After my Father wrecked or sold ever car he owned. He began using his Mother Veronica’s decade old, beat up car to get from A to B and not much further. The trunk was so dirty that your hands would instantly turn black once you unlocked it. The seats were torn and tattered and the floorboards were often covered with debris and weeks worth of empty fast food containers. Regardless, we were able to fit my Father’s 6’4 frame, our dog, myself and up to eight kids piled up in the backseat. The Hawkins brothers Keith, Petey and M.J., Glen, Tommy and whoever else would risk the trip on that day. (Aside from those named. The cast would always change depending on the day and who was willing to brave the back seat.
Once there, we would often disperse into two separate tribes or war parties as my Dad would set up camp and build a fire to roast hot dogs, marsh mellows or whatever supplies we manged to gather before our voyage. In the few hours we’d stay we’d play war, burn tires and grab whatever we could from the abandoned cars and the nearby railroad tracks. In truth, there was no Tarzan or nearby water to be found. For the life of me, I may never learn how or why it came to be called “Tarzan Island.” But as I would come to learn at the time and many years later. It was what everybody called it. Year later, I’m talking decades. I returned to Sunnyside Queens to seek out the area. The train yard itself was still there, but it had been closed off and closely patrolled. Whoever said, “You can’t go back.” was probably speaking from countless heartbreaking attempts.
As I’ve returned to many of my original stomping grounds, I find that most things are best left to memory and the mystique many things and places held when we were young impressionable and somewhat fearless. Things definitely felt a lot bigger back then. Something that helped us grow up and mature. And while there’s no diminishing the risks we took and the element of danger we were always drawn to. I feel very lucky to have taken chances and not letting those fears get the best of me. In the end, I’m happy to be able to recall so many adventures from younger years. Like my wife always says. “Maybe one day you’ll write that book.”
This afternoon while walking on a stretch of Route 9 highway. I had a straight up “Stand By Me” moment. You know, the moment where they’re walking on the train tracks and come upon the bridge. Well, in my case it wasn’t train tracks or the fear of an oncoming train bearing down on me. As I passed the cemetery gates and the overpass looking down on the train yard. I suddenly came to a dead end. The rocky, gravely road I had been walking on for miles ceased to exist at what seemed like the final leg of my journey home.
Stopped in my tracks. I looked at my limited options. Already bloodied and still bleeding from a fall about a half mile back. I wiped my sun beaten brow and began to contemplate my narrow choices. Option 1; Walk just a matter of feet (Maybe a hundred or so) on the shoulder of a very busy shoulder of the road that turned onto 9 South and the Pulaski Bridge and proceed to what is known as “The Circle of Death. Option 2; Walk back about a half mile and cross at the next available signal. Having recently watched as car after car mindlessly broke for the shoulder (unfortunately for them, towards a tragic accident and in to the waiting sirens or the local police.) and how dangerous that spot tends to be. I began limping back towards the traffic light in the not so close distance. As I limped towards my destination I spotted a small break in the concrete medium and waited for my chance to bolt towards it. Lucky for me, I made it across without being hit or causing any collisions. Before long I was home wiping the blood from my leg. If there’s anything to be learned from my experience. It would be to dress appropriately. Sandals and shorts are not recommended when walking the highways or exploring local junkyard’s or industrial complexes. Two, take the high road. Life is too precious to have it end foolishly.
Travel and life in general is all about taking detours and exploring roads less traveled. This weekend while crossing the Betsy Ross Bridge into Philadelphia we sited an interesting old building to the left of us. Many is the time I’ve traveled the highways and routes and wondered about the history and stories of the old buildings that stood off to the sides. This time I was intrigued enough to take that exit and do a little exploring of my own. We exited and followed our instincts back to the old building. What turned out to be an old power plant wasn’t quite as interesting close up as it was off the bridge. Regardless, we stopped and got out to take some shots and explore the nearby railroad tracks.
As I was photographing the garbage and refuse left on the abandoned tracks I noticed three kids approaching in the distance. I could just make out their figures as I gazed into the hot sun. It was like something out of a post apocalyptic movie. I continued to shoot images of the warped LP’s as the grew closer. Just as they reached me they stopped in their tracks and asked what I was taking pictures of. It was somewhat surreal. Here were these kids with no shirts, no shoes walking the rail road tracks. It reminded me a lot of my childhood. From as far back as I can remember we spent much of our time playing on and exploring construction sites and running around in the train yard over in Sunnyside Queens. It seems like much of my childhood was spent ignoring “No Trespassing” signs and entering restricted areas. This trio was very friendly and inquisitive. Asking me lots of questions. Never displaying an ounce of fear or hesitance. Much like I was as a kid. It really brought me back. As I get older I hope to keep some of that adventurous spirit with me.