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Living the Good Life Under Siege

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Jeanne Jackson is a writer

The once-peaceful little community of Manhattan Beach is more like the aftermath of a war zone these days than the cozy bedroom beach town that it used to be. With the real estate market having gone through the roof, there is hardly a block in town that doesn’t have at least one piece of property being demolished or under construction.

With the settled citizenry watching helplessly, the steel gray fences surround a piece of land that used to belong to a friend or, at the very least, a familiar neighbor. Soon men crawl all over the house dismantling it piece by piece. The bulldozer, still warm from its previous job, arrives to tear down the remaining structure and then pull every tree, bush and plant from the ground. Ancient Chinese elms, monumentally sized eucalyptus trees and massive bouganvilleas join the growing casualty list.

To replace this flora the first thing that is planted on the empty rectangle of dirt is the green Action Co. porta-potty, the ultimate weapon in visual invasion. It stands like an alien sentinel through the entire building period.

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The workers’ leaky old cars and trucks crowd the streets in front of each construction site. Cement trucks and lumber or roofing material delivery vehicles form blockades all over the city. Every day we are greeted early in the morning with the screeches of saws, the pounding of hammers passing for gunfire and the ensuing smoky dust filling the sky until 5 or 6 in the evening.

In contrast to the junkers that line the streets, there are the brand new, shiny Lexuses, Infinitis, and immaculate SUVs slowly driving by, circling like vultures--filled with people hoping to transfer into the area or contractors looking for new lots to conquer. Real estate agents, the hovering generals, try to stay on top of the ever-changing makeup of their hard-won territory.

As the density of the city increases and the cost of housing in the area skyrockets, long, hard hours are required in the workplace. The civility of the commuting drivers bottoms out on Friday afternoons. People who can afford to live here didn’t get that way by being gentle souls. Taking turns at a four-way stop is often life-threatening.

Many of us have a strong sense of being trapped. Spoiled and trapped. Spoiled by the money, the weather and the convenience. Trapped by the inability to move anywhere else to have the same benefits, but surrounded by less traffic, a slower pace and more space.

The only thing left to do is to circle the wagons and shop early for provisions to avoid going out on Fridays. Better still, try to focus on how much money we’re going to make if we ever sell and move to another location that isn’t quite the heaven we’ve led ourselves to believe Manhattan Beach is. Or used to be.

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