17 October 2009

A Front Row Seat to "Progress" at 12:26 a.m.

With each concussive blow, the shock wave traveled from the heavy moving equipment working on the Crosstown reconstruction project to my house, shaking the house, and making it impossible to sleep.

That’s right. They were doing this at 12:26 a.m. this morning.

Sleep. Ha.

For the past few weekends, work crews working on the project have been taking down parts of the old freeway infrastructure (as there is a freeway wall in the way, I can never tell which) starting around 10 p.m. Friday nights, and going until the early morning hours. Usually, this is something we can eventually tune out, but last night was the worst yet. I’m not sure what they were doing, but it sounded like a war zone outside.

The jackhammers were the machine guns, the heavy equipment (probably bulldozers) was the tanks, and whatever was hitting the ground and causing my house to shake was the artillery. I’d gone to bed reading a book called “One Soldier’s War,” written by a Russian solider who had fought in Chechnya, and it reminded me of a passage he’d written about being on the front lines in a trench, trying to sleep. I’ll paraphrase: you sleep, but you don’t really sleep.

After 15 minutes of this, my normally-calm wife let loose a torrent of profanity, and went to go look out the front window. Not only were they working, but they lit up the entire scene using four or five of the brightest floodlights I’d ever scene. It was like they were playing night baseball with Cats. I shot some video of the scene, providing my own narration, and went back to bed, or tried to. Somehow, our 10-month-old never woke up.

My wife borrowed my earplugs and eventually went to sleep, and I contented myself, using “One Soldier’s War” as a sort of metaphor: I was behind the front lines, I was warm and safe, and I could deal with the noise. Eventually, I fell asleep.

This project has been going on for more than a few years now, and in that time, we've seen our freeway wall taken down (meaning friends could see our Christmas tree from the freeway, a sort-of nice benefit) and rebuilt, our front street torn up and redone, and have fallen asleep more than once to a symphony of back-up alarms, compacting rollers and the banging gates of dump trucks.

We've had windows crack. We've had things fall off of shelves. We have worried, at times, that our 60-year-old house won't take the strain. Somehow, the old girl always holds together.

There have been times when I've wanted to go out and ask the workers when they'll be done, or if they have any clue how much this activity affects the lives of the people who are closest hit by it. Ultimately, I realize that these workers are mere cogs in a huge machine, and talking to them would be about as effective as sneezing at a dragon. I scheme about recording the noise with the best equipment money can buy, renting a flatbed truck covered in speakers, finding the homes of the heads of the project, and blaring to them, in the middle of the night, just exactly what we fall asleep (or don't) on a regular basis).

"What's that, officer? You say this noise level is criminal? Well, that's exactly the point I'm trying to make!"

It's evil, I admit. But a lack of sleep can do that to people.

I understand the need to fix the infrastructure we use every day, and I understand why they do it at night. But this is our home. We can't go anywhere else. the reconstruction project is something that’s easy to understand during the daylight hours, when you aren’t trying to go to sleep amid utter cacophony. It’s amazing how important things can shrink in comparison when matched against needed sleep.

The best part about this entire experience is that, as in the past, we will no doubt get some form letter from MnDOT on Monday morning, days late and written by someone who lives in a place like Prior Lake and doesn’t fall asleep to construction noise, that we could expect some noise disturbances from night construction Friday night.

I’ll hang on to that letter. I will no doubt use it, in the form of chewed up paper, to make crude earplugs to try and blot out the sounds of “progress.”

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