January 22. 2000
My first friday night back in Philadelphia went horribly bust. It started out as it usually did, with me and about 5 other people crammed into Paul's aging Ford Probe. The wind chills had plunged the temperature into subzero territory, and the first 20 minutes of our adventure that night was spent scraping ice off the inside of the car's windshield so Paul could at least see through the dirty glass.
I'd forgotten how quickly a city can render a beautiful snowfall into a blanket of grimy grey slush. It was all frozen slush, of course, but Paul managed to keep us from getting into accident. He achieved this by going 25 miles per hour the entire way to South Street. This didn't go over very well on Broad Street, street of parking in the turning lane and sitting in the right lane for extended periods of time with your four ways on. Paul going so slow also set my teeth on edge because I am the quintessential backseat driver. I had to restrain myself from yelling at him to go faster.
We arrived at South Street, braved the frigid temperatures to walk 6 blocks to Pearl Art Supplies. Apparently Philadelphia doesn't know what salt is, because all the sidewalks on South Street were still covered with a layer of snow, which made walking all that more difficult. We got our supplies at Pearl, and then Paul and I were subtlely ditched by the rest of the people we were with, because they wanted to go hang out with some hot senior guys from Tyler. I hate backhand stuff like that. I mean, if you're going to ditch people, at least do it like you mean it.
After dropping the supplies off at Paul's car, he and I went to this Belgian Fries place called Frite. It was there that Paul discovered he didn't have his wallet. This was not a uncommon occurance. Paul has an unrivaled talent at misplacing things. He went back to look in his car, so I stayed at the Frite place and read the CityPaper. He came back. No wallet.
After some thought, we concluded he had most likely been pickpocketed. There were these kids bothering us on the way back from Pearl. Paul was distracted by the bags he was carrying. His wallet was in the outside pocket of his jacket. I was in front of him and had my hood up, so I didn't see anything.
$45. His driver's license, Mac card, student ID (3rd one). All gone. I don't know what I would've done, I have my entire life in my wallet...business cards, mac card, checkbook, photographs and (most importantly) notes from Deborah. I know that's the thing I would hate losing the most. Fortunately, I've never been pickpocketed because 1) whenever I am Philadelphia, I am ultra paranoid about pretty much everything, and 2) my wallet is so large it would be pretty difficult to just pocket.
So after those adventures, neither of us felt like doing much of anything, so we ate our Belgian fries and went home. We got back to Tyler at 10 pm, and I faced another evening of doing nothing much. Paul had been talking about this place called Centralia, in Pennsylvania, that he said was an abandoned mine town. Naturally I was interested, so I looked it up on the web, and found this page. I was immediately fascinated and intrigued by this the story of this town. Apparently, a landfill fire ingnited the vein of anthracite coal under the town sometime back in the 1960s. Despite the state of PA's efforts to put out the fire, it continued burning unchecked. Eventually, toxic gases began seeping up through the ground and gradually forced all of the town's 1100 residents to relocate. There are pictures showing Centralia in 1983, a busy, bustling little town. Then there are pictures taken in 1999. Nothing. No buildings. Just a network of paved streets, with no buildings around them. I think there are maybe 10 people still living in the area. Highway 61 had to be closed down because the steam rising from the ground put cracks in the pavement two feet wide. It's downright creepy, and yet incredibly cool.
So our plans are to visit there over part of Spring Break. Not everyone's idea of fun, certainly, but defintely mine. I plan to turn this into an artistic endevour/Blair Witch Project type excursion, and for sure it will be documented on this site. Oh yes. I'm hoping I can pilfer John's digital camera so I can get some pictures up instantly. My excitement about Centralia made me realize one thing, however. I am absolutely fasincated with the apocalypse.
Actually, not with apocalypse itself. I don't intend to become of those sandwich board wearing crazies walking around on the streets proclaiming "the end is near". No, I'm more interested in the aftermath. What people have left behind in the wake of a disaster.
Many times last year I sneaked into an abandoned steel factory in my hometown to take pictures. It had been closed for about 20 years, and the place was almost untouched since about 1980. Papers were still on desks. Filing cabinets still full of files. Notices to the workers still posted everywhere. It was weird, like they had just dropped everything and closed the mill. And that was so intriguing to me. The remains of their lives, still there for anyone to see. This is the same reason Centralia interests me so much. These people just had to pick up and leave their entire lives, hundreds of years of history behind. There are still cemetaries in Centralia where people buried their ancestors. A break like that must be wrenching and painful. It's going to be weird to stand in the middle of that empty field and think that less than twenty years ago, this was a town of 1100 people, people with lives and jobs and homes. And now there's nothing left of their lives but this empty field.
music: Tori Amos, Boys for Pele
read: trash novel
sight: visions of the apolcalypse
boys on my left side / boys on my right side /
boys in the middle / and you're not here
-Tori Amos, Caught a Lite Sneeze
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