Once Upon a Time in Albuquerque…

The house was brand new, built to  “order” as part of a builder’s development. The back wall of the yard was cinderblock, and beyond the wall was the school yard. Milly liked the idea of looking over the back wall and watching her children walk up to the doors of the school.

One of the big “selling points” for Macon Builders was the school. They were not in charge of building the school, but Macon could point to the brand-new school as an enticement to prospective buyers.

The school was supposed to be completed and open in the fall of 1964. Assorted strikes slowed the construction. Not only were there strikes involving different groups of workers on the project,  but the supply chain was in disarray. Some materials were in short supply because of different disputes with union workers.

Even though the construction was slow, the school attracted more families with small children to the area, and other subdivisions sprang up around it. When the school was finally completed and open in 1967, it was already far too small for the number of children in the area.

Two years later, they brought in portable classrooms. These portable classrooms were called “barracks buildings” by the community. No Army surplus was involved in the purchase, but the name stuck.

Barracks buildings provided extra classroom space at many schools in the district. Bringing in these fully-built units did not require the years of construction and cost-overrun it would take to add on to all of the schools. Everybody won with this arrangement — several of the school board members owned the company that provided the portable buildings.

These barracks buildings provided another purpose. Blocked from view with a cinderblock wall on one side and a square metal building on the other, an alley market sprang to life. Local preteens found it to be the perfect smoking section, free of prying adult eyes. Older teenagers bought, sold, and traded pot, pills, and pilferage.

Neighbors called the city to complain. The police were not interested in these petty complaints, as they were never able to catch any drug sales in the act. Due to the layout of the school yard, the teens could scatter before the cops could reach them. The school system shrugged it off. These problems were not happening during school hours, and the culprits were not their students. This is an elementary school, for goodness sake!

Summer dragged on. The neighborhood was losing patience with the situation. Now piles of trash were building up in the alleyway. As school was not in session, the school system did not have any groundskeepers actively policing the corners of the schoolyard.

Preteens smokers are careless. Being children, they don’t think consequences through very well. When they heard a noise and scattered quickly, their discarded butts were tossed into a pile of trash to hide the evidence.

The garbage smoldered quietly, spreading lazily from pile to pile, until a stray breeze fanned it into flames.

As flames licked up the wooden steps, the neighbors saw the smoke. Several neighbors had called the Fire Department to report the fire, and were impatiently waiting for the fire trucks to arrive.

Flames were now dancing against the side of the building. “This is bullshit!” Dave yelled, he grabbed his garden hose from his back yard. Herb and Johnson quickly followed suit. The three men aimed their water hoses at the building, stopping the fire from engulfing it. The steps and landing were a total loss, but the quick action by the neighbors meant the building did not catch fire.

The Fire Chief was not amused. “What the hell did you think you were doing?” he shouted at the bewildered neighbors. They had expected a word of thanks. Possibly a pat on the back for a job well done. Wildfire is a problem in dry desert areas – an untended spark can rapidly blow up into an inferno – and the neighbors had no intention of losing their homes without a fight.

Red faced and blustering, the Fire Chief harangued the men. “I oughta have you all arrested! Interfering with the  Fire Department!

Shame on them for saving their homes…