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Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2004
For a couple of days, or maybe weeks, I’ll try to update that certain amount of lost time due to the demise of my internet connection last fall. Using stories, anecdotes or whatever you choose to call them, I’ll try to re-acquaint and fill in some of the gap for a while. Your patience with this self-promotion is gladly accepted. Although I must caution – sending e-mail is chancy at best. Try the guestbook instead.

Building a City by the Sea never promised to be an easy thing. It was, after all, a city, albeit a small one, and when you take a firm such as the one that Corporate Partner Stu and I operate and thrust them headlong into city-building you get what you pay for. Which I might say immodestly, is the best of construction and work of a pretty darn high caliber.

We worry details, look at stuff in a way that most people don’t. Twist lumber and buildings this way and that to see if there are noticeable flaws. Wonder aloud if someone fifty years hence might tear our work apart and mutter “Oh Jesus. Look what this jackleg did with this.” And for all the attention to the minutiae, it never affected our speed. Doing things right and doing it fast needn’t be mutually exclusive although it is a rare thing to find in our little world of worker bees.

This particular city is, as some of you may recall, a resort project targeting the owners of boats (or small ships, if you want to be accurate). It has piers and restaurants, condo’s and a hotel, bars and fine shops, houses and places to buy bait. If you had a 58 foot Hatteras and took a notion to cruise down the Bay, hole up for the night at a deep water harbor and do a little real estate speculating before your noon round of golf and a five star dinner with the Trumps, this might be just the place for you. You could even get in some spectacular fishing along the way.

But to build it, you have to understand that there are some immediate problems to deal with. For one thing, you’re hacking the whole site out of an area where the labor pool is more accustomed to picking tomatoes or shucking oysters. Where building inspectors have been dozing sleepily for years, with the biggest challenge being something on a level of overseeing Uncle Joe’s pole barn. Where the biggest supplier of building material is a ramshackle collection of falling down huts and a fat Labrador nudging a bone in the driveway.

So you import everything. An hour away is a vast collection of skilled and semi-skilled labor, mountains of materials. Surely an hours drive is not even a noteworthy thing. But if you append your thinking to include a long bridge tunnel crossing in the middle, one that costs an obscene amount of money to transverse, things start to become clear. For the locals near the resort and the citizens of the metropolis to the south, the separation by water has long been a paradigm of the first order, an “us versus them” which went beyond city folks and farmers. It was more along the lines of the white man invading Indian country.

It’s interesting to note that the whole stretch of land known as the “Shore” is surrounded by water, and to this day most of the people on both sides of it tend to think of it as a rural kingdom surrounded by a moat. A great deal of you I’m sure, live in areas where you work in the city but live in a suburban area and an everyday commute is just the way things are. I know of many people in the D.C. area, for example, who would laugh at the idea of an hours commute being a hardship, would probably gladly pay for the privilege to make a one hour drive with little traffic and nearly no chance of a backup. Even people who live in my city are flummoxed when I point out that they tend to spend more than an hour fighting traffic on the way to and fro, flummoxed because they are aghast that Stu and I would want to “Drive all that way up there everyday. . . “

A few years ago, just before the start of this whole City project, some local legislation was introduced that would lower the cost of the bridge tunnel trip (it’s $10 one way, if you were wondering). It set up a rather ugly fight with the rural folks, particularly the older ones, who worried that their quiet life of fishing and small towns would be disrupted beyond repair by an invasion of carpetbaggers from the cities. Their one trump card was land, they had a great deal of farmland set near navigable water that teemed with fish, probably the largest stretch of land of its’ kind available on the East Coast. And they weren’t about to get off of it.

Eventually, the larger land holders and smokers of cigars in back rooms struck a deal. “Let’s reduce the toll on the bridge if you make a return trip in 24 hours. $10 up, $4 back. Save ya six bucks, help out the working stiff who has to make the trip everyday and bring in a little day tourist trade. Yeah.” This was suppose to be a compromise that everyone could live with. They didn’t of course, reduce the toll for commercial traffic (a truck driver with an 18 wheel rig pays $30 one way) or take a look at streamlining the operation of the bridge itself (a more impressive montage of inefficient beaurocracy I have yet to witness). So the whole “us versus them” thing didn’t suffer that bad of a hit.

Besides which, it’s difficult to import enlightenment. You still have to deal with the locals (and I say this with the proviso that given a choice between sympathizing with city dwellers or local rural folks, the farmers would win hands down every time). You walk into situations all the time on the Shore where your needs and their resources are just not playing in the same ballpark. Truck broke down? “Well, I reckon my brother could fix it for you, but he’s out on the boat right now and I don’t expect he’ll be in much of a rush when he gets in . . .” Or worse, the blank look. The kind of look you might get from an Ethiopian tribesman if you inquired about possible sources for a plasma TV.

Truth be told, the farmers and fishermen probably wanted a little more civilization, the emphasis on a little. As much as they pined about an invasion of yuppies from all sides, I haven’t heard of any complaints from them when they sold off 50 acres of land they’d been sitting on for years, and sold it for a very handsome profit indeed. There was a universal cry for more places to eat, shop, do things. In a land where the most active retailer for miles is the lone Blockbuster video store, you can imagine the line of thinking going on when a City full of bikini shops and sports bars was proposed. Like most everyone else, the folks living up there really didn’t mind the emphasis on progress as long as nobody put it right in their backyard. Everybody wanted to have a 5 acre lot on the Bay with a half dozen neighbors and a shopping mall within a 5 minute ride. It was a common enough paradox.

I offer this whole rant of background information since it sets the stage for where Stu and I enter the picture. How we are, or might be, or could be the missing link betwixt the villages of farmers and oystermen and the gleaming world of city builders. Stay tuned.

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