Charging for the atmosphere

Brief by Central Staff

Local Life – March 1998 – Colorado Central Magazine

At one point last summer, we were speculating that the Salida city government would find a way to charge residents for each breath of air.

Then we saw a story in the Crested Butte Chronicle & Pilot about a new tavern in that resort: an oxygen bar. O2 Bar patrons could settle into an easy chair and order up, not alcohol or caffeine, but a mask connected to a tank providing straight oxygen, which presumably reduces some of the hypoxic ailments caused by the thin air at high elevations.

And the story said that “The oxygen is bottled at the source and is a taste of the Rockies, but not the ones you see out the window. The air is bottled at Salida Medical Supply.”

So somebody had found a way to charge people for breathing Salida air — or so we thought until we called Fred Jackson at Salida Medical Supply.

But Fred said the story was in error — he did provide bottles for the bar, but the oxygen arrived in Salida as a cold liquid from a supplier in Pueblo. “And I’m not sure whether they produce it in Pueblo, or get it shipped in from somewhere else,” he observed.

Fred also said that the Crested Butte O2 Bar has gone out of business, partly due to regulatory problems. For some reason, even though oxygen forms about 20% of the air we breathe freely, the federal government considers it a “drug” and its distribution is governed by the federal Food & Drug Administration.

So, take a deep breath — and you’re a drug user. But it’s also free, at least until some candidate wants to start some hysteria by pointing to “widespread oxygen abuse, and unlike my opponent, I will act immediately to protect our children from this growing scourge.”