There weren’t many spectators Thursday at lunchtime.
It was kind of cold. And nothing all that exciting was happening. Some heavy, twisted debris was being scooped into dump trucks and then hauled away.
But make no mistake. The demolition phase of the River Park Square renovation has been a hit with onlookers for weeks. And subsequent stages of the project figure to be attracting small crowds in downtown Spokane for months.
“There are people who come and watch every day,” said Grant Merritt, a laborer working at the site.
Some ask questions. Some just look on as the big cranes snort and pivot.
A friend of mine who works in the Spokane Public Library has been keeping loose tabs on the spectators. And he says it’s mostly a guy thing, complete with a fair amount of father and son bonding.
Men and boys have been seen watching the demolition crews as if they were taking in a sports event. The wrecking ball’s seemingly slow-motion collisions with bricks and steel have been met with appreciative comments - “That was a good one,” “Nice hit” and “Whoa, did you see that?”
But it’s not exclusively a male fascination.
Christine Stoetzel, who was keeping an eye on her two young children, was one of those watching Thursday. It wasn’t her first time. “I like seeing the wrecking ball,” she said.
She looked out at the site. The area looked as if it had been bombed.
“The whole thing is pretty amazing,” said Frank Schifano, another onlooker.
But what really is the appeal?
Is it just an opportunity to vicariously play with big trucks? Or is it just difficult to resist this rare high-profile mingling of the benign and the dramatic?
The wrecking ball was back in action Friday morning, over near Post Street. And spectator Jon Brown had a theory.
“It’s the sound,” he said, just warming up.
“And I think it has something to do with the fact that it’s normally not OK to wreck things. It’s taboo. But here you can watch it happening on a large scale. And it’s OK.”
He also enjoys seeing the exact demolition strategy unfold. You know, hit it here, then hit it there.
Brown looked on as a dark metal wrecking ball shaped more like a hammer-head thudded into a wall, which sagged from the blow. Then he headed off to his job. He makes espresso drinks.
The big crane’s powerplant roared. And the operator, small and far away, started lining up another whack.
, DataTimes MEMO: Being There is a weekly feature that looks at Inland Northwest gatherings.