Once upon a time I had sort of a view from my Dallas apartment. I looked down on a concrete pad next door and then over to the next yard, where people from the old apartment building there would let their dogs out to pee. Beyond the trees bordering that yard was a parking lot and then Oak Lawn with the strip of stores on the other side. However, soon after I moved in I got to watch the construction next door. Often we note that something is being built but we don’t often get to watch it in progress.
First guys came in teams to do the framing, the siding, the windows, the roof. One of the framing guys stood at the corner of his studs on the third storey, perhaps to survey his work. It made my stomach jump. The windows and outside siding guys used a seemingly flimsy kind of scaffold made up of two tall lightweight supports with a narrow walkway across it. The walkway moved up and down with a mechanism. As the man walked or worked, the whole contraption swayed and that too made my stomach jump.
I sat out on the metal fire escape walkway. I had a chair out there for when I was smoking. Usually the guys knew I was there but they seemed a little shy of acknowledging me. However, sometimes they did. I had a short conversation with a young man from Guanaguato. He looked about 18 and I wondered how he had arrived there. Did he have to cross the border as we see on TV or did he drive across somehow?
One young man was a saw professional. He cut the side boards for the stairs and carried them over to be installed. Not only was he accurate with the saw, but he was also very strong.
The place was ugly. The designer, if he can be called that, did not look at the neighbourhood at all, it seems. It was all angles and there was no architectural interest. When the building supervisors or whoever they were came to supervise, they talked down to the workers. One in particular, a handsome middle aged obviously educated and from a good home man, talked like a professor. He would say It is preferable instead of it is better, for example. He did not know how to talk to the people who worked for him. I certainly did not hear any Spanish from him, in spite of the fact that the workers were all Mexican or Mexican-American.
A lot of the work was tedious. I watched the guys who had to fill around the boards and joints and windows and also fill in nail holes. I was curious to see what colour the next team would paint it and what was going to cover the rest of the green sheathing.
These guys were stocky, shortish. And strong. I watched the painter move a ladder, a two storey ladder when it was folded down. Not only did he have to pick it up, but he had to balance it more or less upright to get down the narrow space beside the building. Sometimes I saw him move the ladder while he was on it! He would balance it off the wall slightly and bounce it over. More stomach clenching for the watcher. It reminded me of some Mayan daredevils I saw at Expo 86 man years ago.
These were going to be four 2-bedroom townhouses. From the framing, it looked like the second bedroom would be fairly small and the living room and kitchen were all the same room. Snug.
There used to be a somewhat derelict old apartment building where this new one is going up. If it was like the one next door, it had four apartments in it and probably a big back yard like that one. But this new one had two car garages included in the town homes because cars rule in Dallas.
I was impressed at the level of hard physical work that these men did. Just before I left, I saw some women working inside, but they were cleaning and doing less structural work. All these people worked hard and I certainly hope they were paid accordingly.
And this was a good example of the kind of in-fill building in Dallas. There was little effort to fit the new buildings into the neighbourhood. It was interesting to watch but sad to see.