Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Abandoned Rockaway Beach Branch

     I'm not sure how I heard of it, but once I was aware of its existence, my curiosity was piqued and I was intrigued, wanting to check it out. The Rockaway Beach Branch is reminiscent of the High Line - they both were/are both abandoned railways hoping to eventually fully become a park. My trip only covered a small portion of the whole track, but this microcosm is a fairly apt representation of the whole track. It appears that parts of the track run into active Long Island Railroad trains and perhaps it bumps into the A train. It also seems that Steve Duncan found the time to explore the historic site.

     As you can see, the tracks going back and forth are all in place, and the third rails are still present, though no longer electrified. My commentary won't add much, so I'll leave the following as a photo essay and let the pictures mostly speak for themselves.

     I must confess that when I saw this truss tower, which shot up about 40 feet into the air, it was an ample climbing opportunity. I only made it halfway up, because any further would arouse suspicion from the adjacent ballpark. I'm guessing that the tower I squirreled up used to provide electricity to the tracks, but now no wires exist there.

    At a certain point in the line, I saw two workers, each contrasting from each other because one wore a white hoodie, the other a black one. It appeared that they were painting the walls, perhaps to cover the graff. There was no point in hiding myself from them, but I managed to sneak past them anyway. Once I hit the end of the line and turned around, however, there was no way to conceal my identity as I loudly crunched and rustled the leaves along the path. This alerted them to my presence, but I had no idea what they thought. Moving on towards the wall, I noticed some amazing graffiti.

                                                     Goodbye, railway! Until next time!

     If you want to help save this historic Queens Branch from destruction and try to make it into a park, click here to sign a petition which will send a letter to the councilman of the district letting him know you care. So far, more than half of the required signatures have been reached, but it could still use your help. For more information and a comprehensive photographic tour of the full branch, click here.

    Here's to a New Year, and with it, new explorations. A toast! What do I have planned for my writeup for next month? It has something to do with this place...

Friday, December 9, 2011

Freedom Tunnel

    "1...2...Train!" Interrupted mid photo-shoot, my exploring partner ran across the tracks to hide by the wall. I couldn't assess whether I could make it in time to run with her without being splattered by the train, which was careening down the tracks at no slower than 60 miles an hour. I decided not to push my luck and ran to a dark corner very close to the train. I got in a prone position, buried my head in my shoulders and covered my ears as the train roared past. With lights so penetratingly bright, I wouldn't be surprised if I had been spotted.
                                                                       *   *   *

     I dipped my tea bag several times into the empty cup, like an angler tempting fish with his bait. As I had agreed to, I would meet with this anonymous stranger who would be shown the tunnel under my guidance. I'll admit that I knew the rudimentary steps to get in, but what happened from thereon in was all adventure.

    We slipped through a gap in the unforgiving steel of the barbed wire fence and came to an artificially lit part of the tunnel. Majestically, a bird swooped down as if to greet us. All of the doors providing access to the tunnel could only be opened from the inside, so we had to walk for a bit until we would reach the open space at 60th street. On the way, there were tags saying, "Big Brother is Watching" (most likely referencing the solitary camera that exists under the buildings) and a picture that I liked of a student getting a good mark.

     This was my fourth and most comprehensive view of the tunnel. From the first time I stumbled by it in the park to my contemplation of doing a thorough exploration, one thing was for sure - this was a place that definitely needed to be hit up someday...and today was that day. 

Our duo was a pair of minds, siblings in paranoia. I feared the trains which creep up silently while she feared running into the homeless. Every rumble I heard, I associated with a train, until I eventually became conditioned to pay the sounds very little mind. Every opening she found, she called out, "Hello?", just to ensure that we were not barging into someone's house. The tunnel has a few places where there is a ladder leading either to the park or is a one-way ticket to nowhere, like this opening that we stumbled upon.

      Most of the areas of the tunnel had accumulated hastily scratched out graffiti over the years, but every once in a while we would come across a well-done mural. One mutual interest was that we wished to find the (in)famous murals of Freedom - the tagger whose moniker had been adopted as the tunnel's unofficial name.

    After I did precision jumps from rail to rail and balanced on the tracks, we came across an open manhole. A stream of water vibrated through the hole. I asked for a headlamp and took a look inside. I climbed down the ladder's rungs and investigated the running water in the sewer/drain system. A good number of spots in this tunnel lead down into these waterways.

    We passed by golden graffiti with the "Illuminati" pyramid which said, "Everybody got a story" and made our way to 70th street - a place where the tunnel lights end and the only illumination comes from the sun shining into the overhead grates. As we walked along a wall, she perceived something to be amiss. A large beam of light. A sudden rumbling. We ducked our heads, straddled the wall, covered our ears and waited for the locomotive to pass. Our first train.
    I explained, "The last train went over that track, therefore, it's less likely that another will pass again over the same track." Somehow, we ended up in an adjacent construction site - one that provided safety from the flying bullets which we called trains. I grew cocky, searching everywhere, and discovered an area where a plethora of bottles laid.
"Wow, this a lot of litter!", I conveyed a bit loudly.
"Shh!", an unidentified voice replied, startling me.
"Sorry", I whispered in response.
Suspicion confirmed. There still were people living in parts of the tunnel.

   We jogged onward, and I didn't know the way out from Harlem, so I was under the impression that our trip would go full circle. Fortunately, this was not the case (as my legs would have probably fallen off afterwards from that much walking). Halfway through the tunnel, we found some more tags, and I noticed a couple made by Trap. I've seen Trap's work around a lot, particularly near places with trains. These other ones were a bit more colorful.
Would you like to be a fly on the wall?

    This location had many poems scrawled out over the wall, and song lyrics as well, including bits from Pink Floyd's, "Welcome to the Machine" and "Brain Damage". As I was posing for a picture, I heard, "One...Two...Train!". Not having adequate time to run across the field to the safety of a protective wall, I ducked and covered confusedly like a bad actor in a 50s instructional video about atomic bombs. The dust parted and we met again. But as I walked past the picture, I noticed that something was missing...

"Uh-oh. Hang on."
"I lost my phone. It must have fallen out of my jacket pocket when I ditched everything and ducked into the corner."
"Don't worry, this happens all the time. I just feel really bad that I lost your light."
"Let's go back and look for your phone."
"What's the point? Look, let's just forget about it and keep going."
"No, we have to go back and try to find it."
"Okay. Well... I was around here in the darker area to be well concealed."
"Found it!"
"Oh, wow. Thank you. Thanks."
"No problem."

    Freedom's murals were up ahead, but right as we were about to scrutinize them, train lights appeared from both sides and attempted to double team us. We both rushed back to our original hiding spots, where I took care not to lose my items again. One of the trains whooshed past. But the second train...where was it?

"Weren't there two train lights?"
"Yeah. Guess one of them was a ghost train."

    'Faded glory', is a phrase that comes to mind when viewing Freedom's work. A gray wall covers his pieces such as the Coca-Cola and American Way pictures. In their place, a bomber wrote, "Fuck Amtrak." Indeed, I was disappointed seeing his art being reduced from this:

                                                                          To this:

     As I contemplated why Amtrak would blow out their funds ruining the once beautiful walls, my partner discerned two figures walking in the distance (Fortunately, our pair had symbiosis in which I supplied physicality while she contributed acute sensory perception).

    "Fuck.", I swore. "Let's turn back." My mind was clouded with doubts, as I was nearly certain that this pair came to apprehend us. Non-reassuringly, a few signs threatened that those caught here would be detained. I also thought that a train had spotted me and the conductor radioed in the other (ghost) train to have men look for us. I suggested running while she wanted to talk her way out of it. However, if these were officials, they wouldn't be messing around. I suggested tensely, "If we go to the other tracks, we can avoid confrontation." She was as stagnant as the tunnel's air, and kept suggesting that we wait. I implored that we should leave because I didn't want to get arrested. But, defeated, I waited. We waited.

    The figures grew larger until they greeted us, terming us as, "fellow dwellers". Relieved, I told them that I thought they worked for Amtrak. They responded, "Yo, we was thinkin' the same thing about you!". We asked them if they knew a way out, and chatted about the details of the tunnel. The last words of advice they gave were, "Watch out for trains!"

    The light at the end of the tunnel. Sweet, honey colored light shone at the tunnel's end. Our final destination was so close, almost palpable. We saw a tagger run across the tracks and greeted him. In mid-chat, a fifth train came rolling by. He stayed by his wall while we skipped from the tracks back to a hiding place in the tunnel. This area had more visitors than I thought. We bade farewell to the kid and hopped the fence, eventually coming out.

    After being in dark quarters where many things may have hindered your life, the rest of the city seemed beautiful and was definitely a thing to be appreciated. It was like waking from a coma and seeing the world renewed (or rebooted as LTV Squad might say).

    I woke up safe and warm in my little bed the next morning. Was it all a dream? The last thing I could recollect was me being told to, "buy a bubble tea and take the J train." And I would. But for now, I let the sunshine embrace my body as I lay down...down...down.
                                                                          *    *     *

(As is now precedent, here is a teaser photo from my urbex files):

                                                                 Until next time, everybody!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Shadows of Manhattan

    Since my contact didn't respond to my call for a field day (despite the fact that I've been planning to hit up this location for a while now), I went around Manhattan and did some light exploration of my own. I guess this proves that the only person you can count on is yourself, and as of late I have reverted back to solo exploration. The results are as follows.

   Apparently, near/underneath piers is a great place to dump your litter.

Surprisingly, there were no squatter mattresses to be found, most likely because come high tide they would be flooded out. It is a nice hiding spot, though.

 Then, I checked out a giant tunnel, hidden in plain (construction) sight.

 At around this point, I saw someone sitting at a laptop in the tunnel. We gave each other an acknowledging glance and I moved onward to photograph.
 As I moved further down the tunnel, I snapped shots while the camera was moving, making for some cool effects.
 There was less and less light the further I went down. I thought from afar that this reflected metal surface was another passageway. Unfortunately, like all good things, this is where the tunnel came to an end.
 I turned around and kicked up some dust for a cool effect. It was a relief to have some light supplied to my pupils again.
 Some gas canisters.
Could it be?

 Yes, apparently it's a drain outlet!
 Though it was a sunny, dry day, I was not willing to go too far in. The wind echoed across the pipe's walls making eerie sounds-as if a flood of water was about to come out. It didn't help that barbed plant seeds (I assume cocklebur) were stuck to my pants.

 I am just about ready to leave, right after I take one more look under another pier.

 Another drain outlet! If only I had my boots...

Well, that was fun. Join me next time for more on vague and very non-specific places which are uncharted in New York City. These are mostly just small locations, but I will hit up more big game soon. As is now precedent, I shall end this post with a teaser photo. Till then!