A Scene From the Morning Commute in Metroland
I heard the sound long before I got there. It was a ripping, snorting, grinding sound that, at 7:30 on a cloudy Spring morning can only mean one thing: Something was going down.
It was a good-sized house, dating from the seventies by the look of it, making it a Johnny-come-lately in this neighbourhood that was first seeded with GI tract houses in the nineteen-fifties.
To one side stood another single-family dwelling. To the other sat the stucco-sided apartments that have been slowly carving their way up the street, destroying all in their path.
I'm all for higher-density housing. Particularly in view of the fact that the vacancy rate here looks like the chances of Osama Bin Laden being found by the Bush administration. However, I have not been able to rid myself of the suburban urge to have "each his own vine and fig tree, and none to make him afraid." And therefore I view the encroachment of monster houses and multiplexes as a strange hybrid of progress and sub (barely) urban cancer.
While multiplexes allow more people to live slightly more efficiently, they also tear up green space, and encourage commuter living. So you see that I'm torn.
The excavator was gnawing its way through the back side of the house as I approached down the little lane behind it. Another small house stood nearby, its windows boarded up, signifying its own iminent death. Ramshackle "just-growed" garages stood next to the plywood skins rising to accomodate future Toyotas and Fords for families yet undwelling.
A fancy mirror, probably about nineteen-thirties vintage, stood against the shuttered garage, abandoned by scavengers or preciously preserved by an outgoing owner I could not tell.
The excavator munched its way through the side and clambered up the heap of debris it had just generated. I caught a glimpse of a green wall. Who had chosen to paint the upstairs bedroom that shade? Then the inside wall came down in a cluster of torn gyproc.Fumes belched into the air, dust swirled. The stumps of trees lay like the corpses of martyrs alongside the site.
A Bobcat putted around the site like a tug servicing an ocean liner, dragging off bits of concrete and inconvenient arborism. Glass shattered, steel twisted, and wood splintered.
The excavator reached out and shoved its bucket down through the roof. The house trembled in its death agonies and shed shingles like the tears of the condemned.
But when I saw that excavator, I was, for just a few brief moments, unconcerned about pollution, construction wastes, diesel fumes, zoning laws, or the character of the neighbourhood.
For a few brief minutes I experienced the little-boy thrill of big machines.