Saturday, June 14, 2008
Theft results in increased security, which makes return trips difficult or impossible. If caught, theft results in much more serious consequences than simple exploration.
2. No Vandalism: Urban exploration is about preserving locations, not destroying them.
Vandalism results in the same consequences as theft: increased security and greater penalties if caught.
3. No Backtracking: Because you’ve already been that way and it’s boring. Find another way out.
4. Dark Clothes Only: Stealth is key. Imagine you’re a ninja: blend with the shadows.
5. No Noise: Under no circumstances should music ever be a part of exploring, even with headphones. All five senses need to be alert at all times, especially hearing. Keep quiet. If you need to talk, whisper, and use gestures instead of vocal communication whenever possible.
6. No Drinking or Smoking: Alcohol dulls your senses and isn’t a good idea when you’re trying to keep your balance on rafters or scale up the side of buildings. It’s hard enough doing this sober. If you smoke, quit. Smoking decreases lung capacity, which can severely reduce your physical agility, and also makes it harder to run when you need to. Smoker’s cough always kicks in at the worst times, like when you’re trying to be quiet, and a lit cigarette completely gives away your position. Cigarette butts are also evidence that you were there.
7. No Large Groups: Bringing a friend or two along is recommended, but in the words of the legendary explorer Jeff Chapman (also known as Ninjalicious), “the group can only move as quickly as its slowest member, sneak as quietly as its noisiest member, squeeze through openings as small as its largest member and, often, behave as intelligently as its stupidest member."
8. Be Non-Descript: Distinguishing features like moustaches, tattoos, hairstyles or piercings should be covered up or removed for an exploration. The easier it is to describe someone, the more likely it is that they will get noticed, especially if they are caught on camera.
9. No Strangers: Randomly running into people and exploring with them isn’t strictly forbidden, but keep in mind that you never know if someone might have a criminal record or if they’re not as normal as you thought. Stick to exploring with people you know and trust.
10. Conceal Light: If you can see without a flashlight, don’t use it. If you’re faced with a situation where it would risky to turn on a light but you have no other choice, use a colored filter. Red filters can be bought or improvised (balloons, handkerchiefs, and ketchup all work well).
Saturday, June 7, 2008
It could all just be bullshit, too. I know several people who have looted and stolen from abandonments, stripping away the copper pipes to sell to a scrap metal yard or taking an interesting object I might later spot in an antique store. However, each person that has done so has also told me about the chill that went down their back as they laid a hand on an object, or the hostile feeling they got as soon as they stepped foot in a certain room. They ignored the signs and took what they wanted, and who knows, perhaps they'll pay for it later. As far as I know, they haven't mysteriously died or been injured recently.
I'm not saying that houses are alive. I can only tell you what I have learned from experience exploring houses. I can tell you about the time I entered through the backdoor of a rickety old abandoned house and a black cat with white splotches came padding down the stairs and rubbed against my leg. It followed me as I went from room to room taking photographs of shredded curtains and 1950s-era wallpaper. The moment my foot came down upon the floorboards of a room towards the back of the house, the cat went into a fit. It turned into a hissing, howling, spitting, wailing demon-cat from hell as it arched its back and flattened its ears against its black skull.I can tell about the time I explored an abandoned mental hospital where I took a picture of a doorway with its reinforced glass panels broken into dangling glass shards. When I examined the photograph closer a few days later, I noticed what was unmistakably a noose hanging dead center in the background. The rope isn't actually visible, nor is it a shadow; it's like the idea of a noose hanging ominously behind the focus of the photograph. I found out several days later in my research of the hospital's different buildings that ward D3, the ward in which that picture had been taken, was the only wing that was occupied by suicidal patients.
I can tell you about numerous times where I've felt an intense chill run down my back upon entering a certain hallway or section of a building, as if I'm being told that there are limits to what I'm allowed to access. Other times I am suddenly struck by a strong hunch that I should leave; the feeling shoots through my body like lightning and makes me shudder, realizing that it's several degrees warmer outside than it is inside the building. There was only one time I ever ignored my instincts to leave; it was also the only time I've ever fallen down a flight of stairs. All of these occurrences could be reasonably explained, of course; I for one, choose not to take sides. I do not deny or insist that these stories are proof of anything, but I do acknowledge that the combination of all of these coincidences are undoubtedly strange.
The photograph of the house on Rockledge Drive was later part a series I took called Portals. The series consisted of ten photos that depicted different openings, doorways and passages. I recently organized my photographs and realized that doorways, long hallways, windows, and other openings are the subject of many of my photos. Most of the strange occurrences mentioned earlier had something to do with passing through a portal or opening of some sort. Perhaps I associate thresholds with the anticipation of feeling either welcomed or uninvited as soon as I cross it, and perhaps it's because of this that I see doorways, passages and windows as an important representation of boundaries.
This is probably why I also envision houses as people and talk about them like they have emotions and preferences. Each house I enter has, I feel, a certain personality that is very strong after having taken a self-lead tour of its rooms. Some houses feel lonely and seem to brighten up as you walk through their hallways; other houses seem quite comfortable with being empty and undisturbed, exuding a feeling of contentment and dormancy. Some of them mourn the loss of previous occupants; this feeling is most strongly felt when there is evidence of the inhabitants having left in a hurry, leaving behind objects one would think would be of some importance, like books and personal documents. Other buildings exude a feeling of superiority and decaying glory; crumbling mansions and private estates often feel this way. Just like people, some buildings have boundaries: secrets that they don't want revealed, and passageways that must be navigated and figured out before you can get a grasp on who they really are, what they care about, and what their hopes and dreams might be.
Perhaps portals are important to me because they represent what it takes to get to know someone. It takes entering their lives and truly exploring their personalities on their terms, not yours.
Saturday, May 31, 2008
Now we've entered another world. Blue tarps flap in the wind, snapping and thwacking at our ankles. When pulled back, they reveal tent rooms with tiny rubber ducks littered on a confetti-soaked dirt floor. Above the mess is a crooked and weather-beaten sign reading “A Winner Every Time!” Inside a barn there are bumper cars, old benches, rusted signs and some tractors. There's a huge board crowded with colored bulbs. I wonder what it used to advertise as I take shot after shot of the sun hitting the dusty red spheres.We come across a rusted German chair swing. It stands tall against the blue sky, its swings hanging sadly by their chains like dirty ribbons. I wonder what it would be like to start up the ride again; I can imagine its rusted parts screeching and groaning into action, protesting against the rude awakening. We head to the merry-go-round, where a plaster menagerie prances, struts and prowls, all staring wide with dusty glass eyes. A white horse is beginning to peel; its teeth are drawn back to its lips in an eternal grimace. Another horse bucks tall, its mane flailing in the still air while its eyes roll back terrified into his head. An ostrich swaggers near the center of the carousel, his beak pointed forward in anticipation of the next turn that will never come when he may see the rickety wooden roller coaster again. A tiger crouches, its jaws growling at an invisible foe, or perhaps prey. His big yellow glass eyes stare vacantly out towards the fun house, which tilts dangerously towards the ground; I wonder if it was built that way. German figures sit atop its balcony, grinning and wild-eyed. One of them is wearing a pair of lederhosen and holds a pint of beer his wooden hand. Another sits atop a scraggly dog with another pint of beer, his legs splayed out drunkenly on either side. He toasts to a ghost crowd; I can imagine his wooden potbelly jiggling, and I smile as I realize something: it's a German interpretation of Bacchus, the Greek god of wine who always sat atop a donkey.
Parallel metal tracks can be found meandering throughout the park; only when we reach the end of them do we realize their purpose: a broken down train ride lies in shambles next to the carousel; '1863' is inscribed on each car.
We see a van and know that it's time to leave. We hide inside the barn for a while, waiting for the beady-eyed old man to leave. He snoops, and we wait. I take shot after shot of the light board, right when the sun hits it. I hear the van rumble over the wooden planks of the exit bridge, and know that this is our chance. We bolt back across the bridge, having triumphantly infiltrated yet another restricted wonder world.
Monday, May 19, 2008
“Urban exploration. I explore abandoned buildings for fun.”
“Mm hmm, interesting!” she said, nodding. “And how does it work, exactly?”
“Well, usually I’ll just notice a place that looks abandoned, I’ll go check it out, you know, scout out the property, and then go back to explore it later with my photography equipment,” I said, shrugging. No big deal.
“I see. And do you do this alone?”
“Usually, yeah, although I’m not opposed to people coming with me. Most people who have tagged along are doing just that—tagging along. They’re usually just friends of mine who aren’t actually urban explorers.”
“Oh, ok, I see, yes,” she said, nodding forcefully. I could tell we weren’t getting anywhere. I could tell she thought urban exploration was in no way a worthwhile hobby and that it only led to trouble. She was on the same wavelength as my parents and the police: they’re all good people, but they just can’t seem to separate the legal ramifications of urban exploration from its intellectual importance as an art form.
“And what about the property owners?” she asked.
“What about them?”
She stared at me. I stared back. I get this particular question a lot, especially from adults who have somewhat lost their sense of adventure. I always play dumb, just to see what their response is. They usually end up accusing me of criminal activity, which I suppose is justified, but they really are missing the point.
“Well, do they know that you’re on their property, um…exploring?” she said tentatively.
“No, not usually.” I tried to look innocent.
“And what do you think they would say if they knew you were…uh…um, on their --”
“Trespassing? You mean what do I think they would say if they knew I was trespassing?”
Jesus, lady. Spit it out already. I get accused of this all the time; it’s nothing new and I’m not offended (yet).
“Well, I think some of them might be upset, and others wouldn’t really care. See, I choose not to think of it as recreational trespassing; it’s trespassing for a reason. They obviously don’t care much about the building they’ve left rotting on their property, because they aren’t doing anything to fix it up, so why should they be upset if I actually do care about it?”
“Well, because you’re trespassing!” she exclaimed, as if this trivial detail should be more than reason enough to avoid my hobby altogether.
“So legality has a direct connection with morality?” I said.
“Excuse me?” She looked confused.
“Just because something is technically illegal doesn’t make it any more wrong than the legal things we do every day. I consider bulldozing old buildings to be a crime, but as long as it’s good for corporate America, replacing 19th century churches with Wal-Mart parking lots is completely legal, correct?”
“Well, yes,” she said hesitantly. I saw her eyes flit up to the clock on the wall behind me nervously.
“But is it morally right to do that?” I asked her.
“Not necessarily, I suppose.”
“So why is walking onto a patch of grass to document that church before it’s gone considered illegal?”
“Because it’s trespassing,” she said simply.
“Yes, but that’s the only answer you have. Actions shouldn’t be considered morally wrong just because they’re illegal.” You should always question the rules, never believe something is wrong or right just because there’s a law that says so, is what I wanted to tell her, but I had the feeling that she wasn’t a “question your government” type of lady. She was wearing a navy blue pantsuit, little gold hoop earrings and a simple gold necklace. Her blonde hair was twisted into a perfect bun, and her coral rose lipstick was infallible. She held a clipboard with a yellow notepad and a pen that matched everything in her office. There I sat in my black Converse All-Stars, wearing a glass mushroom dangling from the hemp necklace I wove last summer. My hair hung in loose, hippy strands; I liked it that way because I could run my fingers through it. My socks didn’t match and my pen had bits of Extra Supermint gum stuck to it from being inside my purse, which was a disaster of food wrappers, writing utensils, random receipts, pieces of paper I thought I had lost, and other small objects from my past.
“Okay. So you’re saying that you ignore the legal consequences because you believe that what you’re doing is more important than the law?” she narrowed her eyes.
“Essentially, yes, but I’m not applying this logic to just myself. Urban exploration is important as a hobby that preserves our past, and I’m not the only one who does it.” I could tell she was getting the impression that I thought I was above the law. I decided to clarify. “I don’t consider myself above the law, I consider urban exploration more important than the law, but it isn’t and probably never will be above the law. I just choose to accept the risk of getting caught.”
“Do you think that’s a good idea, given your current situation?”
I have very, very bad luck. Let’s just say most Dickinson College Public Safety officers know me on a first-name basis. I was supposed to be trying to stay out of trouble.
“Maybe not, but it’s what I’m passionate about. I’m totally willing to be a martyr for art, and besides, I’ve never been in serious trouble as a result of my explorations.”
“You think of yourself as a martyr?” Great. She thinks I’m deluded.
“No. I said I would be willing to be one for the sake of a greater purpose, which I haven’t had to do yet. The first step is acknowledging the risk of there being consequences, which I’ve already done. I haven’t yet been faced with any consequences from my explorations, but if I was, I would accept them.”
Her stiff little smile looked like it had been taped onto her face, and her eyes looked like they had fear behind them. I grinned back, and she let out a sigh that sounded more like a gasp. “Well, I think our time is up. How’s next week?”
“I’m going on a trip to explore an abandoned hospital on Tuesday, but I’ll be back Wednesday afternoon.” It was actually an abandoned insane asylum, but I didn’t want to tell her that in case she thought it was a little too appropriate given what she obviously thought was my unstable state of mind.
She let out another gasping sigh. “Okay, how does Thursday look?”
“That’s fine. I’m free all day.”
“Okay then, Claire, I’ll see you at 3:00 on Thursday afternoon?” She smiled and handed me her card with the appointment time written in her perfect handwriting on the back.
“Oh, I thought you meant Thursday morning. I can’t do Thursday afternoon.” She looked absolutely flabbergasted.
“Well, I mean, I’m usually not here that early, but, um—maybe Friday we—“
“I’m kidding, Dr. Chapman.” Now it was my turn to sigh.
Some people just don’t get it.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
1. Camera and Equipment: Documenting your journey is the most important part.
2. Three Flashlights: Always have a spare in case something happens to the first one. Always have a second spare in case something happens to the second one.
3. Cell Phone: For communicating with exploring partners or with the outside world.
4. Multi-Purpose Tool: For loosening bolts on doors, cutting wires or ropes.
5. Towel: For use as a blanket, bed, distress signal, face protection against fumes, or drying oneself.
6. First-Aid Kit: For scratches, cuts and bruises, although if you're careful, you'll almost never need to use it.
7. Extra Batteries: For your camera, walkie talkies and flashlights.
8. Walkie Talkies: Only if you’ll be exploring an area without cell phone reception.
9. Glowsticks: To signal to your partners (flashlights could be mistaken for a security officer).
10. Food: Only if you will be in an area long enough to need sustenance at some point. Energy bars and trail mix are perfect.
11. Water: Because we all get thirsty. One Nalgene bottle is usually enough.
12. Gas Mask: If you plan on exploring a location with airborne contaminates. A filter with an efficiency rating of P100 should protect you from everything, including asbestos.
13. Thermal blanket: If you plan on spending the night or if you’re exploring an area you could potentially get lost in.14. Climbing Gear: Only if you plan on exploring an area that necessitates scaling heights (i.e. a building that can only be accessed through third-story windows).
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
be doing some interviews with admissions, sitting in on classes, meeting with professors, and all that lovely communicating and getting to know one another's facts that comes along with transferring.
What I'm really excited about (besides picking out my future for the next 3 years) is that I'll have the car all to myself, which means I'll be driving up to Massachussets from PA on an 8 hour drive alone. I've never been on a road trip by myself before, and also have never been on a trip longer than a day or two with friends, so I'm really pumped. I looked up my route in the UER database and there are some really fantastic locations along the way that I think I'll try and check out.
These are the locations I'm planning to check out:
Bethlehem Steel Mill (Bethlehem, PA)
Alder Manor (Yonkers, NY)**
Boyce-Thompson Institute for Plant Research (Yonkers, NY)**
Pleasure Beach (Bridgeport, CT)
Remington Arms & Ammo (Bridgeport, CT)
Old Mill (Manchester, CT)
**this is actually right across the street from Alder Manor; apparently the guy who lived there was a famous botanist.
I WAS going to stop by the UniRoyal Factory in Chicopee, MA, but it's pretty much one of the most dangerous places I think I could pick to explore. There are huge holes in the floors, with bins full of toxic waste and old chemicals below them, the whole place is a disaster waiting to happen. I'd love to check it out sometime, but it'll have to be when I have a gas mask and a full chemical suit.
Anyway, it should be fun; I'll have some interested pictures to post up anyway.
I don't do ALL abandonment photography, although that's my favorite. Here are some of my recent photos that have nothing to do with urbexing.
Until next time...can't wait to get some photos from my journey up here! Cheers~
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
I stood before it and stared. The exterior coat was peeled, and the planks were rough underneath my fingers. The windows were broken into perfect burst-shaped gaping holes, which faded into an interior of impenetrable blackness. All of Carlisle's weather had been absorbed into the white paint, and the raw wood underneath was grey and dry, giving the abandoned house the appearance of a black and white photograph.
In fact, when I took the picture of what would become a series of photographs depicting the beauty of abandonments, it came out black and white, even though I shot it in color. The photograph is of a window staring down at its admirer. One of its old fashioned country-style horizon shutters is flung open to the side, as if the house is opening one eye to examine you. I thought it was one of the most magnificently beautiful things I had ever laid eyes on.
There's something to be said for the beauty of an abandoned house and all its secrets and eccentricities. People are the same way; we appreciate them not in spite of their flaws, but because of them. Every cracked wall adds character to a house, just like a birthmark can make a person stand out. The way a door creaks or a window rattles is unique, just like the way a person laughs. My love for these houses could perhaps be compared to the way someone might love an old car that has run faithfully for many years.
I've heard many abandonments referred to as "eyesores". Maybe if people could look past the crumbling exterior and see what a building has to offer aesthetically, they could truly appreciate them. However, many people are hesitant to enter dilapidated abandonments because of their fear of several things: the supernatural, trespassing, and hazards inside the building.
As urban explorers, we make the choice to eliminate our fear by thinking of these things differently from the average person. The supernatural won't bother us if we don't bother them, and the best way to go about it is respecting a property by taking nothing but photographs and leaving as little evidence of your presence behind as possible. I am reassured of this fact because I have never had anything bad happen to me without there being a warning first.
Being caught trespassing can be dealt with in several ways, depending on who catches you. If it's the property owner, you have a much better chance of getting away with an excuse. However, if it's a cop or a security guard, they have usually heard the same excuses before and won't let you off so quickly. I have been caught 3 times, twice by myself and once with a friend. The first time I was caught, I was exploring a house out in the woods that was falling apart, and the property owner was walking by and saw my car parked outside. She found me inside the house and asked to see my pictures. I showed her, and she said she thought they were beautiful. She invited me to her house further up the driveway. She was (and still is) one of the cutest little old wrinkled ladies I have ever met. She gave me cookies and a soda and asked me about my photography and past explorations. She told me about how her daughter used to live in the house until she died of cancer years ago, how she didn't want to tear the house down or remodel it, and how she didn't really have a good reason why. She told me how she believed that houses were sacred shells of someone's past. I told her I agreed, and we realized that we both appreciated the beauty of that which has been left behind and the importance of preserving someone's legacy. The second time I was caught was less eventful; I was taking pictures of a house from the outside, getting up close to the brick wall to take a picture of an old electric meter. A harsh voice behind me suddenly said "What are you taking pictures of?" and made me jump. I turned around to face her, realizing I had no idea how long she had been standing there. I told her I was a photography student and that I loved old buildings. She frowned and told me that she thought I should leave. I politely said I understood and got back in my car and drove away. The third time I was caught was on the grounds of an abandoned prison, where a friend and I were stopped by a security officer. We explained that we were photography students and simply didn't see the "No Trespassing" signs. He was very congenial and let us take a few more pictures of the outside before sending us on our way. The best way to avoid being caught is to scope out the property for security signs or people and keep quiet when making an entrance. The best way to avoid getting in trouble if you still end up getting caught is to have a valid excuse other than curiosity ready; mine is that I'm a photography student doing a project (which is half true). It's also a good idea to keep a student-like appearance in order to not look like a troublemaker.
Hazards inside a building can include rusty metal objects, broken glass, asbestos contamination, flooding, unsafe floorboards, plain darkness, homeless people, and wild animals. We prepare ourselves against most of these things. My arsenal of safety gear includes a gas mask, a first aid kit, a flashlight, appropriate clothing, and a swiss army knife. I have only come across a homeless person once; he didn't notice me thanks to what seemed to be his delusional state of mind. The only wild animal I have ever come across is a dead raccoon.
In spite of all of these preventative measures, many people remain unconvinced that entering an abandoned site is a good idea for any reason whatsoever. They are unwilling to put themselves in a position to be hurt in any way. I’ve had friends who have gone bungee jumping, rock climbing and skydiving refuse to set foot in abandoned buildings. This is part of the reason I am so fascinated with abandonments; people refuse to set foot in something other people just like them used to inhabit. They live in a house now—why won’t they go inside one that nobody lives in? Doesn’t the fact that it’s empty make it even better to explore? They not only happen to forget about it, but they want to forget; they want to ignore these "eyesores" and move on with their lives. I cannot imagine how many important historical discoveries have been left rotting away on dusty shelves of abandoned houses because of peoples' unwillingness to step across a threshold. I see this in many relationships, too; many people are unwilling to get to know someone else because of their rough exterior or their first impression.
Why is it that when something man has created changes enough to be so different that they look nothing like the original, society feels like it has to be either fixed or destroyed? In the United States, buildings are constantly being torn down and replaced. In Italy, for example, you can walk up the street and visit an Etruscan tomb nestled between a restaurant and an art shop. Everything is old in Europe; everything is new in the States. We always want to start over; forget renovation, forget trying to salvage a beautiful building; we need a Walmart parking lot more than we need beauty. I love abandonments because nobody else does. Nobody else is willing to see what these structures have to offer for their minds and their hearts; they are only willing to see what it has to offer for their pockets.
My love of urban exploration has many facets, but the most significant I think, is what it has taught me about finding allure in odd places. I have learned to look past the ugliness of people as well as buildings to discover what beauties lay beneath, and I believe it is an important lesson that can be learned by everyone. I have learned how to make those assets come alive through my photographs, just as I have learned how to bring out the better part of someone's personality through conversation. Unfortunately, most of society refuses to make themselves vulnerable long enough to let in some of the more eccentric beauties that life has to offer.
Personally, I prefer to leave my heart and my mind open as much as possible; I'm afraid I might miss some of life's beautiful flaws.
Monday, April 7, 2008
That being said, the reason I (and others) are protective about these locations is because I honestly care about them and would hate to see them ruined by graffiti or looting. I've seen too many abandonments completely destroyed by the amount of traffic that goes through them from too much exposure. Here's a scenario: I find a beautiful abandoned house. I take some great pictures, put them up in the UER database and fill out all the facts for the house's webpage. I make the location viewable to anyone who wants to look, not just full members. Some random kid finds out about this house because of Google and decides it's the perfect place to go paintballing or tagging, and invites all his friends. I come back to take some photos a few weeks later and the walls are covered in pink splotches and bad graffiti.
Now, I'm not saying graffiti isn't art. But bad graffiti is bad graffiti; GOOD graffiti can definitely be called art, no matter how legal or illegal it is. Urbexers and graffiti artists share the same conflict; art vs. legality.
Some examples of what I think is beautiful graffiti art:
And some examples of horrible, disfiguring graffiti:
(Photos courtesy of Google images)
So don't be offended if you ask and I don't want to give you every piece of information possible. I'll be happy to tell you what type of building it was and where I took the picture inside that building, and maybe even what state or city it's in, but I certainly won't tell you what road it's located on, how to get there or how to get in.
I haven't put up any pictures for a while-- here are a few more! Also, if anyone ever wants to know where these pictures were taken or more information, I'd be glad to give you as much information as I'm comfortable giving out ;-)
They obviously never hired a landscaper; the area outside its doors is a green lawn dotted with a few puny looking trees and one picnic table situated in the least likely place a person would want to sit. There used to be two huge oak trees that loomed over the children’s play area, but they were torn down a few years ago, taking away any attraction it used to have. The playground is fenced in with chicken wire and is coated with woodchips, giving it the appearance of an animal pen. At night, the bare, unadorned windows of this building glows a sickly turquoise from the green tile and dim yellow lighting in its hallways. The basement smells like mold and dirt, the first floor smells like chlorine from the pool, the second floor smells like sweat and rubber from the basketball courts and fitness rooms, and the third floor smells like diapers and children’s snot. I used to go to daycare there; I hated it. It was a dirty building, and the simplicity of its structure made me uncomfortable; I felt like I was in a hospital, but with dirty carpets instead of clean marble floors. It scared me. It wasn’t aesthetically pleasing in any sense, and I used to spend my time waiting in the hallways picking the black circles of gum from the carpet (toddlers are always waiting in hallways in lines, and nobody ever knows why). If I got the edge of my fingernail under it just the right way, I could peel and stretch it enough to look underneath and see what color it was. Pink was strawberry, red was cinnamon, and green was usually some sort of mint. During naptime we slept on the same floor in our grimy, thin sleeping bags. I got in trouble during naptime because I was always found scooched up next to some other kid “keeping them awake” (none of us ever actually slept; toddlers are not tired at 11:00 AM). It was usually just because I didn’t want to be along, but apparently naptime was a solitary activity; no whispering or cuddling allowed. I remember crying a lot when my mother dropped me off; usually because I didn’t want to be left in such an ugly place with a bunch of kids with crusty yellow noses and teachers that wore denim jumpers and smelled like diaper rash ointment.
I hated this building as a child and I still hate it for many of the same reasons. It’s a horribly designed structure, with staircases leading to random hallways that end up at another staircase and rooms that seemingly have no purpose. The pool always has shit on the bottom; not just bandaids and hair ties, but literally, shit. The locker rooms are the perfect place to get athlete’s foot, as I and many other people have. The “youth room” consists of several ancient arcade games that steal your money, a few pathetically flickering computers and a scratched up pool table. Sometimes I see a few bored looking kids wandering about in the room, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone really excited to be there; it’s where mothers drop off their adolescent offspring while they go to their spinning classes.
Now if the YMCA were abandoned, it would be a much more interesting place. An empty pool is loads of fun to run around in, and exploring random hallways that seem to lead nowhere is always intriguing. The only reason a building like this is more fun when it’s abandoned is because the reason you’re there is not for exercise or community development, but to explore. Random hallways are frustrating when you’re actually there for a reason. Imagine trying to get to an appointment on time, and every hallway you take trying to get to that room 304B ends up taking you back to room 204A. When you’re exploring, hallways like this one are quirky and interesting, usually because you actually have the time to try and figure them out. Institutional community buildings are hotspots for explorers because of the amount of traffic that went through them; there are tons of clues left behind just waiting to be discovered and admired.
Looking at such an unattractive building like the YMCA makes me uneasy to see so many people enjoying walking inside, and I can’t wait for the day when I’ll be able to walk inside without a knot forming in the pit of my stomach. Buildings like these are twice as beautiful after surviving the elements; it’s as if nature decided to make it her playground. If I ever step across its concrete threshold, it will be when its marble hallways are full of leaves, mice have chewed through the carpets, birds are nesting in the boiler room, and vines are creeping in through its broken windows, because in the end, some buildings are just better off abandoned.