Friday, September 29, 2006
Back around 1991, I spent a stint working construction. I had been working in the restaurant business, but there was a recession and no job. I got a call from a college friend who had a friend who owned a small construction company-- he needed some help. I jumped on it.
We did mostly asphalt work in the summer-- cutting out and patching parking lots, or constructing them entirely. Looking back, I'm glad I did it. I know that my friends and family thought it was crazy for a guy who had a graduate degree to do that, but I feel like any experience in life can broaden you. Plus, it got me in the best shape of my life.
There were various experiences, funny and not, that I remember. There was one incident that stands out; it became a running joke with a couple of friends for years.
We were patching a parking lot of a Holiday Inn in Mount Prospect, Illinois. The motel was at a big intersection in Mount Prospect, and in fact the parking lot straddled those streets, with entrances on both.
We got there early, put cones and tapes up to mark the area we were working in, and did the cutting. This involves marking off the sections that are damaged and crumbling with chalk lines and cutting them with a carbide-bladed machine. Then you go in with pickaxes and shovels and take out the damaged patches. You generally go down about a foot.
It was when the morning rush hour started that it started: people driving up to the tape, and beeping their horns, shrugging as if to ask "what do I do now?" Turn around and go through the god-damned intersection like you were supposed to!
We suddenly realized that the intersection was perpetually snarled-- backed up a block or more. And the parking lot formed an alternate route around the blocked intersection. And it explained the poor condition of the parking lot-- it was designed for small amounts of slow-moving traffic-- people parking cars, not zooming through it like it was a thoroughfare. The huge amount of extra traffic had quickly torn it up.
We proceeded with the work, which took a few days. We had probably over a hundred people drive up to the cones and tape and give us angry looks. One lady even got out and tried to move the cones. What she was going to do when she got to a foot-deep hole in the pavement, I don't know.
My favorite moment came the second day we were out there. A Mount Prospect police car approached our barricade. The cop inside looked at us irritatedly, and turned around in a huff. It made me think of the Blues Brothers, with their old Mount Prospect police car. Maybe he was on a mission from god.
Now if had happened 5 or 6 times, it would have been amusing. But it happened many dozens of times-- people driving up to the barricades and sitting with a look of utter perplexedness and astonishment. I was left to wonder about the IQ's of the people in the area.
A couple of years later, an old friend, who was then a journalist for a paper that covered Mount Prospect, started relaying stories of a Mount Prospect citizen who made his life a living hell. This guy was constantly calling him with earth-shaking scoops. My favorite was when he ratted on a neighbor whose backyard shed was a few inches larger than city ordinances allowed. Of course, to measure it, he had to have illegally trespassed in the neighbor's yard.
It got worse. This clown managed to get onto the Mount Prospect city council. He was retired, so he had nothing better to do than meddle in other peoples' business and to bother my friend.
My friend, though, had the last laugh. At some point, Citizen Idiot used his Mount Prospect city councilman's id like a police badge to try to get into some place. He was arrested for impersonating a police officer, and ended up wearing an electronic ankle bracelet for a while. He finally stopped hearing from him.
After witnessing or hearing of a few more incidents involving low-IQ and/or spoiled behavior by Mount Prospect residents, I began to wonder about suburban utopias. Mount Prospect is undoubtedly a great place to live. It's got great schools, miniscule amounts of crime and probably mostly nice people. But it seems like if people don't have many real problems, trivial problems get promoted to major problems. It explains a lot-- things like road rage, gated communities and poor treatment of service employees. Every day, here in the city, I see the working poor, waiting in all kinds of weather for buses, going to jobs that pay maybe 6 or 8 bucks an hour, and I think of the people in Mount Prospect whose day was ruined by having to turn their cars around and wait an extra three minutes in traffic to go through an intersection. And I wonder if that's everyone's fate-- to improve their lives, and then slowly lose both their ability to cope with real life, and their appreciation for what they have.