Hiding in Plain Sight

THE BEST YOUTHFUL HANGOUTS MAKE deep, lifelong memories — especially after they’re gone.

Among our local, accessible, destinations in the late 1970s/early 1980s were those we called “The Bin,” “The Corridors,” “The Nuclear Plant” and “The Structure.” (Another, “The Twilight Zone,” has been written of elsewhere.) Listen, o seeker after others’ nostalgia, and attend:

THE BIN: In the middle of a church parking lot near the Walnut Creek BART station sat a shipping container-sized recycling receptacle. What made it appealing, and habitable, was that it was strictly for newspapers and magazines — no bottles, coffee-cups or other smelly/messy jetsam to mar the experience — and was never more than half-full. Ralfh, Sputnik, and I would climb in at odd hours of the day or night, close the lid, and enjoy each other’s flashlit company for long whiles.

THE CORRIDORS: Shopping malls rely on a labyrinthine service infrastructure, hidden from the public but reachable by strategically placed (and unmarked) doors. Stepping through one such at Sun Valley, Ralfh and I found endless hallways lined with other quasi-forbidden portals leading to garbage dumps, garages, a vast and loud HVAC installation, retailers’ back doors, and at one point, a wall-mounted, roof-access ladder. One night, on the open roof-landing, Sputnik and I argued over how best to secure a relevant door so that we wouldn’t be trapped up top. As our discussion became more heated, Ralfh informed us that we were casting animated, seeable-from-the-parking-lot shadows. We quickly reconciled and sought friendlier territory.

THE NUCLEAR PLANT: Bicycling one day along Willow Pass Road, I took an unexplored side street and happened upon an abandoned waste-treatment plant. The offices, pump rooms and other facilities were full of window-broken glass and graffiti, but much of it was still intact and irresistible to post-industrial sensibilities. I spent about an hour’s worth of solo recon — climbing ladders, twiddling the remaining buttons and dials — before returning to our shared apartment. “Wait’ll you guys see where I’ve been,” I announced.

THE STRUCTURE: Perhaps the most enigmatic of our secret hideaways was the ruin of a two-story, roofless, poured-stone building tucked into a shallow Lime Ridge canyon. It too had been heavily graffitied, but our young imaginations turned it into an orc-marred micro-castle. We never did learn its what or why, but on driving up there one dark night to play Defend the Keep we were baffled to find that it had been completely razed — foundation and all. As I had discovered it one day looming out of a thick fog, it seemed a most fitting exeunt.

The key to such suburban spelunking? Be respectful of the place, neither damaging it nor divulging it to those who would. And as Time claims each of us, shrinking our collective memory-pool, the recollected joy of exploration and awe will, I hope, last the rest of at least one other lifetime.

2 comments for “Hiding in Plain Sight

  1. bernard j rizzo
    2020.10.19 at 0949

    WOW!!!! We had similar places:

    – The Perch: HS age. A service hatch beneath a concrete and steel highway on ramp. The base was filled with fine, clean sand. A great place to smoke.

    – The Catwalk: HS age. Just that, a cat walk beneath the Verrazano bridge in Brooklyn. You saw this in Saturday Night Fever. Very scary and very dangerous.

    – The Girders/Rubber Park: HS age. A “Newish” park beneath the elevated highways approaching the V. bridge in Brooklyn. Not my cup of tea.

    – The Hospital Yard: Pre-teen, HS age. A very large lot with the razed ruins of an estate that was turned into a hospital in Brooklyn. Overgrown, filled with debris and a great place to play ditch. LOVED this place. Had multiple forts in there. Hid a huge porn stash as well.

    – The Hills: Pre-teen, HS age. The hills leading down to Shore Road Park… all overgrown with “paths” throughout it. This was a favorite spot to hide “gifts from the porn fairies” when one was lucky enough to find a Playboy, or a Penthouse or… the best… Oui.

    – A Vast Variety of Alleys/Passages to Courtyards/etc: Pre-teen, HS age. Almost all of the apartment buildings had these passages from the street, down a few steps, through an “air-shaft or courtyard” and leading to the backs of the buildings. When you got busted at one, we would all shift to another.

    – The Perch # 2: 12-14 years old. A “ledge” built into the back of a single car garage which was a bump-out added to accommodate a longer car. It was fairly over-grown and on one side was the “Noriega’s” house and the other faced onto a huge apartment building that had one of those alleys and a small “park” or seating area with benches that had been locked up all my life. I would sit there with “Christina” a girl who lived on the block. That is where I had my first kiss/make-out session.

    – Rosendale NY Abandoned Cement Mines: College. These were WILD. They were exactly as listed. Old, abandoned mines. Some were steeply angles and very long slices taken out of the side of a mountain that made these HUGE galleries. The bottoms were filled with several hundred feet of crystal clear water. The water would freeze in the winter and one memorable day, it was frozen crystal clear. It was, at least 12″ thick as you could see that from the ice fractures. The ceilings were all “bowed” massively and could come down at any time. There were adits going into the mountain that lead to the river. There were others that you could simply walk into and were huge, horizontal galleries held up by huge pillars of stone. I have no idea why we didn’t die in there. 5 years of college and we tripped in those mines all the time.

    I am sure there are more. My memory is not what it used to be and all of that was a very long time ago. Thank you for sparking that.

    • 2020.10.19 at 1311

      I guess youth will always find a way to strange new (to them) places…I think it helped that we were all hopped up on Tolkien and proto-cyberpunk. 😉

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