Friday, December 8, 2017
Nine trucks. Mack trucks, mostly, with a couple Peterbilts thrown in for variety. Five parked on Center Avenue, four more around the corner. I counted.
Kitty and I were on the dawn patrol last week, making our eight block circuit of the neighborhood, when we turned a corner and were confronted with them. A sight that, in 17 years of stomping our quiet suburban streets, I had never seen.
A knot of drivers stood chatting with one another.
"Scheduling mishap?" I ventured—nine trucks seemed like a lot of trucks to park at 7 a.m. on a single block. I instantly imagined some computer snafu where nine trucks had been sent to do the job of one. It seemed the premise for a children's story: Nine Trucks. Kids love trucks. I know I do.
I couldn't imagine why so many were there. The drivers, holding their coffees, looked at me but didn't respond. A civilian. Or perhaps a language issue. Kitty and I moved on, admiring the brawny trucks, designed for hauling dirt.
It didn't take long to realize they were there for the house that had been razed a few days earlier. It had seemed a not-particularly-decrepit house, new enough that I snapped a photo of it. But obviously not to contemporary standards of luxurious living. They've been building these lot-line crowding mansions lately.
Twenty years ago faux Norman chateaux were all the rage, with round towers and limestone details. I particularly scorned those. Now Burgundian behemoths are out and we are seeing what I think of as Little Sag Harbours, Atlantic coast edifices with wood shingles on the walls and lots of little windows scattered about, homes that should be on some sprawling estate in the Hamptons, not jammed into a suburban lot on the former prairie of Illinois. Their windows, instead of looking out on Oyster Bay, gaze through the windows of their neighbors. Some are six feet apart.
The trucks obviously weren't bringing anything—the truck beds were empty. They were taking something away. The dirt from the foundation of the new house.
Kitty and I came around again that afternoon—the afternoon walk. We are creatures of habit, the both of us. If I try to deflect from our routine she will stop in her tracks and stare at me, indignant.
The trucks were gone. But something new was there. A hole. And not just any hole. A foundation, the deepest basement I've seen on a new house--it looked 10 feet deep. For a moment I wondered if they could be building an apartment building in the middle of that residential block. It was that deep. And wide, it was as if they had dug up the entire lot; there would be no yard at all. I stopped to gawp at hole, and a guy in a hard hat wandered by, and I struck up a conversation—I'm good at that.
There had actually been 11 trucks, he said. Two more arrived after I left. "That's all I could get," said the foreman. "I asked for 20." He said deep, wide foundations are the new thing, all the rage.
"It's even dug under the garage," he said. "We use re-enforced concrete for the garage floor."
Maybe class envy is involved—the mere upper 10 percent gazing at the upper 5 percent. Whoever dug the basement of my house, 100 years ago, made it just tall enough for a man of medium height to stand, and then he has to dip his head to avoid heating ducts in a spot or two. I wish that farmer had gone for an extra six inches, but he was probably digging by hand, and having done that myself, I know how tempting it is to stop at Just Deep Enough and not an inch more.
Now they dig to China, and span the lot. I can't imagine what kind of Hyde Park horror is going up, but I don't have to; we'll find out soon enough. A lot of money in the world, concentrated in an ever narrowing band atop our society, and they want every cubic inch of basement they have coming to them. It won't be pretty to look at, but that isn't much of a concern anymore. Maybe it never was.