So there it was, deep and irresistible as the siren's song. Not just any construction site, but a five-story hole that had mysteriously swallowed up two trailers, a crane, an alley and a good chunk of the sidewalk. What red-blooded man could resist?
None, judging by an informal survey of lunchtime gawkers pressed against the yellow police tape at the corner of 14th and H streets. The sidewalk supervisors were out in record numbers yesterday and they were, almost to a man, men.
"It's a guy thing," said lawyer Tom Pluta. "Cranes and stuff. Erector sets. Everybody had one of these when they were 10 years old."
"A lot of guys do office work, push paper," ventured the man next to him, staring with not a little envy at the hard hats running alongside the bulldozers on 14th Street. "What you have here is construction. They're doing something tangible."
Anxious to secure the building next to the cave-in site, the crews worked with the speed and precision of athletes. There was dirt arriving in dump trucks that looked just like Tonka Toys, with drivers backing up to the edge of the cave-in with all the aplomb of sandbox veterans. It was the Super Bowl of construction. Or, as one man dubbed it, a Guy Ballet.
And on the sidelines, the fans and the critics.
"I'm trying to figure out why they're pouring dirt in without shoring it first," said Tim Arnett, who had been standing at one of the prime viewing spots for more than an hour. "I want to see how they're going to fix this mess. It took half the street out."
Arnett, a volunteer with the Loudoun County Fire and Rescue Squad, was at the site Monday night, ready to help if he was needed. Now he was watching the bulldozers shove dirt into the hole. He pointed to the four-ton front-end loaders and dump trucks scurrying back and forth. He shook his head. "They've got too much equipment on the street."
"It's probably the right thing to do," piped up an engineer. "It keeps the rest of the embankment from falling in."
As a section of a sidewalk on H Street tumbled into the hole, some of the Monday morning quarterbacks across the street couldn't resist murmuring "I told you so" under their breath.
The sidewalk coaching went on all day. At first, said D.C. policeman J.K. Mangan, "They wanted to know if anyone was hurt. Actually, they wanted to know if anyone was killed."
By lunchtime, most of the bystanders had already heard about the cave-in and had come out of personal or professional curiosity. D.C. Council Chairman Dave Clarke dropped by on his way to lunch. "I like to see our people at work," he said. "I really believe you've got to be there to get a view of what things really look like."
One man started taking pictures of the dump trucks. Another tourist took pictures of the bystanders. Most just tried to peer into the hole.
Some people looked in and saw dirt. Others saw paydirt.
"They're going to sue everyone within five miles," said architect Eccleston Johnston. "The neighbors will sue the owner and contractor. The city will sue the owner and contractor. The owner, contractor and city will sue the architect and engineers. And all the people standing around when it happened will sue the city, contractor and owner."
Johnston stopped to catch his breath and smiled. It was the kind of smile that could only cross your face when it's Not Your Problem. "It gets very complicated."
Philip Gagner is a lawyer, but his interest was -- for the moment -- purely personal.
Gagner had been sitting in his third-floor law office in the UPI Building Monday when he heard some very loud noises, then felt the building tremble under him. He and his partner rushed to the window and stared down into the construction hole next to the building.
"We were wondering why they were dynamiting at night," he said. "That made no sense, so we decided to leave. We thought it might be the gas lines." The two men shut off the lights and unplugged the office computers. How long did it take them to get out? "Not long," he said with a thin smile.
Yesterday, Gagner was hanging around, hoping to get into his office to retrieve his calendar, phonebook and checkbook -- even though officials said it would be at least a couple of days before anyone would be allowed back inside the building.
But then again, maybe not.
"This is where Casino Royale and all those porno shops were," said one onlooker. "And that construction worker died here last year. It's sort of an unlucky corner.
"They call it the Devil's Corner," he shrugged. "They say it's his corner and he's going to hang on to it."