Porta potties and plans, dumpsters and dreams

For the better part of a year, the view from my kitchen has been a porta potty, a dumpster and a messy construction site.  While I don’t blame the new neighbors who bought the house across the street and are making substantial improvements, it just happens to be my luck that I am living in a construction zone.

It’s a common phenomenon in Northern California and other areas where there’s no bare land left in the most desirable neighborhoods – those with good schools and close to jobs.  Here, it makes sense to buy an older home and either raze it to build a new house, or make significant upgrades to it.  So most people experience construction on their streets at one time or another, and many themselves have undertaken remodeling projects.  We appreciate that our neighbors’ upgrades are likely to benefit our own property values, and we accept construction as inevitable, especially when long-time owners sell their homes to young families.

Even though neighbors of a home under construction don’t suffer the stress that owners experience with unforeseen difficulties and delays, we endure “construction spillover”  that grates on one’s nerves nonetheless.  So for example, my quiet cul-de-sac has become chaotic, especially since a home farther down the block recently completed a two-year renovation.  Tranquility has been overtaken by trucks, jackhammers, roofing hammers, contractors hollering to each other, table saws in the yard, musica ranchera on the radio, or rock hits on 107.7 “The Bone.”

There has been a steady stream of workers, although very few dogs – I’m thankful there aren’t more subs with pit bulls on this job.  While some days are noisy and others less so, the thing that plagues me most is the increased volume of traffic on our street.  Although the owners have tried to get workers to park in front of their house, there are simply too many vehicles to fit over there.  On many days, it seems that laborers with the oldest, dirtiest trucks like to park directly in front of my home.  Inevitably, guys return to their vehicles to eat lunch or make phone calls, and I get to pick up stray napkins and food wrappers after they’re gone for the day. 

Thus on a sociological level, it is interesting how a group of people can move in and take over a place that doesn’t actually belong to them.  To me it seems obvious that a contractor would regard the neighbors of someone whose home he is remodeling as potential sources of new business — that he would want to be courteous, keep his job site clean, etc.  But instead, the one working across the street for the past ten months has yet to introduce himself or even wave hello to me.  The view I have while preparing my family’s meals is something he treats like a trash heap.  Clearly our perspectives differ.

Get this much straight, though: I am not angry with the new homeowners.   In fact, my new neighbor dropped by on a particularly zany day last week to apologize for the “mayhem” – I honestly told her not to worry, there’s nothing she can do about it, and this is simply how it is.  It helps to know we’re approaching the end – they will move in, construction will be finished (in that order!), the house will be beautiful, and our street will return to its prior peaceful state.

So enough of the rant – is there a point here?  Yes.  But it involves acknowledging an ugly truth about myself, not just complaining about construction on my street.  Here we go:

Do I blame people like my new neighbors for remodeling and inconveniencing me? No, not at all.  Would I do it myself if I had the money set aside? Sure, in a heartbeat.  I would feel bad about the effects on my neighbors, but that would not stop me from wanting to improve my home.

Wait a minute, though: now I’m starting to sound like my previous post on wanting personal progress, even if it’s just a little bit.  I’m not asking for a wholesale upgrade to my home, after all — maybe just a 20% improvement.  But here’s the rub: I know that with the 20% improvement in hand, I would start to see other things that hadn’t bothered me before.  The cycle of “wanting” would start all over again.

This preoccupation with getting “just a little bit more” is built-in to human nature – it might be expressed in acquiring a nicer home, better job, fatter stock portfolio, access to certain social circles, or improving one’s golf handicap or tennis game.  It’s one thing to accept intellectually that I need to be content with where I am – I know this is what the Bible teaches, that millions of people in this world would trade places with me in an instant, that contrary to Gordon Gecko’s wisdom, greed is not good.  But denying this aspect of my nature is harder than it seems.

In fact, many of us were trained to view every stage of our lives as preparation for the next phase, and we are passing this ethos on to our own children.  We worked hard in school to make good grades that helped us get into college.  Then, if we continued to apply ourselves, we attained attractive jobs or prestigious graduate degrees.  As we continued to work hard, luck might have played a part, but by golly, we pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps to enjoy the life we now have.  And we haven’t stopped setting goals: maybe we’re saving for our kids’ tuition, our retirement, a vacation home, or planning that trip we never had the time to take.

It’s not that dreams are bad.  Setting goals, planning and achieving are all good things.  But the problem is, when I focus so much on my own plans, I fail to notice other people and the good things right in front of me.   I can be so wrapped up in the future, I miss out on today.

So I’m going to do a better job of appreciating the present moment.  I’ve committed to this awareness before, but I’ve failed.  That’s okay: I’m starting again.  Today.

Until the trucks in the street are gone, though, maybe I should work on appreciating the present moment from my backyard.


  1. I feel your pain. We live just downstream of Larry Ellison’s 6 year earth-moving and lake-building mega-project.

  2. My tiny apartment bathroom reno turned into an excavation project. My neighbors who work from home surely suffered. But the social benefit of reno work is that it provides some much-needed jobs in construction which has been devastated by the housing collapse.

  3. Well that is quite an examination! At our house, the remodeling is taking place behind close doors, so only the trucks are annoying our neighbors….

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