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.