We returned home after an errand to find both cats missing. In cat years, they’re about as old as we are, and so not as inclined to adventure or escape as they once were. There was a time when this would have kicked off a full-scale search-and-rescue mission by both of us, rounding blocks while calling their names. We finally learned the range of the escapees was smaller than that, but no less difficult to trace. One such breakout ended in the shambles of a neighbor’s old garage, among the abandoned debris behind a door which would no longer fully open. Another ended when the fugitive showed up on the front porch, unfazed as we were frantic, expecting nothing more than access to the food dish.
A search of the usual nap places turned up nothing. Likewise the usual hiding spots. That left the only remaining possibility; the basement. As I flicked on the light and called out, small meows came back to me. From behind the furnace, with sooty paws and fur, they crept forth, fear moderated only by the light and my voice. With us home, they were willing to be coaxed back into the house, if warily, darting glances left, right and behind, yet unsure whether to trust.
With both cats urged back inside, the cause of their fear made itself known. First, an audible thud, then a tremor felt underfoot through the floor joists, foundation and framing. Then, another; thud-shake. Like a car crash, followed by a mini-quake. Each time, both cats flinched with second thoughts.
A block over, along the four-lane street, stand several old retail structures. One combines a grocery whose shelves consisted mostly of beer, wine and cigarettes; a fine old house built when the street was still home to residences but reduced to a gift shop long ago; a doughnut shop in the fast-food style of the 60s; and a sometime car repair business, housed in a relocated gas station building. Next to it stood an unfinished shop building; tall, thick concrete walls, no roof, an open space where large roll-up doors were to have been. The construction had been aborted for a decade or more.
Along this two-hundred foot long stretch of properties, redevelopment notices had been posted. Large yellow bulldozers and shovels had been brought in and the demolition had begun. The small wood-frame stuff yielded easily, but today’s attack was launched at the concrete shell of the would-be shop. Each time the thick walls were assaulted, our house trembled. The cats had enough and retreated.
This is a process being repeated along the length of 15th Avenue. It started at its intersection with the main east-west artery and has been moving outward. The land supporting old, small and underused structures has become more valuable than the improvements. Each tract is giving way to multi-story buildings, typically with retail space at street level and apartments above, with the ability to generate far more revenue per square foot than the ones being torn down. A new bumper sticker has shown up on cars around the neighborhood, welcoming “…our new condo overlords”.
My sisters have lived far away from the city and the old neighborhood for years, but still despair; “Doesn’t look like Ballard anymore”. A friend I grew up with here has moved many times in the last few years, landing most lately in the city a few miles up the interstate. He is now in the same camp with my sisters, disparaging any need to drive to or through the old neighborhood.
We’re still here.
“In our time caring about a place means watching it change. It isn’t easy. Old men go around in pissy moods because the world refuses to stay the way it was. They’re angry because suddenly everyone has a personal computer and a cellular phone and nobody consulted them first; because there’s too much traffic and it moves too fast; because the woods where they’ve hunted all their lives have been divided into lots, and the lakes where they’ve fished all their lives have been taken over by water-skiers and personal watercraft. The world has been altered beyond recognition, and mostly in the last few years. Such rapid change can induce a landed, physiological version of divers bends. The psyche, unable to adapt, becomes poisoned and bent with pain. One symptom is a tendency to bellow at the TV; another, irritation with strangers.”
The River Home: An Angler’s Explorations by Jerry Dennis
Copyright 1998 by Jerry Dennis
Published by St. Martin’s Press
I told friends at work that when I shut down the corporate laptop for the last time I would declare myself a full-fledged, “get-off-my-lawn” curmudgeon, advancing from my previous self-identification as a curmudgeon-in-training. I looked forward to shedding my well-worn “nice-guy” skin, leaving it hanging like an old shirt on a shrub on my way through the commercial landscape in front of the building, while waving my arms in the air, ranting at nothing and everything, just for exercise. Once home I would crab about the neighbors dog, post “No Soliciting” signs in my front porch, write letters to the editor, gripe about politicians and taxes, frequent earlybird buffets while complaining about the food, and pretty much everything else.
It turns out that geezerhood, while largely associated with men of a certain age, is not merely granted. It must be earned. And it seems I haven’t.
For one thing, the demolition going on in the next block over doesn’t feel like a cause to rail against progress. It seems like a good idea.
None of the old buildings have any architectural or historical significance. Some of them have been there for a long while; time has not necessarily been kind. The transition over the decades from an unincorporated woods north of the city to an outpost of a few residences to a small village peopled with wood cutters, sawyers, and fishermen, to a middle class residential neighborhood absorbed by the growing city, has left 15th a confused mixture of homes-turned-business, former gas stations, brake and muffler shops, fast food shops, and a few strip joints. These represent many eras, the work of many hands, for many purposes. The one place that might be properly called a landmark is Dick’s, a local burger drive-in so revered in this town that it may account for more customer traffic and revenue than dozens of the other businesses combined.
This stretch of road is not one of the city’s showplace destinations; it’s an A-to-B thoroughfare, traveled by many to work in the morning and on the way home in the afternoon. I’ve never heard of anyone calling their real estate agent in the fond hope of finding their dream house on 15th Avenue NW.
We’re not tearing down a Penn Station or a Carnegie Library here. None of these buildings are candidates for the National Register of Historic Places.
The new office-retail-apartment complexes, already built and occupied elsewhere along this street, may be featureless cubes, but are far less ragged than the collection of worn-down, mismatched structures being demolished even as I write this. It’s a good thing, this change.
The arrival of my inner curmudgeon may be delayed indefinitely.