylor

Running out of time. The grandkids are finishing Tee-ball, soon the inhaler will go from Mom’s purse to their gear bag.

Central California -- the state’s backwater, the nation’s breadbasket, a glance while ogling Yosemite at 30,000 feet -- is roiling in money and newcomers with nowhere else to go. It’s kicking up the Fresno-area economy as grape vines and fruit trees are disked and mulched to make way for 300k-starter homes, more warehouses for the Gap and Amazon, waystations for international truckers and sheds for deep-drillers of fast-vanishing wells.

In our bedroom where the air purifier echoes Darth Vader, we awaken with plenty of sinus congestion and coughs. Any hope that the San Joaquin Valley will see resolution of its acidic pallor is receding faster than our reservoirs.

More than 100 languages are spoken here. For nearly 40 years I’ve added Brooklynese to this once-swell place where your kids walked with nary a fear to the school playground. I’m a “blow in” compared to my wife whose Mennonite kin have worked as farmers, judges and business owners for generations in Fresno’s neighbor, the once-tiny ag city of Reedley which posted her family name on a nice tree-lined street.

We chat in arcane code about the day’s threats … ozone, PM2.5, red flags and co-morbidities. Steroids help us edge through. Pills, inhalers, shots, sometimes multiples in a day, each leaching calcium from our bones, weakening our immune systems and slapping a depreciation sticker in our life-insurance actuarial tables.

Our aspirations accelerate our respirations spurring our expiration.

Our lungs are tenements of soot, soil and fuel toxins. The remedial promises of regulators, lawmakers and moneymakers are as squishy as cow manure pits. The pits’ residues soon marinate into breathable fragments along with acid rain and fog, and forest fires fueled by trees suffocated by pollution and vermin.

Wherever you live in the US, the cheap coin of blame and accommodation arrives by front-end loaders.

  • Clogged sewers converted the relief of a New York City summer rain into pungent Okefenokee in Brooklyn streets.
  • When summer smog engulfed Hartford, Conn., long-timers assured me it was a summer thing, just go fishing early.
  • In Groton, Conn., the sea-breeze window opened only when Pfizer wasn’t brewing a noxious pharmaceutical.
  • Milwaukeeans blamed the industrial fountains of Gary, Indiana, for the taupe swirl of skanky metals in the air near Lake Michigan, though I found it scant danger compared with the turgid nightly spew from south Milwaukee tanning plants and downtown beer brewers.

Maybe we can taper off, detox ourselves, with emission curbs, carbon tradeoffs, green-friendly transit and agriculture, quickening the speed of pimple-sized Fiats that tremble from the buffeting of 18-wheelers. But maybe is a weak drip feed. Maybe is our palliative care.

When we talk it’s like gargling, words spew with coughs. We cringe as our children now adults grapple with the drought of breathable, non-medically enabled air that imperils their kids, our grandkids.

We are all “on the clock,” morphing into statistics for the likes of the American Lung Association and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. Clean air as optional extra. Chevy Nova to Prius to hearse.

I wrote this after being interviewed by Detroit Free Press (and former Fresno Bee) reporter Phoebe Wall Howard for a story detailing air pollution impacts vs. the fight over vehicle emission standards. Our comments comprise the story’s last five paragraphs.  Here’s a link:

John G. Taylor, a former Fresno Bee reporter and editor, is owner of JT Communications Company. Write to him at