Over at Sweet Juniper, a wonderful blog about life in Detroit, there’s a very thoughtful post about scrap metal and scrappers: Deconstruction. I highly recommend reading it. It captures a lot of the thoughts I’ve had to myself about my own encounters with scrapping and metal theft, but puts ’em a lot more eloquently than I ever have.
I live just across the highway from a large concentration of scrapyards here in St. Louis, and thus have to contend on a very frequent basis with the spectre of scrap metal theft. Scrap metal theft is not an occupation pursued by anyone who has much in the way of options or resources, and thus many scrappers (thieves, especially) they don’t want to travel far between theft and the ‘yard, and thus we take a solid and relentless whoppin’ from them here on the Near North Side. Famously, even the plaque denoting the location of the Big Mound that gave St. Louis the nickname Mound City has disappeared, leaving naught but a rectangular indent in the rock it once adorned. The building I live in had metal stolen from it (plumbing, sewer service, cornice, etc.) so many times that my landlord ended up moving in to the building well before it had working plumbing, because she had no choice. Something about the fact that scrappers hit the Near North Side so hard seems particularly sick–I mean shit, go pick on an area that’s got resources to spare. Steal from someone who’s not poor.
Then again, these days, with Blairmont-fueled brick rustling (and the semi-regular “accidental” fire) eating my community alive and making whole blocks completely vanish off the face of the earth in a matter of months, scrap metal theft seems almost quaint. Stealing the plumbing out of a building punches holes in its walls, incurs thousands of dollars in costs, and makes the difference between a rehab you can move into right away and one that requires you to simultaneously maintain a mortgage and rent…. But it doesn’t immediately condemn the building to certain death. Stealing a sheet metal cornice and/or guttering rips bricks down and can bring on a slow, painful, multi-year death, but again, the building still can be saved, especially if the owner acts quickly. Not so with brick rustling, especially when flames are involved. Brick rustling is also much more physically dangerous to the thief himself–brick thieves work by standing at the bottom of a three story building and hacking with an ice-pick or similar tool at shoulder height until part of the wall collapses, at which point they harvest the bricks. Seriously, the police need to start taking this seriously before one of these idiots kills himself. It’s going to happen. It’s only a matter of time–trust me, I’ve watched them work, often on buildings near to my home and to my heart. Man, I remember when I only used to worry about the theft of radiators and pipes and the occasional terra cotta medallion…….. Sigh.