The engine of Dad’s new truck putters along Vermont Street as he points out the window, saying that one is new, did you see this one last time you were up? because we are killing time, because small town post offices close for a lunch hour, and we have to send Christmas presents. But it’s a fifteen-minute drive home, and fifteen minutes back, so instead we putter around and point out construction crews in what seems to be this small-town housing boom.
I don’t feel excitement in the asphalt shingles, Tyvek-wrapped walls, and hydro-seeded lawns of this new housing development, but rather a dread. And not just because I know in five years all these homes will have roofs patched in blue tarp, ATVs parked in the front yard, and broken-down-restoration-project-cars on flat tires, and not just because I know the types of people who elect to move to towns like this, and how their prejudice grows in these homogenous North Idaho towns. Instead I feel this overwhelming sense of dread because this is not the first housing boom I’ve seen.
It was ten years ago, but I still feel the 08/09 recession in my hometown. The same developer pushing out these too-hastily-built homes was here ten years ago, buying up property across from my junior high and building. But when the New York Bankers decided to take advantage of deregulation and sub-prime mortgages, pushing and pushing until the whole thing bottomed out from underneath them, the developer pulled out, leaving the unskilled laborers of my hometown jobless. The fruits of their labor stood bare-boned winter after winter, and while their subfloors were catching all the rain, slush, and snow of a North Idaho winter, I watched the families of the construction workers, my friends, go from rolling in the American dream, to enrolling in the welfare programs their conservative politics so despised.
While my mother was being held back from a full-time position so the school districtcould save the money, the half-built houses were being torn down and turned to fuel because at least the warmth from the 2x4s and the smoke coming off could remind the construction-workers-turned-welfare-queens of bonfires and happier times.
So a decade later, when Dad and I are trying to kill time until the post office workers get back from lunch, I do not see prosperity in the newly paved driveways, the freshly-planted oak trees, and the young families filling the properties, I see Spirit Lake Idaho hanging in the balance, and I wonder when it’ll fall next.