May. Waiting for the street construction to start is exciting. The anticipation builds like a fever. When will it start? Hand in hand in hand, we and our neighbors watch for its arrival like residents of Whoville waiting for Christmas to come.
Finally, there are signs. Little MG&E flags pop up in our yards like wildflowers. One night I come home to find trees dolled up in bright yellow plastic necklaces. Some of the girls are cordoned off by tape, a Hollywood rope line keeping the paparazzi at bay.
Stretches of sidewalk are decorated, too. Spray-painted with tiny crop circles, construction hieroglyphics. The markings a surgeon draws on a patient before the scalpel scores skin.
June. The pre-construction prep makes the neighborhood even more anxious for the deal to start. "It's coming!" I cheer to a neighbor who's out front inspecting a short, neat row of orange barrels one evening. We go to bed that night with the screens open to a delicate late-spring breeze.
The KOBELCO 235SRlc excavator weighs 57,300 pounds. The twin tracks support a steel-reinforced carriage house and 148 hp Mitsubishi engine. There are 10 eight-inch teeth in its smiling bucket, a scoop that can gobble enough dirt in one bite to bury the car in your driveway.
I open my eyes to the sound of it. A clackclackclacking sound makes its way up our street and I think of a scene in Saving Private Ryan. The noise tears the quiet morning to pieces. Our house shakes. Buzzing noises come from deep within the walls.
"What's that?" the house asks. I gaze out the bedroom window at the yellow KOBELCO, its bucket head swinging one way then the other, finally nosing the ground like a friendly brontosaurus having a breakfast of grass. "It's starting!" I tell Peggy.
Another KOBELCO arrives, then another. Now the herd of brontosauri are chomping concrete, pieces of curb dribbling from their mouths like breadcrumbs. The force of the weight dropped into the dump trucks makes the vehicles bounce wildly on all 12 wheels. The men in fluorescent shirts pivot and swing the long necks of their machines, barely missing electric wires above, combing the shovel across the terrain with the gentle precision of a mother tending a toddler's hair.
Speaking of toddlers, after a few days of excavation, here they come, too. Including my nephew Billy, who sits in our front yard hammock in his mother's lap and points in all directions, delighted that the workers are doing exactly as he instructs.
Visiting with neighbors during this time is an exercise in rock-show shouting. We have to yell into each other's grill to be heard. It doesn't matter. There's a twisted thrill in seeing your tax dollars tear your street to smithereens.
July. The honeymoon is pulling to the curb, or what used to be the curb. The formerly friendly Mr. KOBELCO has turned into the loud uncle who won't leave the reception. By now he's joined by other rude party guests, rowdies who hunker down for the undetermined duration. Giant tanks of diesel fuel. Ginormous detachable elements that belong to the KOBELCO family are scattered across the berm of our yards like iron skulls. A gang of cute but loud-as-hell bulldozers push piles of our neighborhood around. They sleep every night out front like hobos.
Every day is different now. And the same. Half-block-long holes so deep the workers disappear into them are filled in at day's end only to be re-dug in the morning. The backup beeps start at 7 a.m. sharp. This is annoying in two ways: the wakeup part of it, and because it's a reminder that these guys work a helluva lot harder than yours truly.
August. The Summer of Boom has overtaken us. The rumor mill is in a full run. "They won't be done until after school starts," goes one rumor. "They're coming back next year to do it all over again," goes another. These are the chants of people on the brink of madness. We no longer cheerfully wave across the melee to one another. We stand stone-faced, breathing through our mouths, staring blankly through the orange dust that coats our homes inside and out.
Our household's contact with the workers and the city has been positive. But that doesn't change the fact that this crap takes a dang toll. We are now lab rats. Conditioned to ignore backup beeps. This morning as the gravel crunched beneath the gargantuan BOMAG BW 211 roller, I biked away to work, docile and compliant, finally forced from the Branch Davidian Compound.