Thursday, July 01, 2010

concrete, flesh and coal

With the dawning of a new era, that is my dear K returning the Right Coast, from whence she was hatched, it was time for proper reunioning in the very town of her formation: Wilkes Barre. Friday morning I made my way northward intent on joining the K, the K parentals and one Navid for lunch and seeing out a plot I'd hatched to stop by the Concrete City in Nanticoke, all before the sun disappeared.

Arriving well ahead of schedule, I took all parties off guard and we ended up going to lunch much later than expected. Regardless, we wasted no time in reorienting ourselves in a Concrete direction. Nanticoke was like most other coal-mining towns I'd been in in past, small, decaying, colorful in unexpected places and ways, populated with no shortage of bored youth. I had studied my map beforehand which was fortunate because the moment we pulled up to the end of the street nearest the City and parked, my phone lost reception entirely. I pointed us, feigning certainty, down a sandy, unmarked path into the woods. The path showed signs of frequent use, plentiful dumping and weeds hacked well back, branching off here and there. We came upon a clearing with a lake and I spotted a warning sign and knew we had to be at least somewhere close. The summer foliage was quite full, vines growing up and over trees, but I spotted the corner of a roof through it all. Slogging through mud and deep puddles teeming with frogs, we eventually made it onto the courtyard onto which the houses of the Concrete City face. From our vantage point however, it was only possible to see a few of the nearer buildings, and the center courtyard was so thickly overgrown it was impossible to see across. We entered the first that had a well-beaten path to the door and it was immediately clear that this was the place for every bored punk with a spray can or paintball gun to come every free moment.

paintball nation
paintball nation © Laura Kicey

Considering it was built in 1911, albeit of concrete - which later proved impossible to demolish with even 100 sticks of dynamite when they attempted in 1924 after realizing the developers could not afford to install the required sewage system - it was remarkably intact. But the modular structures weren't particularly interesting but for the vandalism of varying skill and dubious creativity.

spin ship
spin ship © Laura Kicey

Upon entering the second house, I heard voices and what I thought might be gunshots in the distance. I wasn't so much worried about danger/getting into trouble in this remote location as I was about crossing paths with guys playing paintball who I had read frequent the site. As the voices drew closer, their shouts were punctuated by the distinctive rapid-fire of paintball guns.

the heart is a muscle © Laura Kicey

the sinking ship
the sinking ship © Laura Kicey

I tried to keep focused on both exploring, shooting, not falling through holes and the proximity of the paintball crew... every so often, peering out through front-facing windows to see if they were moving into visual range. When one guy appeared I got his attention and he asked how many people I was with and he kindly made it clear to the others where we were and that they shouldn't enter the house we were in for play.

light over time
light over time © Laura Kicey

This did not deter one guy from seeking refuge in the building we were in, sneaking up from behind on both K and I causing us both to squeak from the fright of nearly backing into a masked man with a big gun.

eye of the tiger
eye of the tiger © Laura Kicey

When we heard a pause in activity we moved on to check out a few other houses buried more in the woods, but the late day heat and mosquitoes were quickly killing our drive to continue. Once we had decided to leave it took some time before we were brave enough to double back through an area of open air paintball play, but we managed to neither get hit or harassed by the group on our way out.

Before calling it a day, I headed to Ashley, as both K and Navid were curious about the Huber Coal Breaker site, and I'd been twice before. Both prior visits I had come across lots of other people on the site- like Nanticoke it seems like the place to go for bored teens - and this was no exception. I gave a cursory tour of the grounds, explaining I hadn't figured out how to get into the main breaker building yet, but there were always people up in it - even almost up to the top around 8 or 9 stories high. Today being no exception, there was a group of teenagers, mostly girls who waved and called to us down below. Seeing how swiftly they go from 7 stories up to the ground, in miniskirts and tennis shoes, we figured there must be an easier way in than the stairs we had thus far found which led to unstable platforms or were missing many steps in a row, requiring acrobatic feats to scale. There was another 40-something man-photographer wandering around as well. My lunch was starting to give my belly some pain and I convinced K and Navid that we really needed to come back another day for a thorough look as I was feeling a bit unwell. We spent the remainder of the evening researching where we might head on Saturday along with processing the photos of the day.

Saturday afternoon was hot and gray, threatening storms but teasing with bursts of sunshine. We were unable to pinpoint whether or not a number of locations we had researched would still be standing, but set off to first see if Rocky Glen Amusement Park, which K had visited in her youth, had been razed. Though from the road the signs that were left looked promising, as we crossed the barriers onto the overgrown plot of land, we only found expanses of cement bursting with weeds, a few chunks of wall, fence, a pile of tires, a tiny pool filled with garbage and a stray roller coaster car.

all that's left of rocky glen park
all that's left of rocky glen park © Laura Kicey

Disappointed but not to be stopped, I suggested we head towards Scranton. Our hunger was starting to grow so we yelped our way to a little Lebanese cafe in downtown Scranton. Tapping into their spanakopita and free wifi, Navid stumbled upon photos and video of a (somewhat) nearby abandoned slaughterhouse. Descriptions of the location were vague at best, but the map of the town showed that there were very few roads in the town we were headed towards, so we took the plunge. It took about 40 minutes to get to the town from Scranton and repeatedly we turned down roads that looked promising only to end up empty-handed. It was getting late and the drizzle kept coming and going making the sky darken further, meanwhile my iphone battery was running into the red and my car charger no longer worked.

K fell asleep in the back seat while Navid and I struggled with trying to decide whether to carry on or give up. Suddenly the sun came out with a bit of gusto and with the last of the phone battery I suggested we have a look at satellite google maps of the area to see if we could find a building that appeared to be larger than a regular house, that might stand a chance of being the slaughterhouse. Almost immediately, he identified a building less than a mile away from where we had stopped that appeared to be off on a gravel road (as in the video we saw) and the right size. When we go to the turn off onto the gravel road from the main road, seeing that it was unmarked and the weeds had grown so high at either side, I had a pretty good feeling that we were at the right place.

There, beyond a field with tall weeds, a large industrial building's façade could be made out, covered with graffiti. Clearly, we had arrived. And judging by the quiet, save the birds, we were alone. The gravel road diverged, one path to the right leading around back of the building which we took first. It led us to a bay for receiving shipments which was clearly used by the local paintballer contingent. we looked into some of the adjoining rooms, speculating at the use of some of the ducts that contained mysterious corkscrew. The stairway that lead to the rest of the building above was very dark so we doubled back to enter via the front door.

carcass © Laura Kicey

I had really prepared myself for some amount of gore or at the very least some bad smells. Regardless of how long a place has laid vacant, most sites retain a certain amount of residual funkiness. As notorious as functional slaughterhouses are for smelling of death, I was (pleasantly seems innapropriate, maybe more relieved) surprised that it did not have a stench beyond the normal mildew, musty hot stagnation of any other abandoned place.

fur, skin, bones
fur, skin, bones © Laura Kicey

look up
look up © Laura Kicey

the end
the end © Laura Kicey

cross section
cross section © Laura Kicey

receiving © Laura Kicey

grindhouse © Laura Kicey

We entered what was clearly the main processing and killing room. There were standing machines and conveyors and hanging devices of indeterminate use filling the room. The floor was littered with forms, at the top of which was a headline that read something to the effect of Quantities of Carcasses and Meat and Poultry By-Products.

blood bath
blood bath © Laura Kicey

cut throat
cut throat © Laura Kicey

The large open adjoining room appeared as though it might have been used to hold animals. A heavily graffitied stairway led upward some 5 flights to a landing with a small room that had suffered a fire and further up to a locker room and shower area for workers.

shower room
shower room © Laura Kicey

the back stair
the back stair © Laura Kicey

There were a couple of roof access points and offices and at the end of the line we were left at the balcony overlooking the kill room where we had entered.

from above the kill
from above the kill room © Laura Kicey

supremacy sandwich
supremacy sandwich © Laura Kicey

The sun that came in with us had started to weaken and the rain began not long before we were heading for the door. With the last shred of battery life in my phone, Navid located a sushi restaurant in Wilkes-Barre where we collapsed before a surprisingly decent dinner.

red and I
red and I © Laura Kicey

After packing the bags and battening down the K Parental hatches, we headed out for Ashley for our proper Huber Breaker visit. K and Navid were dead set on finding a way into the main breaker building, despite my suggestion that we spend our time in the power plant which is a much more interesting and stable building. I followed K around as she performed a study of every stairway we could locate, deciding if it was possible 1. to scale the stairs despite the copious missing steps 2. upon scaling if there was anywhere you could actually get to, vertically or horizontally. I had to cover my eyes while spotting her while she ascended one set, going two flights, each missing at least 4 spaced steps... only to discover the third flight was missing 4 in a row and it was impossible to make any headway on the second floor due to a collapse.

black twist
black twist © Laura Kicey

amber fronds
amber fronds © Laura Kicey

Once she came back to earth I headed for a door that was partly obstructed by a pile of rotting wood. Inside I found K and Navid's holy grail, while they were lagging behind. A completely stable set of stairs! I went up the first flight which bordered on the old elevator that had come to rest at the ground level, forcefully. Then I scaled the second and called out to K and Navid to announce my find. Then I realized that I was on a rather narrow platform with one side bordering on a rusty railing, the other side was just open elevator shaft. I had left my tripod at the bottom of the stairs and I realized I couldn't go up any further, because even this height was making me feel decidedly afflicted with wobbliness.

as far as I've come
as far as I've come © Laura Kicey

K and Navid were quick to join me on the second floor landing and the longer I lingered there the more I knew I had to get down immediately. They made it up to perhaps the 7th story, while I lurked below. They said that there wasn't much of interest inside, besides the thrill of having gotten up so high, so I had no regrets.

airing out
airing out © Laura Kicey

pulls © Laura Kicey

The power plant main hall was mostly unchanged from my last visit with Tanya and Goldberg back in September. I admit that the machines - though pretty interesting by themselves - are much more interesting to my eye with the context of a model/human in the frame, at least to give the sense of scale.

scepter © Laura Kicey

conduit © Laura Kicey

snowfall © Laura Kicey

three against one
three against one © Laura Kicey

Being that is was our third day running of exploration in 95˙+ hellishly humid weather running, we didn't last very long before hunger and exhaustion kicked in. Making the pilgrimage back to the parental homefront for liquid and sandwich-shaped refreshments was welcomed by all. After copious kitty-scritchers were distributed to the four-footed residents, we packed up the car and I dropped K and Navid off at the bus station and them made my way expeditiously southward.

Now I must take a break from abandoned explorations until my mini-vacation in mid-July, lest you get bored. In the meantime, I have plenty of Sweden Experience transcription ahead of me.

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