Downtown Diary: Dust, Backhoes, and Bones
by Jennifer Burton
Posted on March 6, 2006
Living in an urban area, you get used to certain city noises. I no longer notice the sound of buses or traffic. I can completely ignore sirens. I have even trained myself to ignore the kids who think it's funny to arbitrarily press the buzzer downstairs. When Club Vallare (or Club Foot -- whatever that place was called) was across the street, I could sleep through the ritual Saturday night fights and subsequent police brutality, nine out of 10 times. I almost miss the interjections of “I’m gonna kick your ass!” “Yo nigga’!” and “that mothafucka’ said what?” into my REM. It made my dreams a lot more interesting. Now, those guys cruising with the systems -- that’s another story. There are few things more annoying than the sound of one’s windows rattling and at times cracking at 3 a.m. because some wing nut cranks the 60 hertz range on his stereo so loud it could make an old woman start ovulating. You know who you are. Just because you have glass packs and a phat system, that doesn’t make up for your penis size, so give it a rest. Oh, yeah, and by the way -- that range of sound increases sperm count, so that phat system of yours might just get you a lot more than you were bargaining for.
There is one thing I can’t sleep through, though -- try as I may -- the sound of a loader dropping slabs of concrete right outside my window in the middle of what used to be Mesa Street. Another example? Jackhammers. Or how about the sound of a backhoe ripping out pavement at 4 a.m. As you may or may not know, Mesa Street from Mills to San Antonio has now been reduced to a trough, and it’s rumored that the construction to repave it will take three to four months. The first day they started working on Mesa Street, they didn’t finish up until 5 the next morning. Even big kids get cranky when they can’t get their mismis, and I was not a happy Jenni. I sat up all night thinking -- so, is this how it’s going to be for the next three months?
Thankfully, the late nights have not returned. The latest they’ve worked on the street has been about 8 p.m., but still…I have more pressing concerns. When they tear up the sidewalk in front of the entrance to my building, which I’m sure they will do eventually, how the hell are we supposed to get in and out of the building? A friend offered to lend me rappelling gear, but still -- I don’t live in a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. The thought of strapping my new baby into my sling and rappelling down the side of the building on the Texas Avenue side to go grocery shopping, move my car, or take a walk -- it’s amusing but unrealistic to say the least. Are they going to have a plank available at least? How is this going to work?
My first question when they started construction was, why didn’t they do this six years ago when they remodeled Texas Avenue and Oregon? Wasn’t that the plan? After speaking with my neighbor who used to work as a civil engineer for the city, I found out why. Apparently the Mesa Street and the Union Fashion building used to be burial ground prior to the establishment of Concordia Cemetery. When I first heard about the cemetery from my neighbor, I was very curious. I queried local historian Leon Metz regarding the validity and boundaries of this cemetery, and he replied that the ground on which the Popular Dry Goods Building (currently Union Fashion) was constructed was formerly a Masonic burial ground. Kit Carson’s brother, Moses Carson was buried there. I guess there are more wealthy specters inhabiting that property than just emaciated fresas sporting the latest piece of tasteless Donatella Versace prêt-a-porter. Not only was that area a Masonic cemetery, but the entire Downtown area past the Plaza Theatre area (the theatre was nonexistent at the time of these cemeteries), which was the de facto town boundary at the time, was pretty much a free-for-all. According to Metz, “most graves were -- as the newspapers usually stated -- north of town. In other words, once you got … north of Franklin Street, the graveyard was anywhere you wanted to dig. No particular boundaries.”
Metz went on to say that, “What is now Cleveland Square originally began as a cemetery. Bodies were buried all over the place in that vicinity, including under some of today's streets. Even early Fort Bliss had a cemetery in what is now Cleveland Square, although the dates elude me.” Anyway, it seems that there were some legal issues with tearing up the street because of its history as a cemetery, and it’s taken this long to hash it all out. Which brings us to another interesting point, if they find bones, EVERYTHING HAS TO STOP. The construction site will transmogrify into an archeological dig, and that could go on indefinitely. You’ve got to figure it takes a long time to sift through that much space with a tiny pick and a shaving brush.
That apparently hasn’t happened, though you have to suspect if a bone is found, the foreman is going to do everything possible to cover it up, “What bones? Oh, no man…that was just some concrete -- nothing to worry about. Okay, who called that professor?”
Though I love archeology as a science, and I would really hate to see some lost city or something get bulldozed over, I just want this over with. I’m sick of inhaling concrete dust and putrid soil. I’m sick of waking up at 6:30 a.m. on the weekends to the sound of a loader hauling around concrete slabs, and the incessant beep of the equipment backing up. I’m tired of the piles of dust that I see in the corners of my apartment. I’m looking forward to using the street again, and I’m worried about the consequences of inhaling all of that particulate matter, too. My son’s been wheezing in the mornings, and I have to wonder if it’s just allergies because of the short winter, a cold passed to him at school, or if it’s the construction material.
Not only are these things a concern, but what about the businesses? My business doesn’t rely on walk-in traffic, so it’s not really a worry for me, but I’m sure there are some really pissed-off retail owners who are seeing a toll on their profits. When Mills and El Paso Streets (in front of the Mills building) were reconstructed a few years ago, I saw two really well-to-do businesses close down in response to traffic loss -- The San Francisco Bar and Grill and Sojourns Coffee House. The Plaza Building went on to be virtually uninhabited until construction of the Plaza Theatre began. One gets a sense that these businesses were almost kicked out in a way to make room for the proposed theatre, and one has to wonder if that’s a clandestine intention in all this, or if it’s just one of the perks that comes with the territory. I only mention this because of the word circulating around of high-end retail being brought in to replace the bodegas and dollar stores. I know they’re an eyesore, and I know everyone would prefer to have Neiman Marcus in the Kress, but that’s someone’s livelihood. That little shop that sells those cheap knickknacks affords someone independence and stability, and most of them are female-owned and employ their kids as well. No one is ever going to remove the lust for bargains around here, so it might as well be coming from a family business.
You know, I could go on about this forever, but it’s 8 a.m., and the construction has stopped temporarily (I suppose everyone’s headed out for breakfast), and I really want to take a nap while I can. Sometimes you have to pick your battles …
* * *
Most Viewed Stories
- Bad Moon Rising: The Crisis in Ciudad Juarez
- FORUM Arts and Culture: Contemporary Art (and Money) Matter
- Dove season
- Allen Appointed Police Chief
- Police Chief Finalists Named; Public Forum is Tonight, March 27
- King Midas on the Move
- City Council Notes & Quotes 05.25.04
- TribBlog: Sun Bowl to Oklahoman: Drop Dead
- El Paso ISD Embraces Honest Grading, Sort Of
- Open Letter to Angry UTEP Miner Fans