~Glory Daze~

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A light rain fell on the windshield as I approached my destination. As I spotted the tops of the coasters my adrenaline kicked in and I followed the road parallel with the fence, keeping a look out for a point of entry. It was soon clear that this decaying fortress was guarded by a ten-foot barbed wire fence without a single break in it anywhere. A tough challenge, but one I was not about to back away from. My tires left the road and I pulled into the woods, inching farther in until I was well hidden. Grabbing my bag, I snuck through the tall grass back to the road and assessed the situation. There wasn’t too much traffic so all I had to do was wait for a break and then make a mad dash to the fence, scale the chain link, hop over the barbed wire and land inside the grounds. I laughed at the thought. All I had to do?? Ah, the things we face all in the name of adventure. I chose a section of fence resting behind a rather large tree, making mental notes of key points to use as stepping stones to help me over. I crouched low in the grass as I spotted a car making its way toward me, waiting for my chance. Once the tail lights disappeared around a bend I took off running. The road was slick and I fumbled my way across to the big shady tree. The bark was soaked and I fought to hang on as I jumped to grab the lowest branch and threw my left foot up on an available notch. The wet rubber on the sole of my right boot worked against my efforts at climbing the chain link and when I had made it almost to the top my foot slipped free and I found myself dangling from the tree.

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Suddenly, I heard the splash of water as a tire interupted a puddle somewhere down the road and I knew I didn’t have much time. If I was seen it would be over so it was now or never. Forgetting the disadvantages the rain offered, I shimmied my way up again. Once high enough, I leaned over the barbed wire and took hold of a decent sized branch, pulled my legs in, did my best olympic moves and swung over the fence, cringing at the thought of the pain I would feel if I didn’t clear the wire. To my delight the pain never surfaced and I let go of the branch and soared into a patch of neglected shrubbery just before the unsuspecting car sloshed past. When I was in the clear I breathed a sigh of relief and prepared my camera before making my way into the park. I soon came upon the back entrance of one of the park’s last remaining coasters and I stopped in mid stride to look up at the wooden relic. I watched as 3,506 feet of track unraveled before me, strategically twisting and turning to provide its passengers the ultimate thrill. As my eyes came back to ground level I spotted the machanic’s shed and began in my chosen direction. Walking closer to the coaster I stepped over wooden planks, broken bulbs and scattered cups from the concession stands. Reaching the door I was surprised when it pushed easily open and I found myself still in the outdoors.

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The walls had been ripped away and discarded close by at the foot of a rickety looking staircase where passengers had once ascended to take their place in line to load the cars. I stumbled through the debris, making my way to the bottom step where I teetered on top of the wood pile as I debated whether I should trust the rotting wood. Inching my way up the stairs as they swayed slightly I thought to myself that maybe I should turn back, but imagining the view from the top was irresistible. Emerging onto the coaster’s platform I stood in the midst of sad destruction. There was no room for exploring the area as the center of the platform had given way, crashing to the ground below. The metal track sagged desperately without its support and from my safe postion I followed it with my eyes, taking in the damage. The initial incline which once proudly brought its passengers to the brink of excitement now towered spiritlessly beneath the ashen skies, its support beams forsaking their critical posts as they dangled in the wind before joining their counterparts in the rubble below. Further down, huge portions of the track disappeared in an implosion of eraticated wood and peeling paint. As I stood in awe something else caught my attention, something moving in the far off distance. As I squinted to see a few acres away the quick moving flash of metal came with the delayed sound of a truck door and a small group of men. From my perch high above the park, the realization that I wasn’t alone brought questions of my visibility and I quickly back stepped and took the stairs two at a time back to ground level.

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The rain had begun to pick up and I wiped at the hair that clung to my face as I made a decision. Turn back now, after getting just a small taste of what lay ahead or continue on and take my chances? I wasn’t about to leave now so I took in my options. One of two ways were available, take the main boardwalk which would put me out in open or use the attractions themselves for hiding. With the sound of the workers drifting through the air and my insatiable curiosity, I left my hiding place and bolted toward a four-foot cement wall. Easy enough to catapult over into hiding once again, or so I thought until I discovered mid leap that the wall provided safety from a fifteen-foot drop off into a canal. My feet hit the slanted sides and I fell backwards as I watched my camera hit the cement next to me and begin tumbling toward a collective puddle of rain water on the floor of the channel. I did a running version of the crab walk in a race to beat it to the bottom but my ridiculous position paid off as I jumped in front of it and pulled it into my jacket just as I landed in the water and splashed exccessively as I waded through to the other side. The world ceased to exist as I gave my camera a once-over, looking passed the gouges and concerning myself with its ability to still turn on.

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Luck was on my side as I listened to it come to life and in that moment I realized my clamorous efforts had left me soaking wet and quite possibly under suspicion. It was time to move. I looked around and found myself standing in the basin for what once was a log ride with nothing much to see. I spotted a ladder at the opposite end and thought to myself how nice that would have been, had there been one available a moment ago. I quickly closed the gap and climbed out of the trench, back into another patch of bushes. I was now standing in the picnic area as I scanned the dismantled pavilions and small concession stands. I knew I didn’t have much time so I set my sights on the main gate with its elegant architecture and long row of ticket booths. Staying under cover, I got as close to the front as I could before I was met with a wide open space again. I could hear the workers’ voices closer now but I took my chances and made a run for it. Landing inside the office buildings I looked around at the downfall brought on local party goers. Broken bottles and food wrappers littered the floor, along with plaster torn from the walls and decimated furniture. I found the front window with the perfect view of the ticket booths and crouched to get some shots. As I marveled at my camera’s stability after its fall, I heard the rumble of truck engines as they came up the drive right next to me. I pulled myself from view and hid under the counter, hoping they weren’t planning a search party. Not wanting to risk getting caught I stayed in position and listened as they discussed plans for which ride to dismantle next. When the makeshift meeting was over and the trucks drove off, I knew it was time for me to leave too. One close call too many had brought the adventure back to this Park long after its days of entertaining had passed. Soaking wet and exhausted, it was time to go home and count my welll earned bruises among my collection of memories. I may not have seen it all on this trip, but I will be heading back.

© Olivia Wolfe~2012

Testing in Progress

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It was an exceptionally warm winter day as I parked the car in the small town’s little plaza. I had positioned myself a short distance away from the location and as I got out of the car and turned toward the back of the lot I could see the delapitated rooftops through the bare trees. I looked around and saw that no one was paying any attention to me so I slipped into the woods before any eyes turned my way. The well worn path twisted and turned around aging trees climbing slightly into hills and falling back into place until I came to a thick line of trees marking the abrupt end of the wooded area. I peeked through and found myself at a set of railroad tracks with the coveted chain link fence resting just beyond. On the other side lay the guard shack sitting on the outskirts of the abandoned Jet Engine testing Facility and I was anxious to cross the tracks and begin my explore. Staying in the cover of dwindling foilage I scanned the area looking for options. To the far left of the shack, a large hole in the fence beckoned me and I listened one last time for the sound of trains and looked for any sign of others. When I was confident I was alone I fell into a quick pace, over the bed of gravel surrounding the tracks, listening to it clink against the metal as I closed the distance between me and the entrance. I slipped through, quickly dusted myself off and looked up to focus on my surroundings.

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Resting eternally outside the shack was a forlorn looking Jeep. Rusted out and stripped of its doors, it sat amongst an explosion of glass from what had once been its windows and its fading paint had been accosted with the use of multiple spray cans. All hope for a way out had deflated with the dry rotted tires as the rims sank heavily to the ground. I approached  the driver’s side for a closer look. Old papers, pop cans, torn seats and sparkling piles of sharded glass. There was something curious about the shards. It almost looked as though they were moving. Were my eyes playing tricks on me? I crouched down next to the driver’s seat and saw that they indeed were moving and as I watched as they went from a slight movement to a slow and steady bouncing motion. How was that possible? My other senses kicked in and I noticed the low rumbling sound of something on the tracks. A train! It was very close and would be appearing past the line of trees at any moment and I was out in the open. I looked toward the door to the shed and saw that it was obstructed by the office furniture laying in shambles just beyond. I would not have time to fight my way in to the safety the walls would offer so I looked around and twirled into position against the front tire and brought my head down below the top of the fender just as the train broke into view. I sat motionless until I knew the engine carrying the operator had passed and then I peeked through door’s frame to watch the long line of freight cars rumble along the tracks. It seemed like forever before the last car disappeared, tagging behind the others to its unknown destination. It was time to do some disappearing of my own so stretching out of my uncomfortable postion I scanned the area and took off running for the first door I saw which stood a fair distance away.

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Trading the light of the day for the darkness that consumed this building, I took a moment to catch my breath as the echoes of my footsteps reverberated off the metal and the silence slowly devoured them. I brought out my flashlight and made my way into the depths of what once had been the biggest aircraft facility in America during its time of operation. Founded in 1929, these grounds were used in the making and testing of airplane engines during World War II and the four decades following until it closed its doors in 1983. As I walked past huge pieces of machinery, ducking under metal piping that had given way over time I wondered what a typical day’s work had been like for the men who had reported for duty each day. Many well known planes had their engines built in the very place I was wandering in with the machines I was climbing around on. Knowing that the Enola Gay, which dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, was among those numbers added a surreal mood to my step as I descended the metalic grated catwalks in search of the safest route to the building next door. It was convienantly positioned between a busy road to the left and the still-active airport to the right so spying my entry point I waited for a break both in traffic and clear skies from the runway and then fell in to a quick sprint through waist-high grass and crumbling blacktop. This time when I stopped just inside the walls to catch my breath I watched a set of offices come into view as my eyes adjusted. A quick peak inside showed nothing left but bare rooms so I followed the hallway until I came to a wall boasting what lay beyond: Small Engine Testing.

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Once I rounded the corner I found myself in the shell of the warehouse-type testing area. I followed the walls with my eyes and watched them rise six or seven stories high and marveled at the scale needed for “small” engines. What looked to be another empty room proved interesting when I spotted a cell of some kind at the far end. Watching my step I moved over fallen pipes, electrical lines, piles of garbage and empty garbage bags. The irony of seeing empty bags among the garbage made me shake my head but my attention quickly turned back to my objective. A chair stood positioned in front of a test window with a small control panel for easy operation patiently waitiing for a push that would never come. I was tempted to take a seat and peer through the window just as countless people had done in the past but the thick layer of fine powder covering everything curbed my curiosity. To my right stood the entrance to the cell and the one-foot steel door stood slightly open, beckoning me to look inside. I pulled on the door, first with one hand but then bracing myself as I added my other, working in opposittion of years of rust as the heavy door grinded open only slightly more. Wiping my hands on my jeans I slipped through the crack and inched my way in.

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This space had been chosen to toss mounds of garbage bags that had actually been filled but a split-second glance brought something to my attention. These were not ordinary garbage bags, as they do not ususally come with warning labels. I leaned in for a better look and saw that the tags revealed the disposal of asbestos were contained within the plastic. The room closed in on me in a matter of seconds and even with my mask, I pulled my shirt over my face and hid it in the crook of my arm. The thought of just how much asbestos I had been exposed to on the day’s explore began to cross my mind and there was nothing I wanted more at the moment than a nice hot shower. Being at the tail end of the trip I decided there wasn’t much more to see so I backed slowly out of the test cell, careful not to succumb to my clumsiness and fall into an early death. Once I was safely back out into the open I brushed myself off and fell into a rather quick pace, crossing the facility in record time back to the guard shack, past the Jeep, through the fence, over the tracks, through the woods and back to the safety of my car. Usually I’m excited at the thought of returning to a location but this one I will not soon be returning to.

© Olivia Wolfe~2012