Where I grew up in California, we had a strange boundary system that affected our lives in many ways. Our little town wasn’t incorporated until 1964, so for most of the community’s long history, most of our public services were provided by the County of Los Angeles. That’s simple enough. The City of Los Angeles is about 30 miles away from its port on the Pacific Ocean.
The port belongs to the City, and to make sure there was no misunderstanding, the city fathers created a two-mile-wide strip of City territory that extends from the border of the City of Los Angeles to the Port of Los Angeles, an umbilical cord linking the port and its shipping facilities to its mommy. The eastern border of my hometown was and is the center of this strip, so for a mile to the west of our border we were essentially L.A., even though we were unincorporated. The good news was we had the benefit of having Los Angeles City schools, which were fine schools in those days; the bad news, especially for those of our denizens prone to, say, steal hubcaps, was that we had not only the County sheriff protecting and serving us, but we also had L.A.’s finest, the LAPD, performing the same function. After we incorporated, like many of the little communities around L.A., we hadn’t enough money to fund a whole new infrastructure, so we kept the schools and subcontracted from the County for police, but we still have the LAPD, too.
Where this is leading is to Western Avenue, which comprises the longitudinal core of the Strip. From my earliest years, Western Avenue was never all in one piece. If it wasn’t being widened, it was being dug up for new sewers. If it wasn’t being dug up for new sewers, they were putting in new telephone poles. If it wasn’t that, it was new gas lines. It seemed that every municipality involved — Los Angeles City and County, the latter-day City of Lomita, the City of San Pedro, the Port Authority, utility districts, the United States Army — you name it, they needed to mess with the road. After one group or set of groups got done, it would be time to resurface the road, just in time to dig it up to put in more new sewers. There was a rumor my whole growing up that if and when Western was finally “fixed” for good, it would be the End Times, and the destruction of the world would be upon us.
Now, if you have read this far, you are probably wondering what the roadwork background of my little natal corner of California has to do with living in north-western Turkey, as well you might: “Déjà vu all over again” (Yogi Berra, born 1925 and still kicking), that’s what.
Our village becomes part of the municipality
Our so-called village is really old; the land here was given to a few families by Sultan Süleyman I in return for their promise to watch after the Mimar Sinan Mosque (Çoban Mustafa Paşa Cami) in nearby Gebze. The great General Hannibal drank poison within sight of our home in the 2nd century B.C. As regards almost anywhere in Turkey, I could go on and on, skipping and adding historical milestones by the score. Anyway, our little village has become just a neighborhood of the Gebze Metropolitan Municipality since we’ve lived here; Kocaeli, just down the bay, has grabbed jurisdiction over several things within our erstwhile borders, especially our only antiquity and only museum. The İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality has its hand in, in the form of the İDO ferries, although I don’t think İstanbul actually owns them anymore; but it used to. The republic itself is represented by the Jandarma, although now the Gebze police also have parts of the law enforcement; the republic is also building a bridge over the eastern end of the Sea of Marmara and building a new fast train line. Finally, many of these fine entities have contracted out most of our public services, such as utilities, roads and sewers, although the contractors often put up signs that identify the work as belonging to whichever pocket the money is coming from.
This is where the “déjà vu all over again” (op. cit.) comes from: Like my beloved Western Avenue of days gone by, it seems the streets in our village will now be torn up forever and ever. Readers of this page will be familiar with the tales of the last several years of projects gone awry and promises not kept; “before Ramazan” finish dates extended over several Ramazans; diggers for natural gas breaking (and not mending) water pipes; streets dug up three or four times for the same project; very sophisticated rerouting of questions and complaints, from contractors to municipalities back to contractors, who have left the area and discontinued their phones, etc. Meanwhile, we haven’t had a banliyö (suburban) train from Gebze to İstanbul for what feels like 30 years but is probably somewhat less. Because of that, local traffic has built up enormously. It just goes on and on.
Finally, in late June and early July, it had all sort of come together locally; the train thing didn’t work out (the newly opened fast train only stops in Gebze, from one direction only, once a day, at 3 p.m.), but the roadwork did. Though “they” said there was one more phase of top-paving (?) left, the streets looked and felt great. New cobblestones were laid on the residential and “downtown” sokaks (streets), and the pavement was all the same color of black, sweeping up past the castle and on to İstasyon. Granted, there was some road racing on the weekends on that smooth expanse of asphalt, but that was a small price to pay. And then it started (repeat Yogi Berra quote): Patches began to appear all over town, lumpy globs of asphalt marring the smooth driving conditions experienced for about 10 minutes. New holes in the road, that weren’t filled up for days, opened up as if by magic. One neighbor sprang a leak in his water pipe, necessitating ripping up the brand-new cobblestones; the hole was open for weeks. Another neighbor down the way had to build a little block wall outside his house to divert the street water than now flooded his front garden. Proposed sidewalks were left to whimper. But all of this was nothing compared to what happened just a few weeks ago, in late July.
We, like most of Turkey, had had no rain since forever, when suddenly there came one of those summer gully-whumpers that just blasted the earth. It was so wonderful. Half the neighborhood men were outside in their undershirts (it was that hot) and some had umbrellas, some not. I thought, from my computer-room perch, that they were all out enjoying the rain; not. Lute called me to come look, and I airily thought, “Like I’ve never seen it rain before!” When he said to bring my camera, I thought he was losing it, but no, he wasn’t. My jaw absolutely dropped. Really.
Close to 200 new apartment buildings built
To understand the shock we felt, you should know that in the seven years we have been here, at least 100 and probably closer to 200 new apartment buildings have been built on the hill behind us. It was really annoying for the first few years, because the dirty water was going right down the stream by the castle and directly into the sea, where the fish and the gulls had a merry time playing in the water-borne sewage. It was also very pleasant for boaters, although it wasn’t hard to see the area to avoid, due to its attractive dirty-diaper color. Then someone dug a trench and put a pipe in it, so the stuff went further off-shore, and the rumor was spread that all the waste was going to the new sewage reduction plant to the west of us. I still haven’t figured out if there really is one, but the sewage of which I speak was staying local and being “reduced” in the Sea of Marmara. Anyway, the hills behind and above the train tracks continued to be carved up and developed to the point where from the sea it looks like a giant, multi-colored version of the old movie monster “The Blob” is coming down the valley to eat us all up. Needless to say, the Marmara sewage “reduction plant” has grown apace, and the fishies are getting smaller and smaller; the gulls don’t look so good, either.
Well, I guess when they put in the new sewer lines, thankfully built to handle the noisome detritus of extensive apartment construction and hopefully emptying into a REAL sewage reduction plant, they must have forgotten the rain: What we saw was the water-sheeted road boiling down the hill, until it got to our intersection, where the force of the rain-amended sewage in the brand-new sewer lines had erupted out of the brand-new manhole cover, which was bravely standing erect on its edge, trying to do its duty, but to no avail. The filthy nasty stuff flooded around the cover and gushed into the castle area to make its way to the sea, but also down the brand-new road with its unfinished sidewalks, creating waterfalls into the dirt from the street, and all the way down into town. One of my neighbors’ garage was completely flooded with sewage, and the garden of the poor man with the little block wall was completely overwhelmed as he stood helplessly by. And the smell? Even the factories of Gebze never stank that bad. I’ve got to say, the Western Avenue drama never had a third act so dramatic nor so aromatic. But it’s the same idea.
And guess what? Although they did something to the pipe a few days after the storm, it happened again, last week. Oddly, no municipality has taken credit for this yet…