It started out with a random private message about an equally private board. "Come check out what's happening later this month!"
Ok. Sure, why not.
Thirteen days later, I find myself sitting in a Dunkin' Donuts - that I almost didn't find - over an hour earlier than anyone had said they would be there, sipping an iced mocha swirl drink and chowing on a sausage, egg, and cheese croissant. What a dinner.
Long about the time I started wondering if I was in the right place, I notice a car parked next to my truck. A car with the lights on. A car with at least one person inside. One really friggin' tall person... but I'm 5'2", so that's just about everybody else. I casually walk out to the truck, and just about the time my key hit my door, I hear a somewhat deep and somewhat potentially sinister, "Hello..."
After pissing myself, and having a brief panic attack, I turn to find what looks like MatC getting out of the car next to me, stretching, and glancing my way expectantly. If it weren't for the poor lighting of the sodium-vapor lamps in the parking lot, I might not have felt as though I were about to be mugged.
Obligatory introductions followed, in which a second person made his way out of the vehicle. Behold, FiddlerJones, someone of my vertical persuasion. At least I wasn't going to be towered over this trip.
We all went inside, where the wayward travellers made themselves comfortable and we commenced to talking about things UE, including the ever popular Homestead. Not long after, a familiar and somewhat scruffy face wandered through the door - Jeffery Dahmer *cough* I mean 'Dukes himself, who likewise made himself comfortable, and we all chatted up a storm and rolled our eyes over the local wildlife (they call it "Amste-rico" for a reason, guys) while waiting to see if anyone else showed up. A little past seven, we decided to saddle up and move on out.
Picture, if you will, two cars and a pickup trying to covertly cruise the back streets of Amsterdam. 'Dukes and I followed MatC as we snaked through the ghetto of the ghetto... parking on a narrow back street, just as the house across the way let out a half-dozen visitors or so. So here we are, four guys in somewhat dark clothing, with miscellaneous equipment in-hand, standing around our newly parked vehicles, trying not to look suspicious. But, really, in this town, the definition of "suspicious" is pretty vague. A guy passes by walking his dog, heading right for where we intended to go, so we took to walking around the block. Despite the wind bringing tears to my eyes and blowing away every word that anyone was saying, it was a nice walk. Why? Because of the group of carolers across the street on the longest part of our walk. And like 'Dukes said in his "The Meet!" thread on the board, the one lady sure could sing! As we turned down the next street to head toward our destination, the guy with the dog passes us by. Guess we didn't have to go that way after all, but the exercise did me good.
Entry was... almost laughably easy. Or at least it was for 'Dukes and MatC (you tall bastards). FJ and I had a bit harder of a time; FJ especially since he had gear on him that he didn't want to crush, maim, or otherwise injure. But we all got in and started our exploration.
Maybe it's just my "newbishness," but the first half hour or so on the "ground" floor was hair-raising. Why? Because no one... said... a friggin'... word. I started thinking I'd done something wrong (though I was fairly sure the eggs hadn't kicked in yet), but eventually we all started talking, quietly. Other than a hole in some sort of maintenence room's floor that showed the floor below (which we didn't explore), and the truck bays, there didn't seem to be that much to see. Little did we know that we were on the wrong end of the floor to see the good stuff. But all in due time.
Up we went. I thought the place had an interesting floor structure, and interesting stairway design to go with it. We started off hitting every other floor, and it didn't take too long for things to start catching our eye.
I think it started with two very large birds spraypainted or otherwise rendered on one of the large, metal doors that separated the "rooms" of one of the floors, made all the more ironic because this was also the floor where we encountered our first three bird "mummies." After that, we started noticing all kinds of writing on almost every floor and in the stairwells too; particularly noteworthy were the note for some miscellaneous guy to "kwitcherbellyachin'" and a cartoonish depiction of a man next to a car with the caption, "I'll get the coffee, Dick." At first, we didn't think he meant "Dick" as a name...
There were garbage bags in the middle of the floors, maybe three to ten per floor, full of debris from the fire, the birds, etc. I was the first (I believe) to check the first bag we stumbled across, and not long after I folded it back up all nice and neat, 'Dukes said to me, "I'm not sure I want to know what's in that." To be honest, I'd expected body parts. No such luck. No amateur CSI night for us. We pieced the bags, and the un-bagged piles of debris on higher floors, together with the random shovels and brooms of various sizes and shapes and realized that these were all from the clean-up effort after the recent fire that tore through the place. Almost all of the doors in the stairwells showed evidence of the fire. Luckily for the building (and for us, being inside the building) most all of the windows were intact; and despite the few that were open (affording great views) the wind didn't get to us much while we were inside. Note that: while we were inside. The monstrous frieght elevators, the smaller frieght elevators, the one small 'vator machine room with the wire box full of specs and schematics - there were more than enough interesting things to captivate our attention once we looked around enough to see them.
I believe that we were on the highest floor, which was different from the other floor save for the one directly below it only because its ceiling was so much higher than the others (not to mention random caging and what 'Dukes said looked to be bin area labels), that we came across the stereo. I want to say that MatC was the first to see it, though he didn't mention it till we were almost at the far end of the floor. We doubled back, initially planning on taking the stairs to the roof at this point, but the roof access door was locked. Going back down and doubling further back to the second set of stairs, we happened to pass by the boombox, which MatC quickly pointed out.
It was a dual tape deck AM/FM stereo, the kind you might picture an `80's rapper walking around with on their shoulder... but smaller. I got curious; I wanted to know if there were tapes inside. The cold had made the action on the tape player doors slow, but we managed to get them open. The left side? Nothing. The right? A Halloween-type fright tape. Now at this point, I'm pretty much in front of the stereo, with 'Dukes to my immediate right, FJ to my left, and MatC behind the thing. I take the tape out and look at 'Dukes, who looks at me, the same mischievous twinkle in our eyes. It didn't take the other two long to catch on as I popped the tape back in and 'Dukes expectantly pressed PLAY. To our initial dismay, the button popped right back up. Curses to modern technology, I'd forgotten how tape players worked. Luckily, 'Dukes was a little more savvy, and realized the tape needed to be flipped over. So over it went. PLAY was pushed again, and we all waited with bent ears for something to happen.
At first, nothing. The wind howled outside, making the experience spooky enough. Someone asked if it was working. I pressed FF (fast forward, for those of you, like me, who might have had to look it up), tilted the box back, and shown my light on the view window. Sure enough, the spindles were moving. The damn thing still worked, even after all the cold nights it must have sat up here alone. So I stopped the tape and pressed PLAY again. Out from the speakers comes this Vincent Price-like voice, describing how people usually walk a bit faster past this place in the spookiest of tones, followed shortly by someone's beleagured breathing and a bit of a whispering wind that was answered by the wind outside. Thoroughly creeped out, we turned the fool thing off and let it alone; but what are the chances of us stumbling across something so patently interesting on the top floor of an abandoned distribution center?
Up the second stairwell we went, and I took a deep breath as I stood at the door to the rooftop. What awaited us up here? Dancing skeletons and flying witches? Coffins and zombies? Only one way to find out. I pushed, and the door gave way...
... to one hell of a cold night outside! Out we filed. Now, here's me, all 5'2", standing tall and proud on this rooftop, counting it among my crowning achievements for shits and giggles. Out come three others, all ducking down and acting like operatives from Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six. Realizing the potential error of my ways (but harboring thoughts along the lines of, "Who in hell's going to see us up here, guys?") I ducked down as well. And then, as the others checked their gear and meandered around the immediate area, I looked up. I don't remember who I asked, but I pointed right up at the moon just coming out from behind some clouds and asked if that shot would come out good. Almost simultaneously, three other sets of eyes looked up, and just as simultaneously, three cameras turned skyward. I hope the shots came out, guys. It was one hell of a sight; reminded me of C.W. McCall's "Aurora Borealis". Look up the lyrics, read them in a dark, quiet room, and you'll know what I mean. Especially if you spend as much time in the Adirondacks on mountain tops and lakesides as I do. But I digress.
The views of Amsterdam were equally impressive, though I took about five steps past the relative shelter of the roof access hut and was nearly blown away by the wind. I warned the others before we mosied over to the far side of the roof for them to take more pictures. I ventured to the corner to take a look at the vehicles, partly just to see them ("I can see my car from here!") and partly to make sure they weren't getting ticketed or towed.
We started our descent, me with a somewhat heavy heart; I knew the night was slowly drawing toward its end. Then FJ mentioned all the "stuff" on the floor we'd come in at. We hit up a floor or two on the way down, but nothing prepared us for what we'd missed on the way in. It was like someone had taken a few years' worth of yard sales and dumped it all here, then called up a friend at a school, another friend at a hospital, and a third friend with the highway department, and told them all that this was a great place to "ditch yer sh*t." There were dressers, refrigerators, washing machines, hot water heaters, a pickup bed liner (Duraliner, looked to be for an 8' full-size bed...) a bowl full of necklaces, a dollhouse, a family photo album, a streetsign, four or five streetlamps still wrapped in plastic!!!, an organ, tires, empty 50 gal. drums, metal crutches, walkers, a portable hospital toilet (there's a name for those things, but damned if it doesn't escape me at the moment), a huge sign for an industrial park with available space, a skull-shaped Halloween trick-or-treat'ing bucket, and a room full of schoolroom desks with the chairs attached. All untouched by the fire, so either this whole area was really lucky, or these were recent dumps.
Now, somewhere amidst our coming down from the roof, MatC mentioned something about how he'd gotten the obligatory "dead bird pic" but had yet to get the infamous "toilet shot". I made the mistake of remembering where the bathrooms on each floor had been (since the floors were all layed out the same), and promptly found the bathroom on that "ground" floor amongst the piles of stuff. Spying the rim of a bowl as I peered into the room, I called out to MatC that there was an opportunity to get his picture after all. Big mistake. See, this particular toilet had been used, though none of us cared to ponder how recently, and it was blatantly obvious that no one had cared to flush it. Ever. Properly grossed out, we made our way to an exit near the vehicles, packed away our gear, said our goodbyes, and went our separate ways for the holidays ahead.
I want to thank MatC, FiddlerJones, and 'Dukes for one hell of a "boy's night out". Sorry that no one else showed up, given all there was to see and experience at this place. But it sure was a fun time. Thanks again!!