In America Road Rages YOU

Posted: February 17, 2013 in The Roper Files
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Image The letters announcing meetings concerning roadwork in my neighborhood began arriving about a year ago; water and sewer lines were being upgraded. With much dread I attended each one at my local neighborhood community center. They were usually conducted by some dark-skinned man with a thick but indeterminate Middle Eastern accent and he spoke softly enough to the point I had to strain to hear him at all.

He warned us that besides the sewer, gas and water line improvements they were going to re-surface the streets; some of us were going to get sidewalks as well. And he said also; “This will not be without some pain” Some of us could expect to be inconvenienced for as long as six weeks. He had a map of our neighborhood showing which streets were going to be worked on first. So for a year I’ve been bracing for this. Last spring they called another meeting saying “work would begin soon”. I attended this one and they guy conducting it promised work would begin “soon” , last through September and be completed in November.

In July I got a letter announcing the road work was going to begin “within three days” The next day an earth-moving Cat machine was out in the street in front of my house digging a ditch in the middle of the street, kicking up huge plumes of dirt in the process. A guy with a clipboard looked in the ditch and then they filled the ditch back in with rocks and dirt, leaving a long lumpy bulge in the middle of the street. August and September rolled by; no workers. October through January saw no further work until mid January, when the city workers finally showed up and began digging up the concrete on my street and tearing down the curbs. They also dug up about half my driveway and when they finished they left about a three-foot drop from my yard to what was left of the street below.

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Now I found myself unable to park under the safety of my covered carport because I was afraid of (A) damaging either the oil pan or my transmission underneath my car and (B) getting stuck in the mud . Also there was the matter of having to park somewhere around the corner at night where keeping an eye on it was difficult at best. This wasn’t just my dilemma; everyone on my street was in the same boat. Fortunately I had a neighbor next door who was never home; most of the time she was at her boyfriend’s house elsewhere and only showed up from time to time to check her mailbox for bills. She told me it was okay to park in her driveway; the majority of my neighbors weren’t so lucky however and were now forced to park elsewhere, more often than not around a corner on the next block.    A notice was taped to my front door saying the work would be completed by February 15th.

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I began to buy everything in bulk: cases of soft drinks , larger than usual quantities of laundry soap etc. Anything to minimize the number of trips to the store. This didn’t make having to lug it a little further from around the corner any less convenient however as opposed to my usual routine of pulling into my covered carport and carrying everything just a few feet from the car to my kitchen. So I braced myself for the worst and hoped the city would proceed with the necessary construction and just get it over with. A week of unseasonably 80-degree weather went by and for the entire length of it the workers were completely AWOL. Two more weeks went by , then three. We had a couple of days of rain here and there but otherwise the weather certainly wasn’t any obstacle to completing the construction, yet the workers were still absent for almost a month.

One Saturday night the weatherman was predicting storms with possible hail so I put the car in low gear and climbed the rock and dirt incline that was left of my driveway. We had only a gentle rain but I had to wait a half a day the next day for the driveway to dry out before I felt halfway safe trying to back out of the carport and down the driveway. I backed out slowly and could feel the car sinking in the mud and heard something underneath the car scraping as I backed out into the street. (“Goddammit!”)

We had a second night of rain that turned the street into a soupy pigsty; I didn’t even attempt to drive my car into the driveway after that but even though it was nice of my neighbor to let me park in her driveway, she had a large over-grown and half-dead-looking tree with large limbs hanging precariously over my car that I prayed wouldn’t fall while I was parked underneath. After a month of this I began to wonder where the hell the work crews were; I had seen construction workers erect new banks and multi-story condominiums in less time than the city was taking with this street.

On Tuesday February 12th I had just come home from work and was unlocking my front door when I saw a large SUV coming down the street, its tires caked with wet mud and then slowly edging over the steep drop-off from the paved part from across the street down into the unpaved part of the street in front of my house. “Good luck” I thought to myself as I heard their front end scraping in the street. They stopped in front of what was left of my driveway and the passenger window rolled down. A pretty young Hispanic woman leaned out : “Excuse me do you live here?” “Yes I do”

We’re with channel 11 news; could we have a word with you?” She explained to me that someone had called in and complained about the yet-to-be-completed roadwork and asked if I would speak to them on-camera. You need an Irate Citizen? Look no further; I’m your man!

I told them Sure I’d Do It and within seconds I found a microphone and wireless transmitter being fastened to my work clothes and hidden underneath the gray “hoodie” I was wearing. Her cameraman set up a tripod and she asked me how I felt about living on a dirt road, how long it had been this way etc. I tried not to go Lewis Black on them; I smiled and joked about how “It was like living on an ole country road” and kept my language G-rated so they wouldn’t have to “bleep” me. The cameraman took shots of me looking at the street, walking across what was left of my yard and standing in the Muddy Pit of Horror that was left of my driveway.

That evening President Obama gave his State of the Union address while out on the West Coast Christopher Dorner was being roasted alive in a burning cabin while engaged in a deadly shootout with sheriffs deputies. I just knew my interview about my muddy street would wind up on the cutting room floor, buried under the weight of far more important stories. About nine-thirty or so I set the TIVO to record the news Just In Case they should get desperate enough to fill the thirty minutes of news with my trivial story and crawled into bed. The freshly washed sheets felt good to my skin as I slid into them; sleep wasn’t going to happen fast enough.

I was just on the verge of falling asleep when I heard the motor outside. Something with a large engine idling was parked outside my bedroom and I kept waiting for it to shut off, thinking it was a neighbor’s 4X4 but the engine kept running. Curiosity got the best of me and I peeked through the venetian blinds. It was a KTVT news van with a satellite antenna extended high towards the heavens and I could see a guy in a padded jacket setting up lights in the street. What the hell?

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I quickly got dressed and went outside to check it out. Just as I walked out a second vehicle pulled up in front of the van; it was the reporter I had spoken to earlier in the afternoon. “You’re big appearance is going to be on TV in just a few minutes” she told me. Joking, I asked her if they knew that Christopher Dorner had been cornered in that cabin on the West Coast (she did) then she grabbed a microphone from out of the van and went and stood out in the street in front of the lights. Apparently they were going to shoot a live remote broadcast right out in front of my house. I watched her shoot a couple of takes: “Just look at this street! It’s a muddy mess and it’s just one of several streets in this neighborhood that look like this! The homeowners here are fed up!” then I went inside to watch.

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I’ve never liked the sound of my recorded voice (“That’s me?”) and it was a little uncomfortable seeing myself on TV but sure enough the story began with a shot of their SUV tires slogging through the chocolate colored mud of my street and mud droplets splattering against the camera lens accompanied by my droll voice: “It’s like living on an ole country road…..”

But it’s NOT a country road; this is just one of several streets in this neighborhood that look like this!” the reporters voice added on to my blurb. And then I appeared shaking my shoulders like George Bush as I laughed and joked with the reporter and looking like a total dork in my blue Dickies work shirt and wearing a cap with a bright red maple leaf with the word CANADA underneath. It was about 45 or 50 degrees that day and I was shivering in the cold but I looked like I was having spasms instead. Also my age is starting to show; I turned 54 last August and as I watched myself on TV it occurred to me that I was starting to look like a cranky old geezer.

Ever have somebody insult you and later, much later you thought of the PERFECT “comeback”? I’m feeling that same sense of frustration each and every time I watch myself on this video clip; I should have told them “Pardon me”, run in the house and slipped into my Dennis Worden “I Hate You” t-shirt.

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I should have spoken on-camera with a Yakov Smirnov voice and told them: “Eet ees like living on road in Old Country” But I didn’t think of these things; this news crew caught me totally off-guard, it happened so fast and so suddenly. If nothing else I did get to vent a little bit and hopefully express the frustration the rest of the neighborhood was feeling. But the reporter said at the end of the story that she had contacted the city and the city said that the work was taking longer than usual and wouldn’t be finished until April.

Longer than usual? AprilNOW I’m going “Lewis Black” … Son of a bitch! Damn straight it’s taking longer than usual; they haven’t been doing jack-shit! No one has been doing anything. Excuse me but I thought work was defined by …oh I don’t know … actually doing something. If I performed my job like that, I’d be unemployed so fast….

The next day the work crews were (surprise!) AWOL; another 70-degree day with no work being done. Same thing the next day: nice weather…no work crews in sight. So much for the mighty power of the local news media. I Googled the local city council and found a “Contact” link and typed up a nice polite e-mail complete with a link to the video on the TV stations website and few photos of my street attached. The city did not reply to my email but two days later right before sundown late in the afternoon some construction equipment rolled up in front of my house. For a whopping 15 minutes they scrapped some rocks around with a bulldozer, drove back and forth in front of my house kicking up dirt and then once again rumbled off into the distance after making no visible change in the unpaved road. The city council must have told them to do this in front of my house just to make it look like they were actually doing something.

Ah …. progress! Just shows what you can get done when you rattle the right cages….

see the video here: http://dfw.cbslocal.com/2013/02/12/roads-ripped-out-of-historic-fort-worth-neighborhood/#respond

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