(Mji Mkongwe, Zanzibar)
Recently a civic makeover and a deep cleaning of sorts took place at a small square in the center of historic Stone Town,
Zanzibar. At the intersection of 4 narrow passageways known casually as Jaws Corner, doors have been painted with new colors,
concrete has been scrubbed, and even a few new hand-painted signs can be seen. The location’s main electricity box, whose top
surface once supported the unofficial transistor radio of the square, even received a well-deserved makeover. The electricity
box’s neighboring mural (formerly depicting a shark in transit) has also been updated and reconceived—the new mural this time
with a high-tech Hollywood inspired design that some quietly say is a bit out of touch with the square’s atmosphere and purpose
Another updated feature worth mentioning: the original overhead television support brace (located a few steps diagonally across from the electricity box, and just above the fruit vendor’s goods) currently remains empty, as a newly designed metal audio-visual cabinet (with locking doors) is now to be found in the far corner across the square. The new AV cabinet—the well-regarded work of one of the door painters team—houses a recent edition Videocon IVE40F21A 98cm Full HD LED flat screen television, purchased with funds from the collection can of the local political fraction, the Civic United Front. This new high tech acquisition is certainly a much needed upgrade from the previous Onida IGO CRT television set, which for many years was a beloved and well cared for, local lifeline to national and international news reports, as well as to a variety of regional public service announcements and civic debates. As of late, however, the Onida set—ancient and well-worn—had lost its audio capabilities and continued to function only due to its closed captioning service for the hearing impaired. The days of the old monitor were clearly numbered, and agitation was often openly felt during public screenings, especially from the disenfranchised, illiterate and visually impaired citizens of the district.
One of the chief sign painters from the 2013 Mafia Airport renovations in nearby Kilindoni—who is known for his preference for certain shades of royal blue (and light green when possible), and who was credited with the overall scheme of the Jaws Corner revitalization plan—is believed to have proactively recommended the updated audio-visual system for future events in the square.
Roaming area dogs and cats—independent and claimed by no one in particular—seem to be as pleased as anybody by the recent purchase of the Videocon HD stereo monitor. Most often when the new system is first switched on—and the initial brand logo & welcome tones are to be heard—a unanimous outpouring of barks and chirrups excitedly activates the square and its inhabitants. One thin gray dog in particular, one of the older members of the group, and often found asleep and at ease beside the coffee maker’s post, even appears (with a dignified gesture of an elder statesman) to lift a front paw in some form of salute to the initial melodic tone emanating from the overhead AV cabinet.
The taciturn yet generous coffee maker himself, when asked his opinion in the matter, is thankful for anything that brings joy to his wiry-haired companion, and to the square’s inhabitants in general. Secondarily he noted as well that the fruit vendor (though he would never admit it publicly) is relieved at the relocation of the television’s position in the square. As the coffee maker explained “Even though the old television monitor was only used a few hours every week, he was never really at ease with electronic technology emanating from directly above his fruits and vegetables. As well, he will with certainty be happy to use the now empty, overhead wooden television brace as an extra shelf and hanging mechanism for his business.”
On last check, during the preparation for a weeknight viewing of a European football match, a pair of fine new hand-woven baskets (perfect for carrying new fruit and vegetable purchases) were to be found on the shelf. Whether they were for sale, or solely belonged to the vendor himself, was at the time unclear.
Beneath the Noise
At the southern end of 2 de Avril, at the intersection of the Malecón and Playa, a rectangular-shaped, poured concrete traffic island—lime
green around its base, and a bit faded after years of direct tropical sunlight—holds 3 young palm trees in 3 separate circular elevated
poured concrete planters, their own lime green bases perfectly matching the traffic island’s color. 2 lamp posts are also to be found on
the island, bookending the 3 young palms. Both lamp posts (in a slightly darker shade of green as the rest of the ensemble) support 3 spherical
glazed-white bulb casings in a design that—as a passerby once casually remarked—seems to emulate the victory platforms seen at Olympic contests
and general athletic championship events. As the man delicately stated, at the register of a purring cat: “First place highest in the center,
second place a bit lower to the left, and third place even a touch lower and to the right side”. 2 small ornamental plants, ragged yet confident
from years of existence, round out the traffic island’s composition.
This island, whose main purpose to guide automobile traffic safely through an unorthodox convergence of 3 streets, also plays two other key roles: it serves as an oversized drainage catch basin for the torrential flood waters that seasonally make their way down 2 de Avril, and it is the meeting place for a small pensive group of area mystics, some of whom (excepting the 1 or 2 street vendors and the self-proclaimed "Idiot of the Sierra de Los Tuxtlas") actually helped in the strategic design and planning of the island itself, along with other integral structural elements of the town’s seaside promenade.
As opposed to the majority of healers and shamans found in the town of Catemaco, the traffic island group have never once considered themselves to be functioning professional practitioners of witchcraft, but instead aim to remain behind the scenes in a town where magic has become a type of low-grade tourist attraction. In fact—and perhaps due to their understated casual demeanor—it is nearly impossible for anyone outside of the group to ascertain their dedication to the mystical and supernatural. On initial interaction with any group member it is most likely that one will receive as response solely a rattling of keys, a melodic whistle (and the quick wave of a hand), or at best the soft tenor rendition of an area folktale.
With dedicated time and effort, however, an embedded visitor—at the point of becoming a resident and fixture along the Malecón—might start to discover traces of the group’s spiritual side: the preference for a quick hop through the rear-side roll-up window opening of the corner bar & taqueria (instead of taking the normal front entrance!); the specific design & planning decision of dual-facing concrete benches, integrated as openings and passageways into the run of the beachfront promenade’s pipe-rail fencing; the subtle observation and discussion of any used peanut shells found near doorways or gated openings; and the pleasure found in discussions of fog and the region’s often overcast weather.
In consultation with the proprietor of an area kiosk, it was hypothesized that this pleasant yet taciturn group from the traffic island might hold a more dedicated than usual interest, curiosity and respect for thresholds of various kinds. As well, the group seems to maintain an implicit belief that any special powers they might actually have, could be better served for subtle, often overlooked urban planning decisions, as opposed to the myriad of zócalo mystics whose only missions are usually to help tourists and local citizens with spiritual cleansings, the location of their vanished loved ones or the retrieval of missing cats.
The Run of La Quebrada
Traveling southbound (yet with sharp curves actually sometimes eastbound, or is it even yet northbound, again?) along the western edge of the
dry gulch known locally as La Quebrada de los Pozos, from the beginning of the street's short run at the intersection of Panamericana Norte (1N)
and the so-called Diamond Eyes Café (a name agreed upon most likely due to the unique decorative elements of the sometimes open, sometime not,
front door entranceway), one will pass by the clothing and kitchenware sales lady and her husband, the fruit vendor and his two friends, and even
perhaps the welder's cat, with its grayish-brown camouflaged colors hiding him well amongst the street's many sandy corners and alleys. On most days
this small group of merchants and friends will all be found here, quietly resting in what appears to be a form of prolonged trance, together atop
the café's practical 3-foot-high elevated sidewalk, a walkway whose unusual height is used strategically as both a bench and stage/countertop for
their street-side market stands. The remarkable calm, seemingly frozen quality of the kitchenware sales lady's husband can often cause new visitors
to the area to believe that he is actually a wax statue of a man from many decades past. And if that was the case, he would certainly be found
in the category of dignified, yet slightly worn and dirty statue.
Further along the creek's curving route, past the construction workers union (with its green painted façade), the children's school (with its freshly painted yellow wall), and the newly constructed Parc Las Banderas (with its modernist style red and brown cactus sculpture), one will soon come to the visually striking, light blue and white (a theme of the district's recently refreshed curbs and handrails) Miramar-Sechurita pedestrian flood-security footbridge, with its companion creek-level auto crossroad. Found diagonally across from the entrance to the footbridge & crossroad, a new municipal relaxation park contains a variety of items: an oversized 4-foot-tall soccer ball sculpture, a selection of covered benches, and even a stone and metal-gated Catholic prayer shrine. Across from the municipal park is a cobbled together three-part, tin-roof entertainment complex of sorts, home to a combination snack bar café & news stand, as well as a nearly invisible (and only at certain times operating) tavern and event space. The so-called tavern and event space, known by some as El Pícaro, has no signage or actual official name. With a dark, cool, (and on windy days) dusty interior, it stands devoid of any unnecessary decoration, with a simple L-shaped bar and rear-side windows displaying a clear view on to La Quebrada de los Pozos. The head of the bar, if that title officially existed, is a reserved and elegantly understated man from up in the nearby flatlands of Pedregal, who claims to base his style and “knowledge of things” on the Moroccan born, French actor of Spanish decent, Jean Reno. In relation to the specifics of the establishment, it remains unclear if the leader of the tavern has a set schedule as to when El Pícaro opens for business. Once, after being asked by a honorable passing visitor to the region, a few seconds pause led only to the words “algún día.”
At the edge of town, out on the dry creek bed just past El Pícaro and adjacent to the pedestrian bridge's companion road, are the simple and effective wooden-post construction of 2 informal soccer goals, with the flat creek bed surface serving as the main playing field. Seen as well along the opposing shore of La Quebrada's impromptu sports field are 2 sets of covered and shaded concrete viewing bleachers, built into the eastern (northern) bank of the creek. These bleachers, most likely designed for fans of each opposing soccer team, could also feasibly be of use for any upcoming daredevil boat races (in the case of a seasonal torrential flood) or for that matter, for any other type of desert-style racing event that might come along in the future: a motocross event, a BMX challenge race for the area youth, or perhaps simply a horse race (or parade?) of some kind.
Embedded into the viewing bleachers are three sets of concrete access steps leading down to the creek bed, along with a small covered bench seemingly built to hold 2 public announcers or scorekeepers of some sort. In relation to this set-up, there appears, however, nowhere to be seen any actual adjacent working scoreboard or announcement speakers of any kind. Oddly, for years on end, locals have been known to complain about a randomly occurring, painfully loud (nearly deafening in fact) security system alarm that can be heard directly over the creek bed soccer field. On questioning of local residents and customers at El Pícaro about the aggressive sounds, no complaints were actually registered personally, with a universal shrug of the shoulders being the most common response.
For the most part, outside of the occasional late night coupling of teenagers and the once legendary (yet by all recollections, exceptionally casual and patiently handled) capture of a lost spectacled bear that had drifted down from the Tumbes Natural Reserve, the whole concrete viewing platform (both the scorekeeper's bench and the audience seating area) is normally devoid of activity and not actively in service.
And as the leader of the tavern once made mysteriously clear: “Here we have a situation where silence holds the starring role”.
The Solar Motel
(Los Angeles, California, USA)
The north side of West Jefferson Boulevard, just west of 9th Avenue:
Above and adjacent to a small vacant plot of land, directly on the east side of the Solar Motel, a continuously fading and degrading smaller-sized billboard (promoting HIV testing) contains the image of a marginal television celebrity. Day by day the billboard's image is gradually vanishing from sight, due in most part from general wear and tear caused by the sun's powerful rays. The less-than-desirable location of this overhead display, along with the lack of demand for any newer, more up-to-date advertisements, has made it a long-running staple of the area for a few years running.
On the south side of West Jefferson Boulevard, across from the billboard and the motel's entranceway, one finds the historic Harold & Belle's Cajun restaurant, a fixture of the block since 1969. In the recent past, on most mornings and late afternoons, a local man (dressed in a royal-themed cape and golden plastic crown) could also be seen, mainly strolling in the vicinity of the motel and restaurant. The daily whereabouts of the man have, however, appeared to shift: his coordinates now being a bit more in the westerly direction. He is now seen more often in the area surrounding the recently finalized Westside Neighborhood Park, located between South Fairfax Avenue and Clyde Avenue, underneath the massive span of high-tension power lines passing overhead.
Upon discussion with a few of the local residents and business operators on Jefferson Boulevard, it has been learned that the royal-themed man was once a dishwasher in the Cajun restaurant, but lost his post sometime in the early 1990s, most likely due to irregular behavior on the job. Locals that have known the man claim that he was always a humble presence, and had considered himself to be inspired by Cajun history and the spicy cuisine of the restaurant. He also enjoyed the name of the adjacent motel and even had a residence there for some years. After finally meeting the man himself, who preferred to give out no name, the discussion topics (put forth by the man himself) ranged from the price of contemporary living to the possible higher energy fields surrounding the Solar Motel. It also became clear through these talks that there was an obsession with radiation levels in the area. His last remarks regarding his planned movement west had to do with keeping an eye out for, and testing (in some form), the effects of the high-tension power lines on the newly designed park and playground, as well as its neighboring billboards and signage.
(New York City, NY, USA)
The entranceway to 397 Manhattan Avenue, located in a light industrial section of northwest Brooklyn:
A quiet residential street runs perpendicular to a larger, high-traffic industrial throughway and its adjoining overhead interstate freeway. Most days here under the freeway overpass, one can find a small group of dedicated bottle and can collectors, gathered with their common mode of transportation—the pirated grocery store shopping cart—to sort and return their daily findings to the local beverage center's recycling department. From the vantage point of the collectors' position, looking off in the southern direction across the industrial throughway, one will find a small mixed-use triangle of land, fenced in for protection. It appears to belong to the adjacent apartment building, marked with the number 397. It is, however, extremely unclear if this land actually belongs to the apartment, as there is no direct access to the land from the building itself.
On the small entrance landing of the 397 building, underneath an aluminum awning and just to the right side of the front door, there have been found over the years (dating back to at least the early 1990s) to be a succession of nondescript utilitarian chairs, chained for security, to the bottom edge of the adjacent hand rail. The metal chain used in this situation remains the same, even as the chair is updated. The security chain is of low-grade caliber and its varietal could date back as far as the 1970s. The most recent chair selection is a white molded plastic unibody form, which has been present since around 2007, when it replaced a former dilapidated and rusting metal and wood edition similar to students' chairs found throughout the U.S. public school system between the 1960s and the 1990s.
In general, and at most times of the day, it is extremely rare to witness anyone actually using the above-mentioned chair.
Along Morningside Drive
(Rancho Mirage, California, USA)
Situated between Frank Sinatra Drive (to the north) and Country Club Drive (to the south) is the roughly 1 mile long, arrow-straight stretch of
road known as Morningside Drive; its location forms a central north-south axis for the surrounding region’s roughly 43 or so golf courses and
country clubs. This area, located in the northern Coachella Valley, includes Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, and Cathedral City.
The full one mile length of Morningside Drive is situated directly and completely between 4 private country clubs belonging to the city of Rancho Mirage: on the west side of the street, Morningside Country Club; on the east side, The Springs Country Club; at the south end, Thunderbird Country Club; and to the north, Tamarisk Country Club. There are no public sidewalks along the entire stretch of Morningside Drive, and all access to the adjacent & surrounding clubs is private, with gated and high security entranceways; the full section of the road, however, does contain a public access bicycle lane.
Although both walkers or joggers are rarely seen, it is not uncommon to witness, traveling in the bicycle lane, a steady flow of security golf carts patrolling the full stretch of Morningside Drive. This somewhat problematic (and larger than necessary) traffic of security vehicles is due to the presence of four separate security companies independently working for each of the four separate clubs. During the summer of 2010, with pressure mounting from the local civic council, the board members of the four separate country clubs began work on a collaborative plan to utilize the services of only one security firm, which could patrol singularly the entirety of Morningside Drive and the four club entranceways.
At this point in time however, any results or updates—due to this strategic planning initiate—have yet to materialize.
(Charlottenburg-Nord, Berlin, Germany)
Along Nonnendamm, at the western end of the small island, one can see in the distance, along the north side of the adjoining canal,
the rusted remnants of an old iron bridge. This derelict bridge was part of a former, yet now defunct rail line. And the tiny island,
which can be traversed on foot in about 20 minutes, contains only one lone multi-story industrial factory building, along with a small
collection of "Schrebergarten" allotment cottages and gardens.
Upon leaving the island, the first narrow street encountered leads eastwards towards the larger nearby street Tegeler Weg; this is a good route to take, in order to view a unique 2-level, now abandoned, former autobahn bus station. The covered ground-floor landing—in front of the orange-colored facade of the bus station entranceway—is well-kept and in good order. Oftentimes here, one can witness impromptu sidewalk concerts performed by a local musician from the area. Unfortunately on all occasions, when approached by onlookers, the musician is known to immediately stop performing, quickly pack up his equipment and abandon his post. All attempts to engage the street musician with conversation and questions usually end in failure.
Discussing this issue recently with a city park worker (whose weekly efforts help keep this landing clean and in proper order), it was thought that the musician favored this spot as a location to practice in solitude, away from the multitudes of passersby found in other sections of the city. In relation to this theory, there has been no word from any local sources on whether the man has performed here since the past, once active times of the former bus station, or whether he more recently started playing here, solely since the station's closure and abandonment.
Cyber Café F.F.I.
(Djibouti City, Djibouti)
“As far as can be remembered—or can be described—in regard to the winter hours leading up to the melancholic dusk found on most of the
streets near the harbor, and presiding over the miniscule beaches of Djibouti City, these last hours of warming sun light, in combination
with strong desert winds from the west, generate an atmosphere that can—at least to the average citizen, perhaps (?)—create a disorienting
sense of confusion and panic: a feeling mixed as well with a calming sensation of faded well-being, a common state of mind found either in
long-term inhabitants of remote desert villages, or, by those few fortunate (?) souls who have returned to describe the tale of the seconds
leading up to death.”
During the final months of 2011, at the central Djibouti City internet café known casually as Cyber Café FFI, these were the words found locked on the PC monitor of the café's Work Station #3. Due to a technical screen error that no one in the city could fix, this mystical statement remained locked in place, as a digitized white text on a black background, in DOS format, for nearly 3 months.
In the first days after this sedentary sentence was noticed, there were numerous efforts made to power down the faulty machine at Work Station #3. However, even after multiple unsuccessful attempts were made to unplug & re-plug the monitor and tower drive, consensus was reached that this frozen digitized statement was pretty much the truth, and since it offended none of the customers and staff, it should possibly just remain as a digital monument of sorts.
In the 3 months to follow, the broken monitor—contrary to staff expectation—did not draw much of a crowd of onlookers and was eventually half covered by a hand-made "Out of Order" sign. In January of the new year, with pressure mounting from a growing number of new customers, Work Station #3 finally received a complete overhaul and was replaced by a new HP Pavilion 23-b040xt All-in-One Desktop PC. This new update has proven to be a giant hit with all of the younger customers, yet remains a nuisance to most older users of the more vintage style IBM PCs found at the other work stations of the café. Foul play has not been ruled out by a few of the frustrated older patrons; however, a lack of proof to back up such allegations, along with general excitement found amongst all staff members for this new purchase, make any type of investigation highly unlikely.
On closing it should be noted that after much deliberation amongst the staff of FFI—in conjunction with café regulars and sponsors—it was agreed upon by all parties that the frozen DOS phrase, written in an eloquent yet insecure mode of description, was not the work of any of the local patrons of the café and must have been the work of an outsider—perhaps a traveling technical worker in the area; or possibly, at best bet, one of the last mementos left behind by one of the members of the recently withdrawn military personnel from the 13e Demi-Brigade de Légion Étrangère (DBLE).
(Near Rio Grande Village, Texas, USA)
A few miles to the north and east of a national park crossroads village (containing little more than a convenience store and
campground) is the location of a secluded dead-end roadway known as “Boquillas Crossing”. For many years—if one parked their
automobile at the end of this roadway and searched a bit—it was possible to hear the call of a small aluminum boat ferryman,
whistling over from the other side of the narrow streaming waters of the Rio Grande (Río Bravo del Norte), the infamous natural
borderline separating the U.S. state of Texas from its southern neighboring Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León
and Tamaulipas. The whistle and greeting was a casual non-verbal invitation to cross over the waters and visit the tiny village
of Boquillas del Carmen, Mexico. After replying affirmatively to the ferryman’s request for service and being shuttled across
the waters, it was then possible to reach the village (roughly 1/2 mile away) by either pick-up truck, burro or simply on foot;
and each of the 3 transportation services had their own guides for hire: children led the burros, young men drove the trucks and
the older men escorted you on foot. On all occasions one was also observed and accompanied by a taciturn, yet friendly old black
dog on duty to proceed over all of these affairs, from swimming alongside the boat’s crossing, to following the burros up to the
village. The sleepy village of roughly 250 residents, lacking electricity and solely run by propane gas, contained a café/restaurant
with an open-air patio, a nearby cantina, as well as casual overnight accommodations at an informal bed & breakfast, or whatever it
was called. Children and women sold minerals, rocks and other trinkets, and the main dirt road through town was usually empty and quiet,
excepting the occasional roaming wild chicken.
The impromptu ferry service serving Boquillas del Carmen had operated uninterrupted from at least the 1990s until 2002, when the U.S. federal government decided to put an end to the informal and illegal crossing point. In the years after 2002, lacking necessary income from the foreign visitors, it became a difficult time for the residents of Boquillas del Carmen; many locals moved far distances away to the larger and less remote towns and cities, and even the bed & breakfast closed its doors. For the residents who stayed, all have struggled to survive and have needed to adapt to the new environment. As for the former ferryman: it is highly likely that on most ordinary afternoons he can still be spotted at his new post, held since 2002. He will most likely be seen either while legally wading ankle-deep in the waters of the river, or emerging from some brush nearby. Now one hears the sounds not of an inviting ferryman, but of a sad troubadour, no longer calling for passengers, but instead looking solely for a musical audience. A former ferry master, now singer of the shore.
NOTE: As of April 2012, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency has made plans to open the river crossing once more, allowing the return of the impromptu ferryboat operation. This time however, on the U.S. side of the river there will be an official unmanned electronic customs crossing terminal and a U.S. Parks Department information kiosk, as well as new public toilets. There is also no official word yet on whether the now defunct “Buzzard’s Roost” bed & breakfast will return to business once the ferry starts operation.
The Salt Salesmen of Erongo
(Along the E34, Western Namibia)
Roughly 120km north from the coastal town of Swakopmund, along a remote stretch of the desolate gravel and salt highway E34, one can find a
few small turn-off roads, each leading west past the White Lady Salt Pan and towards a government-run national wildlife preserve, designed
specifically for the protection of a massive native population of Cape fur seals.
In the vicinity of the turn-off roads it is a common sight to see a selection of makeshift tables lining the sides of the E34 highway. The tables are casually constructed with a combination of mostly found materials: milk & beer crates, or even old discarded tin drums act as bases, while a variety of metal sheeting and wooden boards are deployed as the standard table top display surface. Amongst a selection of sculptural salt configurations displayed on the usually unmanned tables in evenly spaced rows, one also notices the companion of an old coffee (or small-sized paint) canister, or perhaps instead a glass jar, each of which acts as a self-service cash register. Prices for the variety of sizes are listed in either chalk or paint, and are marked directly onto the surface of the table tops.
Although the majority of the time these tables are unmanned—with the proprietors setting out their merchandise in the early morning and then returning around sunset to collect any earnings from the cans & jars—one stand is oftentimes serviced continuously by a part-time fisherman from the region. The presence of his clearly more vibrant stand could be attributed to his unique practice of a quite intense short session of flag waving, a ritual performed during the passing of each traveling vehicle. After a brief recent discussion with this local salt vendor it was learned that as a child during the 1960s he had immigrated with his parents and 2 siblings, to Atlanta, Georgia, in order to avoid political conflicts in the region. As part of an early family business he and his brothers—upon arrival in the new land—had trained under their uncle and cousins as parking lot attendants for the city’s main sporting venue, the Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. The salt salesman explained how, as an impromptu and non-sanctioned undertaking, located a good stretch further from the stadium than the official designated parking facilities, the family business required a special trademark in order to attract potential customers before they would arrive at the official parking facilities. In this way, the dance and parade of flag waving tactics was a great sales & marketing tool for the small business.
Over the course of the following years, due to the successful effects of the family’s tactic, many other unofficial (and later even official) parking lot attendants picked up on this theatrical trait of advertising, making it currently a staple of the pre-game rituals observed before almost all U.S. sporting events. When asked, it was still unclear to the salt salesman how his uncle had devised this special ceremony of flag waiving: whether it was a former ritual from the earlier tribal life in Namibia, brought to Atlanta upon immigration, or if it was solely something picked up from the local 1960s culture of protest and demonstration seen throughout mediated images present at that time in the USA. It is also unknown if this was the original and first instance of the tactic to be used anywhere in the entire professional history of parking lot attendants.
In the early 1990s, upon return to Namibia, the part-time fisherman (once parking attendant), had decided that he should attempt the same strategy for his new side-business, salt sales venture, found along the E34 highway. It was unfortunately not discussed in detail whether or not this flag waiving tactic has actually worked in his favor, back in Namibia. The lack of travelers in the area, due to its extremely remote location, makes the practice seem to be more of a ritual of love than an actual sales strategy. And down the road at the local pub, the few motorbike tourists and journeymen that were questioned regarding their opinion, unfortunately believed the man to be possibly mentally disturbed and would most likely, if necessary, purchase any needed salt trinkets from one of the other unmanned tables in the vicinity.
State Route 139
(College Park, Georgia, USA)
Along a short portion of Georgia State Route 139, known to the casual motorist as Riverdale Road, one can discover the location of a
small nondescript triangle of land, sealed on two sides by two separate major U.S. Interstate Highways (I-85 and I-285), and on the
third side by the private grounds of one of the world's largest airports: Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
On this stretch of Riverdale Road, here snaking a backwards "S" course through a mainly barren zone, there can be found: the well-manicured grounds of 2 peculiarly situated, small historic cemeteries; 10 various post-modern corporate chain hotels; the route towards the official airport rental car center; and as well, a handful of mainly unmarked, vacant and abandoned, light-industrial complexes and office buildings, all dating from roughly the 1980s and 1990s.
The smaller of the two local cemeteries, a family plot of only 83 mostly unmarked graves, is known as Hart Cemetery; it can be reached via Riverdale Road, at the end of a short and nameless street. Accessibility by automobile is only possible from the north/west-bound side of Route 139. The property's tightly marked preservation-code boundaries, allocated after massive redevelopment of the area, are completely ensconced on all sides by the new massive grass embankments from the airport's 2001 runway addition and expansion. With such a hidden and desolate location, and possibly due to the fact that all relatives of the John J. Hart family (who had previously owned the land and were present in the area from the 1850s until the 1940s) have moved on, visitors to the burial site are seldom seen.
On repeat visits to the site, if one allows the time, it is possible, although somewhat challenging, to strike up the acquaintance of one local visitor/resident. The man, a bartender at one of the zone's hotels, can sometimes be seen during pleasant weather, resting in the shade found under one of the cemetery's three magnolia trees. Usually in the company of his Grundig S450DLX Deluxe AM/FM/Shortwave radio (a gift: he once made clear) and a simple tartan plaid blanket, the taciturn, yet quietly charming man, who goes by the name Richard, claims to have used the spot for several years now, as a rest-area away from his nearby workplace and accommodation at the area hotel. It was learned, after a few separate meetings, that Richard was born and raised in New York City and had spent the majority of his life as the chief bartender for a forgotten Irish pub, found hidden in plain sight, on a dead-end street in Brooklyn. During the last decade, the dead-end street had since become the main thoroughfare for an up-and-coming and popular neighborhood, highly desired by newer residents of the city. Due to its outdated business model, and in spite of its charming atmosphere, the Irish pub closed for good, as Richard describes: "a few years back there".
To the question raised as to why he ended up moving from Brooklyn to Atlanta, Richard stated that he was always a lifelong fan of Atlanta's professional baseball team, the Braves. He further noted that he decided to use all of his savings from the pub's severance package, in order to retire to Atlanta and lead a quieter lifestyle. Here he also stated that he no longer had to surreptitiously cheer for his favorite sports team, as previously, under the always watchful eyes of the pub's regular clientele, comprised solely of fans of the neighborhood's local team: the New York Mets. "In that climate one had to always be secretive, as the Atlanta Braves were usually always seen to be the evil archrivals", stated Richard, still a bit nervous, after all these years.
In further discussion about his transition to this specific corner of the Atlanta area, Richard claimed that he enjoyed the anonymity afforded by the new extreme location and its mainly transitory residents. He stated that he finds great personal peace in both the isolated cemetery grounds and the nearby-unnamed forest of sorts (found between the rental car city and the area hotels). And for the final note in the discussion: "After years of hectic New York City life, its nice to have a few quiet spots, away from the crowds, in order to sometimes have a simple picnic and listen to your team on the radio". As for the noise from the departures and arrivals of the numerous overhead jetliners: "It's no bother, really. It reminds me of my childhood home near the LaGuardia Landing Lights Park, back in Elmhurst (Queens, NYC)".
Located directly behind the Flemish-Italian Renaissance style Stadhuis van Antwerpen (Antwerp City Hall), one can find a small L-shaped
cobbled street, running for a distance of not quite 100 meters. Until 1565, with the completion of the Stadhuis and its presence designating
the east side of this small street, the facades along the west side of Gildekamersstraat previously formed the western boundary Antwerp's
Grote Markt. Since the 1890's several buildings along the street have been demolished, with one structure at the northern end of the block,
as well as the buildings along the abutting Zilversmidsstraat, clearly dating from the late 20th century. These most recent constructions,
with their courtyard design structure, form a type of hidden postmodern village, just around the corner from the 16th century square.
The former Volkskundemuseum (Folklore Museum), once located at Gildekamersstraat 2-6 and out of operation since August 2007, has transferred its contents to the newly designed Museum aan de Stroom. Since this point in time, the quiet street, always a less-traveled route in the old center of Antwerp, is now nearly devoid of pedestrians at all times, barring the few residents that can be seen coming and going from #1: the 20th century apartment house forming an attachment to the postmodern village around the corner.
The lack of foot traffic along Gildekamersstraat could possibly be attributed to an urban phenomenon that tends to re-route the itineraries of most casual pedestrians: the blind alley. And here, along the full length of the tiny street, an almost unheard-of combination of a three-part (false) blind alley effect is found: first when looking in the southern direction toward the appearance of full-blockage created by the terrace café at the junction of Suikerrui; secondly, towards the northern direction, by the facades of Zilversmidsstraat; and finally, when observing the westerly perspective, with the help of the facades of Gildekamersstraat 8-10. This unique setting, being hidden from view directly next to the most heavily touristed location in the city (Grote Markt), gives the street a special theatrical atmosphere of emptiness.
In relation to this street's odd feeling of theatricality it is interesting to note that it was even possible for a short time, after the closure of the Folklore Museum, to witness a peculiar type of non-performance, seen up behind the windows of the second floor of Gildekamersstraat 2-6. Dressed in what appeared to be standard attire from the 16th century, a lone man was often seen pacing back and forth, seemingly lost in thought. In discussion with residents in the area it was gleaned that the man was previously a night custodian at the Folklore Museum and had lost his post after the institution's move to the new updated facilities in 2007. The impromptu and irregularly scheduled performances were only known to have taken place during the early months of 2008. One resident of the postmodern village on Zilversmidsstraat believed that the costume and styling of the man might have related to that of Jan Moretus, a Flemish printer active in the late 1500s. Other questioned residents though agreed that this style was common at the time and could have related to any number of well-known cultural figures. All residents were unanimous in having no knowledge as to the present day whereabouts of the man, in the years since 2008. There is also no information as to why the former custodian had decided to perform this quietly melancholic and unannounced event.
During the spring of 2010, a Japanese exchange student studying fashion and costume design at the Royal Academy in Antwerp, having heard of this strange event, decided to hold a one-night performance in the continuously empty rooms of the former museum. The event was an hour-long restaging of the man's performance, this time with a new uniform: an updated ensemble with a formal pastiche of references to what witnesses described as part 16th century Flemish fashion, part Rei Kawakubo-inspired uniform design. One commentator on the event noted that the performer looked somewhat like a futuristic public sanitation worker.
Since the 2010 event, no other theatrical exercises of note are known to have taken place on Gildekamersstraat.
Along the Syr Darya
(Baikonur, Kyzylorda Province, Kazakhstan)
Proceeding southbound on Korolev Avenue, after passing successfully through the security checkpoint gates of the city of Baikonur
(formerly known as either Zarya, or Leninsk, or also even Zvezdograd; and originally dubbed solely "Desyataya Ploshadka: Site 10"),
one notices the unusual and synthetic looking green color of the irrigated and trimmed lawns framing the newly opened Sputnik Hotel,
the first of its kind in the city: a hotel designed for foreign international tourists. After passing by the Sputnik, one quickly recognizes,
off in the southeastern direction, the historic Cosmonaut Hotel Baikonur. Following a concrete pathway located to the right side of the
Cosmonaut Hotel's main entrance and continuing in the easterly direction, the casual wanderer will enter the grounds of a public park dissected
by an allée planted by—and ceremoniously honoring—all previous passengers from the Soviet & Russian space program. At the end of the avenue of trees
is the location of a simple concrete viewing terrace. Having a dilapidated surface of faded cement blocks, along with utilitarian and
rusted metal hand railings, this viewing platform terrace—designed to display a monument replicating (in shrunken form) the Proton
rocket—overlooks the banks of the Syr Darya river. After taking in the vast panoramic view of the river and the eastern steppe terrain,
with its expansive and intimidating character, one can opt for a perpendicular adjacent paved walkway, which leads in the southerly direction
and transforms eventually into a dirt pathway sloping gently downwards towards the banks of the river below.
Taking a break here along the shore of the Syr Darya's meandering path, some slight remnants of former river bank activity can be found: a few formalized water basins, iron pole support structures, paved landings and 2 nondescript industrial sheds. The use for these forgotten and rusted artifacts remains for the most part unclear, as any casual questioning of the local swimmers and novice fishermen (of which there are only a handful) turns up every time the same standard uniform reply: a gentle shrugging of the shoulders, in conjunction with a silent and subtle frown; a sympathetic but decisive deferral of sorts. Perhaps these mystery riverfront fragments were once solely just diving boards and swimming accessories for the summer months? (But isn't the water here too shallow for diving?) Or perhaps they were only a type of commercial boat docking accessory? (For a non-navigable waterway with sandbars throughout?) Could the remnants relate to the rarely mentioned former (and now legally banned) horn hunters of the region, a group previously in an ever diligent search for the native Saiga Antelope herds, a once yet no longer common sight on the surrounding steppe.
To these thoughts and questions, only the so-called "idiot of the outskirts"—a regular visitor to the shore, and resident of the notorious sand swept district on the western edge of the city—had a word to say. Unfortunately however, his tendency to hiss and whistle when describing and recalling made every utterance resemble less a structured sentence than that of a mimicry: a solo auditory performance of the sounds of the spring sandstorms known to overwhelm his famously inhospitable district. And with the presentation of each new sentence (or was it actually a musical performance?) the man formulated not exactly answers to the questions posed, but instead a quiet sonic depiction—one whose elements of delivery seemed to relate something of the essence of existence found along this desolate and isolated central plain.
The Phantoms of Al Quoz
(Dubai City, United Arab Emirates)
During the past months a series of news reports has begun to circulate in relation to certain mysterious conditions found at a residential
development located within the Al Quoz section of central Dubai City. Last year, during the early months of 2011, it appears that at least one
of the community’s apartment buildings was fully evacuated, due either to what management officials stated as standard plumbing & maintenance
issues, or instead to certain alleged “hauntings” that have since been described to local media sources by a group of fast-food employees who had,
at that time, resided on the property.
On any casual stroll past the structure in question it seems clear that the entire premises have been fully abandoned; the presence of a vacant parking structure covered partially by an ever-growing mound of sand, padlocks on all formal entrance doorways and the constant surveillance maneuvers of a private security fleet solidify this belief. However, what in actuality might be taking place behind the padlocked doors could be something completely different from the outward state of appearances.
In recent discussion with a former taxi driver from the Sonapur–Global Village transit route, known only as Thierry, it was learned that a great number of “smokescreens” are constantly taking place throughout the recently formed and already faltering metropolis. Upon further elaboration it appears that these so-called smokescreens are solely just diversionary tactics used by lower-level workers in order to devise and run secret businesses or to start illusive private clubs; In a way they are simply a form of reverse advertising used to distract attention from mainly subversive activities. The taxi driver stated that he believes these recent hauntings are a newly designed method used to clear a path towards the formation of illegal and underground situations: gambling dens and sex parlors, black market trading rooms and unregulated internet lounges. What better way to keep the public from noticing too much, Thierry believed, than to create either a contagious or feared environment?
From deeper investigations, more detailed information over this theme has since been received: The security service (whose name can actually not be found in any official city record) roaming the above described complex have also been connected with at least 5 other properties in the city, each of which at some point have appeared to the public eye as either standing abandoned, or at least in need of major construction repairs. In each of these 5 accounts there appears as well a relationship in some form or another to either formal declarations of otherworldly hauntings, emergency evacuations or even contagious health risk scenarios.
Prolonged discussions over the changing city and its possible futures continued with both Thierry, as well as his business partner, a salesman known as Ibrahim: a native of Algeria, with a gentle swagger and an elegantly outdated style (was it always the same chocolate-brown suit?) straight out of the early 1970s. Thierry later stated that his friend Ibrahim, a sort of pleasant dreamer who prides himself on his extensive knowledge of the life and career of the U.S. film actor Gene Hackman, was known previously to have maintained a prominent presence in main train station in Milan, Italy. During those years, working as a type of hotel booking agent and “fun expert”, he was always on the move, searching for new customers amongst the weary travelers in need of a good night’s lodging. Ibrahim himself stated that he had learned a great deal at that time about how to remain invisible in plain sight and that this knowledge had paid off well for him in Dubai.
During one late night discussion with Ibrahim and Thierry about the mysteries and “shadow zones” found in the cracks of Dubai’s postmodern design, many charades—oddly both half-criminal and half-liberating—were described. Amongst one of their favorite so-called “sleight of hand” schemes elaborated on was the formation of (what appears to be?) the world’s highest elevated private workers’ club, a secret location frequented by a subtle and discreet group of local Somali migrant workers. In fact, these same men had begun their time in the city by working up to 14 hours a day, for slave wages, on this actual building’s construction. The workers’ club was a scheme designed by a group of Thierry’s former taxi driver colleagues, in collaboration with a hidden network of certain well-placed service & maintenance employees, and even a hand full of local government workers. It was created as a type of “Robin Hood” maneuver: as a way to temporarily co-opt an unused space and open it up to new unsanctioned possibilities for the former marginalized. The precise location of the private club was described only as “somewhere above the 100th floor” in one of the city’s most prestigious architectural towers. Often lacking in proper funding, locations such as this one were usually very sparsely furnished; As Ibrahim noted, there was no champagne and caviar to be found here, it was more a calming place to rest amongst friends, while enjoying the pre-installed carpeting and luxury climate control, along with state of the art kitchen and bathing accommodations.
How long this quiet collaboration of Somali men can maintain the informal title of the so-called “highest located workers’ club in the world” is unclear. With massive building vacancies and a ghostly feeling of emptiness, the future looks stable. Whether or not there is enough work to sustain the Somali’s presence in the city of Dubai is another story.
The Road to Classic Wizard
(Adak Island, Outer Aleutian Chain, Alaska, USA)
Is it still now, as it was years before, that upon arrival at Adak airport one must rely on the phone number of the mayor/liquor store
owner/rental car specialist for one of the island's well-worn, yet somehow reliable mid-1980s four-wheel drive vehicles— a humble fleet
of rusted machines left behind from the previous decades of military activity in the area.
In the far reaches of the desolate Aleutian chain, on the northern side of Adak Island, a scattering of buildings and human environments present themselves as half present, as marginal and disintegrating characters slowly sinking back into their natural surroundings. With the historic strategic military settlement recently abandoned, the remains of the once government property depict a form of living tableau, one where all citizens have quietly vanished without a trace. As a distant U.S. military outpost, the location was once bombed by the Japanese, with munitions still scattered amongst the empty tundra. Later—with its harsh and desolate character—this "Birthplace of the Winds" went on to hold legendary status amongst military-related inhabitants as one of the more peculiar settings of the surveillance-fueled Cold War.
It is just over ten years since the military left this multi-billion dollar investment to stand alone and battle the wind. Signs and structures are failing, as well as many walls and windows, and most non-cement buildings in general. All abandoned dwellings, which account for 90% of the island's structures, are gradually crumbling from view. And is the historic signage once welcoming visitors to the Adak National Forest (with its 33 total trees) ever going to be replaced? Even the graffiti here proves to be fading from view. And what will become of the airplane hangar guarding and sheltering multitudes of redundant household appliances; or the local general store, which still shows proof of its earlier life as a basketball court?
After setting out from the heart of this modern ghost town in progress, the main street thoroughfare leads northbound towards the shore. And at the end of the road, a succession of various roadways known as Hillside Boulevard scatter in the direction of the "7 Doors of Doom", an abandoned concrete bunker once home to active nuclear depth charge devices. From this point on (is it yet another?) Hillside Boulevard leads farther north towards the beloved national forest, here presenting itself with only a rusted and empty sign post. Directly adjoining the forest lies the pet cemetery, a ragged plot of land mainly honoring the former military service dogs of years past. Further on along the road, coastal bluffs now come into view. Here the eagles of Adak reside and take flight.
It is the halfway point now to the wizard. He's patient and waiting, just ahead after a few small lakes and streams, past languid seals and the clever rock ptarmigan. Abandoned by all, he is still said to be standing alone (but for how long can that last?) just a bit further on: past an unknown amount of unexploded ordnance and hand grenades, past a safety dog with goggles and past a playful yet melancholic reverberation of the trusted and diligent digital Super Mario.
Myrtle Beach Country Club
(Chittagong Division, Bangladesh)
Many years have passed since last traveling through Moheshkhali, across the Shaheed Ziaur Rahman Bir Uttam Bridge connection found on the road
north towards Badarkhali, on this unnamed and dusty (or even often mud-bogged) extension of the Z-1004 mangrove island road; northbound from
the Adinath Temple and Bazar, out beyond the firewood collectors meeting-house and west from the grounds of the Australian Leadership University
College, a location of quiet—yet decisive—lecture and instruction.
At the foot of the memorial bridge, on one of the eastern shore's main boat inlets, can one still take shelter at the casual fishermen's roadside café? Business having boomed once during the bridge's construction, this establishment was often times during its patchy history not actively in service; or at least not with regular posted hours. And was it actually even a café at all, or instead just a meeting spot beside the neighboring elderly couple's kitchen window? Appearing at random times of the morning, at lunchtime and even at dusk, this hospitable pair was always prepared to present (with the transfer of a few coins) a standard unannounced selection: warm rice and a strip of Shutki, fresh phuchkas, a glass of tea or even a variety of cool Shorbot drinks.
And what has become of the café's concrete waterside terrace, with its selection of assorted plastic molded chairs and 2 wooden gathering tables. As respite from the often blistering sun and heat, for years each of these tables supported an oversized blue canvas sun umbrella, both of which were embellished with the faded insignia of the (was it: the once, the former? As from searching, one finds that it exists today no longer) Myrtle Beach Country Club. This odd cultural connection is said to relate to the eldest son of this village couple. Due to political unrest in the region during the 1970s, the young man was sent to the USA, in order to study oceanography and marine sciences at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. The nearby resort town of Myrtle Beach, only a short drive from the school, was described by the parents to be the location of a summer holiday job for their son. He had held a post for four consecutive summers as both miniature golf employee and adjoining kiosk manager. Being strongly impressed by this foreign sun-umbrella design, two samples returned with the young man in the early 1980s, after the completion of his university studies.
As this eldest son in later years moved on, the same as with his other siblings, to other larger cities and towns outside of their hometown coastal region, the reserved and humble parents always took great pleasure in their children's journeys and adventures, as well as their exotic and sometimes even practical gifts.
A One-Time Dracula
(Wormsloe Plantation, Isle of Hope, Georgia, USA)
Traveling along Harry S. Truman Parkway, connecting downtown Savannah to its southern metropolitan districts, one will find an exit named
for Truman's successor: Eisenhower Drive. This presidential exit leads either towards Bacon Park (Sandfly) and Hunter Army Airfield, or towards
Marandy's Soul Food and Skidaway Road, with its outdated neighborhood Piggly Wiggly supermarket. A few miles southbound along Skidaway Road,
past the first open marshes found just after the supermarket, one will recognize along the south side of the street, the entranceway arch of
Wormsloe Historic Site, a former private colonial era residence, now owned and protected by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
The entranceway leading to the former, now vanished estate, consists of a 1.5-mile long majestic tree-lined avenue. After passing along this drive, visitors to the historic site can interact with costumed interpreters as they regale visitors with tales of Georgia history, swamp battles and southern pageantry. It all takes place during the daytime hours of 9-5pm. Then the gates are shut to the property. For many years during the early 1990s, it was possible to notice through the entrance gates, in the hours following closure by the security team, a lone man quietly and slowly passing amongst the two rows of oak trees lining the entranceway drive. There would probably have been no notice of the man if it weren't for his unusual mode of costume. Dressed in full make-up and attire matching the classic Bela Lugosi depiction of the ancient vampire from the 1931 film Dracula, the man seemed to appear around dusk on randomly selected evenings.
Never drawing much of an evening crowd at the gates of Wormsloe, yet known to most locals and law enforcement officials alike, this Dracula performer was recognized for years as a standard member of the Isle of Hope community. He had in fact, during this early part of the 1990s, just taken on his new role, having performed in the previous years as a sort of casual Rhett Butler re-enactor. The actor is said to have based those performances—which mainly took place in downtown Savannah's historic city squares and consisted solely of casual afternoon walks—on the 1939 cinema classic Gone with the Wind, starring Clarke Gable in the role of Butler. It is said that the performances were actually so casual as to have not been noticed by almost anyone in the vicinity. Regular drinkers from a local cellar tavern in historic Savannah, usually open and friendly towards curious travelers' questions, retell with great joy that when asked about this casualness of performance, the actor claimed that he wished to start slow in refining his skills and abilities.
Since the late 1990s there has been no known Dracula or Rhett Butler re-enactment activity in either Savannah or nearby Isle of Hope. Upon questioning of employees of the historic site and various neighborhood residents, the only information gleaned from the situation was a possibility that the man had recently trained to become a psychic reader and was now thought to operate a so-called crystal ball parlor somewhere farther south, maybe near Brunswick.
East of Khasan Urban Settlement
(Along the Russian-North Korean Border Zone)
Two isolated, barren spits of sand sit quietly, just 100 meters apart from one another. Together they form the mouth of the Tumen River,
a waterway with an ever-changing history. In recent years this river's course—due to its political demarcation—has remained nearly devoid
of any human activity. It exists far removed from most people's worldviews. Here the gentle flow of the Tumen delineates 17 kilometers of
shared space between the remote northern reaches of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Primorsky Krai territory
of the Russian Far East. It is 17 kilometers from these spits of sand—upriver—to the border of China. Security fencing keeps control in the
region and a train bridge passes just above the convergence of the three neighboring lands. There are few inhabitants of this particular
socio-geographical region, yet an upcoming and fast approaching future aims to change this drastically.
Lately there has been much chatter amongst the keepers of the border crossings: the few rail workers of Khasan, the boatmen of Rajin & Songbon, and even the welders and retired loggers up north in Posyet Settlement. This waterway should play a key role in the coming Northeast Asian economic miracle. The special economic zone of Rason, a province located in the farthest northeast corner of North Korea has begun to enlist the talents of the Chinese and Russians to help in the matter. Even the South Koreans, Japanese and the Mongolians are on board for discussions. Some claim this area might become a future Rotterdam, Xiamen or Shenzhen. The United Nations Development Project envisions a 20 year plan, one which would prepare the area for a strong economic future.
No citizen of the region—when questioned—can possibly imagine such a vibrant outcome for this forlorn location. The local administrator of the Khasan Urban Settlement still foremost dreams of the long desired foundation of a public tavern for his outpost town. "And might it even include a small hotel!", he can often be heard to mutter, while killing time on the nearest thing he has to local meeting place: the steps of the infrequently used train station platform number 1, part of the rail station structure built years back at the turn of the millennium, solely as a show piece for the inaugural visit of the great leader of the DPRK, the former Kim Jong-Il.
On the few relative warm days of the late summer, back on the nearby eastern coastline, the gap between the banks of sand—observed rarely by border watchmen—becomes a popular gathering point for early evening swimmers. Isolated by a vast expanse of wildlife preserve on the north shore and a rural no man's land on the south, the need to maintain security surveillance at this crossing point is thought by most officials to be pointless at best. And aren't most of the swimmers themselves actually the border guards and customs officials from both sides of the river anyway, here gathered at the end of their shift for relaxation, sport and a bit of conversation.
And if one is fortunate during these daily swimming sessions, they might even spot—kicking up dust on the Russian riverbank road—the speeding enigma that is the fabled Chinese produced Cadillac replica from Khasan proper, with its exotic "In God We Trust" bumper sticker, half worn away on the rear window. The driver of this rusted silver flash, himself not much of a swimmer, likes to take adventurous drives (as he claims, inspired by Hollywood movies), across the coastal lowlands and the wide beaches of the Khasan Preserve. On most long, slow summer evenings, as the sunset hours approach, and with the same maneuvering skills as the clever Manchurian Bush Warbler, odds are likely for a sighting of this lone stunt car vagabond, on his way north towards the seaside cliffs, just in time for an end of the day intermission amongst the shorebirds of the Sea of Japan.
(Athens, Georgia, USA)
Without the help of contemporary computer technology—mainly the internet and its accompanying search engines and GPS mapping systems—or perhaps
without relationships formed with locals from the area, it would be nearly impossible to ascertain the location of the quietly functioning and
admirable informal business practice known mainly through local word-of-mouth as Stroud's Package Store. A "package store" in this case being
an outmoded, perhaps regional name for a liquor store, here functions as well perhaps in combination not solely with alcoholic beverage sales,
but also with the definition of the word "package" in general. Although a handful of dusty bottles of alcohol halfway line the walls behind
the bulletproof glass enclosed saleswoman, the general atmosphere of the location, a bit forlorn, murky and seemingly on the verge of permanent
closure and extinction (has it not felt this way for going on 30 years now?) lends a feeling that something else must be at work, or on offer,
at this location. How else could this sign-less, almost name-less business have survived for so many years? And wouldn't the simplest, most
uninteresting questions raised of course be: Is it a front for illegal drug dealing? Is it a way station for some form of smuggling operation?
And doesn't Stroud's share the same grounds as the neighboring—through not so clearly demarcated—Gresham's Auto Body Shop? And is this perhaps the reason that so many dysfunctional and seemingly abandoned automobiles have come to inhabit the over-proportioned parking lot of Stroud's Package Store. And what exactly is the relationship between Stroud and Gresham? Didn't Gresham at varying points also run a discothèque and 24-hour video service from this conglomeration of structures found running along this highly trafficked, yet often overlooked portion of Georgia State Route 78, on the block between Miller and Paris Street?
Having the fortune of befriending a cordial and knowledgeable former delivery driver from a local restaurant it was learned* that the Stroud's Package proprietress, being a great fan of the driver's employer, often ordered food for delivery, usually as a late afternoon lunch for one. The driver remarked that the proprietress—a taciturn yet elegant lady, roughly in her mid 60s—was a memorable character and stood out as a type of local legend amongst long time workers of the restaurant. This was due in fact to the mixture of the woman's gentle and reserved demeanor, the peculiar faded and melancholic atmosphere of the store and the fact that without straying from her pattern, the woman without exception handed over—what is still baffling to all parties questioned—a standard issue 100% tip for the delivery driver of the day.
With each delivery (naturally coveted by all active personnel of the restaurant), and always with the same regal procedure, the chosen driver was presented by the proprietress, upon entrance of the store and arrival at the bulletproof window, with two individual five-dollar bills. With the presentation of the first bill it was always declared, with the same ritualistic undertaking, that this bill was to be used for the price of the meal (for many years her simple and affordable choice was priced at $4.79). With the handing over of the second bill it was then finalized that this bill was for the driver's generous service. After the transfer of goods and services, and with quiet grace and a solemn bow of the head, the proprietress would then gently motion the driver of the day back out of the cool darkness and once again into the bright and humid heat of the southern day.
*As a note, and as is often the case with such local recollections, this ritual of deliveries had occurred during the previous decade, during what was verified by the driver and his friends to have been "from sometime in the early 1990s until at least around 2003". Neither the former driver, nor his quiet yet revelatory friends could verify if the ritual was still in practice at this point in 2012, or if time had finally cast its inevitable and final judgment on this historic procedure.
A Report from Sentiweg
Found near the intersection of Dammstrasse and Baselstrasse, in the so-called immigrant district on the western border of downtown Lucerne,
are the locations of 2 uniquely planned garden restaurants. The first is known as Gardenrestaurant Sentimatt (at 26 Baselstrasse) and contains
a rear-facing semi-covered concrete garden, with a sloping tin roof, a collection of sun umbrellas and a small wooden beer hut, the contents of
which are normally looked after by the rug-like formation seen most often stretched out beside the entranceway steps: the sleeping, grey guard
dog of sorts, known to rise and quietly rumble out a low barking noise with the passing of each local train (of which there are quite a few,
due to the terrace's location directly adjacent to the main rail tracks of the city). Found just to the east of Gardenrestaurant Sentimatt is
the neighboring streetside, flat-roofed garden terrace of Crazy Cactus (at 24 Baselstrasse), a well-shaded location containing a small thatched
roof bar and accompanying disco ball, a special event projection screen (as well as a small television set), a historic stone water fountain
(dating to well before the restaurant's time), and even a contemporary Mars Bar candy machine. The terrace—accessible even when the restaurant
is closed—contains seating for roughly 20-25 people, consisting of a few bar stools and an array of stackable plastic chairs. There are, as well,
12 outdoor metal tables included—some with table cloths, others without.
Traveling on foot just a short distance northbound from the Crazy Cactus terrace and water fountain, under the Dammstrasse railway overpass, one can visit a set of quiet and nearly hidden concrete steps, which lead downwards to a secluded river landing along the pedestrian path known as Sentiweg. The Sentiweg pedestrian walkway, running along the south shore of the Reuss river, links the easterly situated downtown tourist district (surrounding the Spreuerbrücke and its neighboring historic needle dam), to the western, commercial and light industrial district around the St.-Karli-Brücke. At the mid-point between these two diverse neighborhoods are the overpass for one line of the regional train system, along with two partially terraced garden bridges of the A2/E35 autobahn system, as it leads into and out of central Lucerne.
At the bottom of the Sentiweg riverside steps, and attached to the top portion of the western facing riverbank wall, one will notice a thick and solid iron ring with an inner circumference of roughly 2 inches. To be found hanging from the iron ring, in this quiet, man-made landing bay of sorts, a good 3 feet above the river's calm flow, is a standard gauge (yet seemingly commercial in nature) coat hanger. The coat hanger, with a thin metal neck and black plastic form, hangs at most times empty of any clothing items or any other water related articles. The hanger appears to be, without a doubt, the necessary practical accessory for anyone here planning to wade out into the river, or for anyone whose aim is simply just to rest in the foot of the shallow waters of the small informal waterway landing.
It should be noted that even after hanging for many years in the naturally inclement alpine weather, the hanger appears to have remained in good working condition. And although of very high quality and proper working order—either due to trust and honor in the area, or possibly due to the watchful eyes of the locals—no one has yet attempted to steal, or do harm in any way to this small utilitarian riverside article.
The Blue Line
(New York City, New York, USA)
The differentials found between various urban subway system access strategies—specifically the vertical ascension and descension patterns
(either mechanized or manual) and street access footprint and integration methodologies—can be, with the proper dedicated time and focus,
a complex and vibrant area of investigation. This is at least the unanimous opinion of a scattered group of individuals that have sporadically
gathered, for at least the last few years, at a unique handrail structure found at the east end of the High Street subway platform—part of
a subway station situated between the residential neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights and the downtown business district of Brooklyn, New York.
In correlation to the above urban planning topics, it appears that this specific subway platform was most likely decided upon as a meeting point due to its unique location and design. In order to access the east end of the High Street station platform, two separate stairwell portals combine to form an unusual setting: the entranceways, both on Adams Street and on Red Cross Place, are physically separated from each other by the walled embankments of the (inaccessible to both cars and humans) Brooklyn Bridge automobile ramp and its centrally contained pedestrian & bicycle pathway. This makes the east end stairwells function not only as subway access ways, but as well as an underground passageway for neighborhood pedestrians wishing to cross the bridge's traffic flow. Due to this interjecting bridge ramp traffic flow, both portals are located on particularly barren stretches of two very short, nearly inaccessible streets—each containing almost no through automobile traffic. And as a result of their particularly trapped and isolated location, far removed from any adjacent residential streets, both entranceway environments see very light (if any) pedestrian traffic.
Finding one's way through the confluence of the two entrance portals' lower platforms, and on through the digitized turnstile access gates, and farther down to the lowest platform of the station (the train access platform), one will then come to the location used by the sporadic group for their occasional meetings and urban planning discussions.
Upon arrival at the train access platform, one can see, approximately 30 feet from the bottom of the entrance steps, a black, glossy painted metal horizontal hand railing, roughly 3 inches wide. This railing forms the middle structural support for a nearly 8 foot tall by 6 foot wide Metropolitan Transportation Authority subway platform sign display. The actual signage, seen at the top of the display, is composed of aluminum sheeting painted in the same industrial glossy black, with white lettering which reads: High Street/Brooklyn Bridge. The shiny black metal railing, at a width and height the same as a standard café counter, is well-suited to support a leaning body or for the resting of a person's elbows or forearms. The general foundation & support surrounding and encompassing the horizontal railing is of high-strength industrial build and, although warped and slightly damaged on one of the lower support columns, creates a solid structure for impromptu gatherings and meetings. Located nearby as well, on the ceiling above both sides of the sign structure and handrail, one will notice 2 audio speakers, placed perfectly to hear the latest MTA updates and announcements.
Although there were never any specified times and dates when the discussion group would meet, it was highly probable that during most weekday evening hours—especially from 7pm to 11pm—one could easily begin a conversation with one of the group's main participants, or as some members would say, its inevitable leader—a former track maintenance foreman holding many years experience with the A/C subway line, the same line running through the High Street station. This former track foreman, a local sage to most members of the discussion group, was at most times even prepared to supply any new conversationalist with a small plastic cup of hot, black coffee, poured directly from his prized vintage 1.9 liter gold and blue striped Thermos Pump Pot, an accessory accompanying the man since receiving it as a birthday gift from former work colleagues, sometime in the early 1970s.
With eyesight diminishing during the last years of the 1990s, verging on clinical blindness by the year 2000, the former track foreman, now most likely in last years of his 70s, still aimed never to miss a nightly conversation at the east platform railing structure of the High Street station. And if, after making the short journey on foot from his nearby apartment, no one came to talk (or sip coffee), he claimed to enjoy the repetitive sounds of the High Street commuter footsteps, mixed together with what he referred to as this station's unique "lonely nighttime hum".
Since November 2012, after numerous shut downs, delays and damages caused by a recent hurricane, there has been no sign of the discussion group leader at the railing of the High Street station. There was, however, no fear for his safety amongst the other members of the group, especially after a photograph appeared in a local newspaper article covering hurricane recovery proceedings in the Far Rockaway section of outer Brooklyn. It was one photograph from a larger group of photographs and charts accompanying the local news article. The image documented a grouping of volunteer recovery workers, as well as local residents displaced from the storm. Within this image, nearly out of focus in the distance, in the background of the scene, on a fold out brown vinyl covered playing card table, amongst plates of sandwiches, cookies and plastic bottles of water, if one looked closely, one could make out the multicolored stripes of an old-fashioned Thermos Pump Pot. Beside the pot, one could note as well, an aged and wrinkled set of hands pouring a small plastic cup of steaming coffee. And it was here, at the end of the A-train's long run (as any member of the group would tell you) that at least for the time being, a new conversation—one most likely regarding rail track reconstructions and grading issues, load bearing supports and even shuttle bus programming techniques—would carry on.
(Waltersdorf bei Schönefeld, Germany)
In the flatlands of rural southern Brandenburg, on the possible journey to or from Tropical Islands, Groß Köris, the abandoned
Löpten airstrip, or any other regional point of interest, one might happen upon or recognize a fading former settlement in the
midst of transition. Found easiest at a bicyclist's pace, just off the western edge of autobahn highway Europastraße 36, it is a site
lightly marked for slow future activity, composed of barren field and swamp, of the abandoned and the not yet operational. It is a location
difficult to access, as it rests quietly wedged and secluded between a newly paved interstate highway, a high-speed rail line,
and—as well—a handful of technical buildings of varying degrees. On inquiry with any of the local inhabitants that might turn up in the vicinity
(they are very rare these days), one will certainly only receive a standard shrug of the shoulders, along with a muttering of dissatisfaction.
And then, upon arrival, doesn't one street within this small settlement even resemble a full-size stage set for a modern-day television program? From a distance it appears to replicate a residential neighborhood street from somewhere in the U.S. suburbs, perhaps from the flatlands region of the Midwest and Great Plains, an area whose surroundings consist of never-ending fields of grain and corn.
This phantom zone, seemingly in the midst of both destruction and construction, even has a grand sign, a billboard of sorts, announcing its location. When it is finalized (if that ever happens) perhaps it will be a residential community for local security guards or air traffic controllers working at the 2 adjacent airfields. Or maybe it will solely become a "test area" for billboard specialists and set designers—a three-dimensional calling card, created in order to promote their new company.
Recently, a local bird watcher—and self-proclaimed expert of the area— announced his opinion that it will surely become a sex trade, entertainment village of some sort: simply a way for long distance autobahn drivers, or other passing businessmen, to temporarily live out a simulation of their suburban sexual fantasies. "And wouldn't the location in the vicinity of two airports not also fit my theory well?!" he quietly muttered, while walking away in conversation.
With this theory in mind, it is important to note the activity surrounding one of the street's residential model homes, built possibly to promote the coming village. In and around the short driveway of a gray stucco, one-story house, with storm shudders lowered at most times of the day, it has recently been possible to observe a small gathering of young women, most likely in their mid to late 20s, congregating near a 2011 Porsche Cayenne Platinum Edition, with (nearby) Berlin license plates. The driver and his friend, as well as the group of young females, appeared to be of mixed northern Asian decent, with features ranging most likely from Mongolia or Xinjiang, to even perhaps Kyrgyzstan. With the rest of the street completely abandoned, except for this house, and the attire of the women leaning in a quite seductive direction, the atmosphere does tend to give traction to the bird watcher's story. However, in brief discussion with one of the unusually tall and fashionable young women from the group—dressed exquisitely in a black silk Acne Studios, Cocoon Shift dress, shimmering golden sneakers and a forearm's worth of abstract tattoos—it was explained in somewhat broken English that they were only there for a few more days, in order to finish shooting a fashion & art magazine article for a new (and unnamed) Chinese publication. An inspirational plot for the article was said to (quite oddly) revolve around both European real-estate corruption and Paul Schrader's cult film Cat People. When questioned, the elegant young woman even delighted in offering a leisurely paced, personal guided tour of their temporary home, which on the inside seemed to directly mimic the Peter Saville designed artwork from Pulp's 1998 album "This is Hardcore", with a sparkling black and chrome kitchen, a living room with thick shag carpeting and a high-end Naim stereo system with accompanying Bowers & Wilkins speakers. Dark wood-paneled hallways led through soft lighting, past tastefully designed mirror-covered bedrooms and bathrooms. Along the tour, various young women—appearing undifferentiated to be perhaps both the models and assisting crew—lounged casually on various soft leather sofas and luxurious designer furniture throughout. Some of the women appeared to be resting or asleep, while others whispered quietly amongst themselves, or read to each other from a variety of magazines and books. Later on along the tour, film equipment was seen while walking past the garage, with mostly male technicians chatting quietly around a half empty bottle of Nikka whiskey. Upon passing by, the door accessing the garage was quietly closed shut. The setting balanced itself out delicately between an atmosphere of very high-end, luxury tourism and that of a film set found in Hollywood or Hong Kong.
Later, over coffee at the adjacent airport's taxi-stand snack bar, the area-expert frustratingly threw up his arms in a fit, claiming duplicity. "They have been describing this alleged 'magazine article' for months!", he loudly announced to his surroundings, certain that these activities were clearly a ruse of some kind, conjured up in order to distract from other future plans.
Spending any amount of time with the local expert will also bring into discussion the nearby, and casually labeled "dog training yard", a small fenced arena supposedly used by airport security teams in the district. Although appearing to be no more than an unused private garden, the low-security metal-fenced arena, about 50 square meters in size, also contains a flat, horizontal, inground concrete doorway emulating those doorways built during the cold war—entranceways leading to underground nuclear-safe, fallout shelters, to be entered at the last instance, just after the beginning of a third world war. And why does the expert have such interest in this garden? When confronted or questioned, he has no real reason, other than to vaguely question the fashion crew's use of the area, having observed what he referred to as "strange picnics" and so-called "photo shoots" involving groups of young women bound in handcuffs and other bondage devices, practicing mysterious, seemingly violent and erotic acts with each other.
In addition, he would then also firmly state his distrust in the local security teams, declaring them to be "no goods, vagabonds, and imbeciles", or sometimes quite simply "idiots and fools". In brief discussion with the expert's other local acquaintances and discussion partners, regarding these concerns, there was a unanimous consensus that beyond this passionate diatribe, there is most likely no real substance to his fears. The construction and transitional situation for this triangle of trapped land is surely not so sinister as believed to be, by the bird watcher. And in this regard, the main dramatic highlight of the phantom traffic zone might only be the frantic at times, irrational bird watcher's subtle rants and gesticulations, in an area that is—outside of the temporary activities of the Asian fashion crew—otherwise devoid of almost any other human activity.
In relation, it should be noted that any effort to communicate with the self-described arch-nemesis of the bird watcher—the security team present in the adjacent airfield area—will as well almost certainly fall on deaf ears. After constant rebuke from the area-expert, a definite weariness has set in amongst all members of the team, leading any attempt to converse, and/or find explanations for the many nuances and discrepancies of the area to—at this point in time—inevitably fail to materialize into any meaningful discussion.
Yesterday, from the direction of the (closed for the season) simulacrum beachside café, Le Cabanon, shouting was heard
(numerous times in fact, and all in the span of an hour) that the seaside bench “is gone!” Perhaps stolen in fact?
After calming the suddenly agitated village dog, it was however quickly realized that this panicked scream emanated solely from a tourist (or at best, perhaps a newcomer to the area) who aimed to disguise himself as an established local. And yet, as noted by a convergence of area residents, the screaming man wasn’t even aware that the bench—in actuality just a standard wooden plank, balanced upon, and supported by, the low cobbled wall’s sudden u-turn—was simply removed at the end of each day by the object’s owner, the retired communal bookkeeper.
The bookkeeper’s quiet ritual—thought of as a necessity to guard against elemental fatigue of the wood’s structure—was a well-known daily occurrence existing since at least the early-to-mid 1990s.
Of secondary note as well, it should be pointed out:
All conditions remain the same for the easternmost shower (Shower #3), found adjacent to the incongruous, poured-concrete ramp. It continues to be out-of-service, with no new nozzle replacement yet implemented.
(Mittlere Au, Austria)
Heading south on Pettenbacher Straße from the quiet village of Bad Wimsbad-Neydharting, after crossing the railroad tracks of the
Lambach-Vorchdorf narrow-gauge rail line, the second possible right turn will lead one down the first of four possible single-lane
asphalt paved roadways known as Mittlere Au*. Along Mittlere Au, just past its first intersection (with itself**) and then a few yards
up at the rail crossing, there can be seen off to the right (in a slight half-wooded depression) the connecting companion ponds of the
local fish farmer’s workplace, along with (in the near distance) a handful of rooftops from the Untere Au village dwellings. To the left
of the crossing, on the western edge of the rail tracks, just a few yards ahead, one will also notice the shelter and signage for the almost
non-existent grass and concrete platform of the “Au” stop on the narrow-gauge rail line. Seen directly across the tracks to the east,
from the rail station’s platform and shelter, is a well-maintained clearing roughly the size of a standard Olympic swimming pool.
This open field is surrounded on one side (its western edge) by the slightly elevated narrow-gauge railway tracks, while on the other
three sides it is pinned in solidly by the tightly packed rows of regional fir trees, together with a variety of wild foliage and scrub.
Along the eastern edge of the field, just inside the protection of this surrounding foliage, runs an expanse of neatly organized,
continuous covered stacks of various cut wood and lumber. In front of the lumber groupings—which in some abstract way can appear to
resemble a crowd of local fans packed inside a small-town sports stadium—a small and quiet, battery operated machine can oftentimes be
seen rolling along (can one say at a turtle’s pace?), back and forth, mimicking what seems to be some sort of mysterious game with
just one player. In distracted observation, before having noticed the slow-moving machine, its quiet vibrations can be easily mistaken
for the approaching sounds of the single historic railcar running here and there sprightly along the narrow-gauge tracks. After a moment’s
concentration it becomes clear however that the sound emanates not from the railway tracks, but instead from the low-cut grass of the
field below. And then with an increase in sound, and if not already present in the field, the rumbling apparatus will present itself
somewhere from the edge of the trees and weeds and wildflowers. This lone machine—low and streamlined, dark green, with 2 large rear
heavy-duty wheels, a racing stripe of some sort, and what appears to be a pair of small headlights—could even be said to resemble a
state of the art, contemporary electric-powered sports car (e.g. the Citroën Survolt, or the Venturi Volage) or perhaps a miniature
uncategorized and unknown, (perhaps even?) currently in development, prototype military tank of some sort.
As this self-driving automated machine (no larger than a standard bed pillow, or a medium-sized pizza box) appears neither to be cutting or watering the grass, or performing any other lawn maintenance maneuver of any kind, it is unclear what its actual role might be in the open grass arena. During the random days of the week that this roving machine appears and can be observed (there is no regular schedule), it is clear to note that it functions with an automated sensor type of rolling mechanism that can detect upcoming obstacles, and when needed, shift its course in an alternate direction—a technology that will be most recognized from those infomercial-friendly automated UFO-shaped roving home vacuum cleaners used by a variety of house pets who have been trained (or have trained themselves) to ride around kitchen floors on tragicomic journeys with no destinations.
Over the past year, after 10 randomly scheduled observation days, the green automated, self-guided field-roving machine has shown no interaction with any local animals or pets in the surrounding area, outside of the once skeptical and distanced curiosity of a local springtime fox. And most likely due to the sparsely populated location, there has as well been no interaction between the machine and any resident of the area or possible owner of either the field or machine.
After brief discussion with 4 inter-village walkers and a small selection of passengers from the small-gauge train, it was discovered however that this diligently active small machine is in fact a Rasenmäher-Roboter: a so-called “lawn-mowing robot”. Of all parties questioned, a calm and mild-mannered, elderly gentleman, one who seemed to always be staring at some aircraft in the distance, even made it clear that this was a growing new trend in lawn care much beloved in the region. In the end, the man—after a few quiet pauses in delivery, in order to take in the sounds of the passing thunder—went so far as to point out that the model in service was a Husqvarna Automower 230 ACX, a predecessor to the most recent 330X offering on the market. It was also noted by this well-informed passerby that the described model’s racing stripe was not original and that this was clearly an altered and visually modified machine.
*It should be relayed that three of these four options are to be found one after the other on the right side (the western side) of Pettenbacher Straße, while the fourth, or in the reality, in linear fashion, the second option, when driving southbound on Pettenbacher, will be seen along the left hand (eastern) side of the street.
**It should also be noted that the second Mittlere Au roadway on the right side of Pettenbacher Straße actually doubles back on to itself, with a hard right curve at the woodworker’s studio.