When Genovese shows up around 1:30, he jokes that he's feeling numb. He had hoped to start building his other spec home, located up the hill from site 151, almost three months ago. But the grading there is much more complicated than it is at this site, and Genovese has run into delay after delay at the county's building department. "It's a real hassle getting something done here," he complains. "It's unbelievable. Takes months and months and months. There's so much conversation and so much engineering and so much re-engineering. And so much of it is repetitive. Every time you go into County, you're looking at a wait of anywhere from two weeks to five weeks. And they change the rules on the fly."
He has decided to begin the work at site 151 and move on to the second spec house a few weeks later. Despite his frustration with the bureaucrats, he looks relaxed and happy. "You've got to be prepared to work at it. You've got to focus on the goal and go for it. You've got to be diligent."
The first pour
September 27, 2002
Before the first concrete is poured, even though trenches have been dug and lined with planks of wood, even though rods of steel have been run through the trenches and more steel has been laid in a complex lattice across the expanses that the trenches surround, the site still feels like a part of the natural world. Birds and insects and animals might be at home on it.
But once the gloppy concrete has been squirted into the enclosures, once it's been spread out, smoothed, and made flat and featureless, something profound changes. Humans have marked this piece of the earth.
At site 151, this drama begins to unfold at 6:00 a.m. with the arrival of the pump that will help the workers get the concrete where they want it. The pump is mounted on a ten-wheeled truck, and it's attached to what looks like a gigantic boom. As each concrete mixer arrives, it dumps its contents into the back of the truck; then the pump impels the slurry up to the top of the crane and down a pipe that can be directed with a remote-control device. Attached to the pipe is a hose. Today a burly older worker is muscling around the nozzle on the hose to aim the stream of the semi-liquid material.
The workers expect to pour at least 200 yards of concrete -- more than 25 truckloads. Six concrete mixers will share the job of transporting it from an Escondido plant to site 151. After each one dumps its load, it will return for another load, a 90-minute round-trip.
Genovese is on the scene early. Beyond all the permit reviews, a lot of work has already taken place to advance the project to this point. Soil engineers have analyzed the site, which Genovese says "is actually very good to build on. This is solid rock and stone. It's all decomposed granite." A structural engineer has studied the plans and calculated "how much steel to put in and what sort of concrete should be utilized to bear the weight of the house." A plumber has laid out the pipes that will be buried underneath the concrete slab. "That's usually all the drains and the initial gas feed, that kind of stuff," Genovese says.
The soil has been compacted and covered with a layer of sand. Sheets of Visqueen have been placed on top to serve as a barrier against moisture, and more sand has been layered over the plastic. "Then the concrete guys lay all the steel that's in the footings and in the pads," Genovese explains. The concrete being poured today will make the fragile-looking network of steel part of a monolithic structure, massive enough to anchor whatever's built on top of it, an immobile base in the face of wind or shaking of the ground.
When it's first deposited within one of the forms, the concrete looks like loose mud. But a crew of maybe 15 men perform a complex ballet to transform the rough material into a finished product. First they stomp through the muck, using shovels and their rubber-booted feet to spread it out. Several workers scramble to flatten it further. Some drag a long wooden board over it, while others wield a tool that looks like a giant potato masher. Later they switch to using trowels: handheld ones around the edges and a huge one attached to a 20-foot-long pole for the interior expanses. As the concrete firms up, the men continue smoothing and refining, like bakers perfecting the frosting of a cake. What they wind up with is a flat, level surface. It doesn't have to be flawless. None of the concrete poured today will be exposed to the eventual occupant. Every inch will later be covered with stone or carpet.
Watching the men work, Genovese comments on the fact that they're all "of Mexican persuasion." They're all working hard, he notes with approval. "They all could be on the dole. But they're not. They're all working. Making a living. From that perspective, I have a lot of pride in them. They work hard and we didn't have to give it to them." The politicians who want to give government handouts to the poor "are gradually destroying this nation," he thinks. "It really annoys me because I've lived 62 years, and this is a wonderful country. If you can't make it here, you can't make it anywhere. There is no reason why an individual in this country has to be anything other than living a decent life. And yet we have them all around us, because we intentionally make them dependent upon us." It irks Genovese when people assume that wealth results from luck. "There's no such thing as luck," he declares. "You do your homework. You press. And then it appears as if you were lucky." The man who will buy this house from him won't have been lucky, he predicts. He'll be "a smart guy who worked hard and was able to go out and get enough money to buy this house." The concrete laborers might be just as smart, but most of them will throw their money away instead of starting their own businesses, he states. "That's how America has been built: you start your own business when you know your trade well enough. But you've also got to know how to sell. You've got to know how to control people. 'Cause they all need control. That's the biggest pitfall for many people: they can't deal with the people issues. That's why they never become the boss."