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Left Coast/Right Coast: Rats

Rats are those nasty creatures that seem to pop up when you least want them. As rats have been here before humans by about 100 million years or so, one could argue they have as much right to be here as we do.
Mike Gold is a retired entrepreneur providing his views on the Northwest. Photo credit: Katie Stearns.

Mike Gold writes for the News of Mill Creek on a regular basis. He is a retired entrepreneur and describes himself as a, “relatively recent transplant to the West Coast. I have lived (born and raised) in the Northeastern U.S. So these observations are based upon ‘living the dream’ in the Pacific Northwest.”

The expression “rats” generally means the same thing as “nuts” or “sh*t” or “damn.” It is a statement indicating disappointment or frustration at some daily event, which causes you to be somewhat stressed out.

Here I mean “rats” in the other way. That is those nasty creatures that seem to pop up when you least want them. As rats have been here before humans by about 100 million years or so, one could argue they have as much right to be here as we do. (You could say the same thing about cockroaches, beetles, dinosaurs and thousands of other species that pre-date humans).

For as long as humans lived on the Earth, one of the things they have worked diligently at is eliminating rats from where we live. And for as long as humans live on the Earth they will continue to try and rid their homes of these disgusting creatures.

Besides being generally creepy and giving most of us the willies,” rats bring disease. It is claimed they were responsible for the bubonic plague that nearly wiped out all of Europe in the Middle Ages. They also carry salmonella, rat-bite fever, tapeworms and murine typhus. Isn’t that enough?

We have rats in the Seattle area. But it is nothing like what we experienced in Brooklyn back in the 1960’s and I fear what Seattle is about to experience with its own version of Boston's Big Dig.

In the 1960’s the powers that be in New York City decided that renovating the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn was a good idea. In fact most of Bed-Sty was a vast slum of lower socioeconomic households living in deteriorating apartment houses and single-family homes. The City’s idea was to knock it all down and rebuild. Providing low-income housing for the underprivileged of NY City.

Well we all know about the law of unintended consequences. In the Bed-Sty renovation, that “unintended” consequence was a deluge of rats and mice throughout the entire borough of Brooklyn. Every rat and mouse borough was disturbed by the constant digging. I’m certain rat nests undisturbed in 100 years were uprooted causing these rodents to flee elsewhere.

As the East River (between Brooklyn and Manhattan as well as the lower New York Harbor - both very wide) is most unsuitable for mass rat migration, the rats had to go somewhere. Where did they go? All over Brooklyn.

My parents never had rats in their neighborhood (at least none you could see) but we got them during this reconstruction. Mice as well. This lasted until the renovation was done a few years later. Then the rat population settled down (where I can’t say) and we never had the problem again.

Boston’s Big Dig: Boston, as old as New York City, dug up the entire downtown area for its Big Dig. Again, hundreds of thousands of rats and mice boroughs were disturbed – many for the first time in 100 years or more. Again, as with Bed-Sty – Boston neighborhoods that never had rat problems developed them.

My office at that time, in Cambridge – right across the street from M.I.T. and also near the Necco factory was over-run with mice. Of course, I can’t be certain that the Necco factory was not part of the problem. Every night they dumped a half dozen trailer trucks full of sugar down a chute behind the factory. Some spillage was inevitable. I learned never to leave any food in my desk drawers as one morning I opened up my top desk drawer and found a live mouse busy munching on some crackers I’d left there.

The Big Dig employed two senior “pest mitigation” experts whose job it was to be the “pied piper” luring the rats away from residential neighborhoods. Frankly, it didn’t work too well.

There was a Boston institution called Locke-Obers's Restaurant. Only the Boston elite dined there. One afternoon, I had wrangled an invite from an old friend. As we were eating dessert, a rat ran across the floor. Needless-to-say, we didn’t finish.

Now we come to the Seattle “Big Dig.” We have the world’s largest digging machine, which will dig from the north end of town to the south end. Disturbing soil that has been there for a hundred years. Call me a cynic, but I can’t help but imagine that downtown Seattle is about to be over-run with rats and mice. Those of you reading this who live anywhere below the 5th floor in downtown, here is what you can look forward to.

Remember, don’t leave any unopened food in your pantry. Speak with you again in a couple of years assuming you haven’t perished from the Bubonic Plague.

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