So I was bored one day and I decided that I needed to find something fun to do. A few weeks later I found myself in the company of strange men, walking in a cold, abandoned building, surrounded by dead animals and feces, and glancing about furtively as the wind shrieked outside.
And I was loving every minute of it.
My Christmas travel schedule coincided with that of Fiddlerjones, and he offered to let me stay overnight at his house in Amsterdam, NY to break up my long drive home. I happily accepted, especially when he mentioned that he wanted to show me a big abandoned warehouse/factory in town. I immediately thought of asking some UER locals if they wanted to tag along, but as I started to think of how many explorers there were in the local area, the list of PMs I was going to be sending grew longer and longer with each passing minute.
Suddenly, I remembered that Av had coded the ability for regular people (like me!) to create private boards, and recalling the success that I had had with the NEOPEx board, I created my own for the Capital Area Mini-Meet. Upon creation of the board, I immediately became drunk with power as its moderator and my eyes swam as I took in the vast array of new icons hovering at the bottom of my screen including, yes, the mythical "l0x0r" command. I was in heaven.
My euphoria continued as I added people to the board and it began to hum with life. People seemed quite enthusiastic about the idea of a mini-meet in Amsterdam, even so close to the Christmas holiday. People were so enthusiastic that FJ and I exchanged one or two worried e-mails wondering if our crowd would be too large. I assured him (with hope that what I was saying was accurate) that meets often seem like they are going to have tons and tons of people, but not everyone actually shows up who initially says they're going to, and oftentimes the "maybe"s turn into "I wish I could"s.
*Fast-forward to the day of the meet*
I had planned to leave work at around 11 AM (with 12 PM as a reasonable backup time) to give me time to drive to Amsterdam, hang out with Fiddler for a bit, and then head to the meetup point (Dunkin' Donuts -- a beacon of gooey, sugary light in the wasteland of mills and sleaze which is Amsterdam, NY). However, I got stuck at work dealing with a particuarly annoying computer problem and didn't scoot out of the parking lot until a little after 1 PM. After calling FJ to apprise him of the late departure, I flew towards the Thruway, merged, set my cruise control at 73 MPH and, well, cruised.
I was almost to Amsterdam when I noticed a solid wall of stopped cars in the Westbound lane. I would later learn that 'Dukes was correct in the phone message he left for me during my journey -- some kind of chemical truck had spilled part of its cargo onto the roadway, causing a multiple-mile backup. Luckily for me I was headed in the right direction, so I sped on through to Amsterdam.
As I came upon exit 27, I called FJ to see where he was. While he was giving me directions to the relative's house where he was visiting, my cell phone beeped and I saw an unfamiliar number. I was in the middle of getting directions (and driving!, but with a headset, as required by NY state law), though, so I couldn't switch over to the other call. I successfully found FJ's location (though with much machinations and the gnashing of teeth, as I have very poor direction-taking skills) and before going inside, I checked my messages. It had been INeedAttention calling me to let me know that the severe rainstorms in New York City, combined with other factors, had caused him to get a late departure and that he and DuffGirl would be unable to make it. I planned to call him back to let him know that it was no problem and that we'd see him next time, but I didn't want to rub it in that he was unable to come, and I was tired from the ride, so I didn't make the call. (Sorry INA! I'm sure we'll meet up sometime soon.)
FJ and I had a fun time catching up on our various exploits, but soon it was time to be heading to the meeting point to see what UE mischief we had been able to stir up in the Capital Region. With admonitions to "be careful!" and "call me!" from FJ's wife, we set out.
We pulled into the Dunkin' Donuts parking lot which -- for you UER buffs -- is the first place that I ever met anyone from the boards ('Dukes and Bizzybear) and I realized that I hadn't changed out of my work shoes. So I went to my trunk to get my 'splorin boots and I saw someone coming out of the Dunkin' Donuts. He looked like someone who might be looking for someone else, so I glanced at him, grabbed my boots and walked back beside the car. I saw him look over at me again and I thought that I recognized him from a photo posted in the private board.
"Good evening," I said, figuring that that would be a benign enough statement for someone who wasn't part of the meet to just wave off, and yet pointed enough that if he WAS looking for us, then he'd take it as a sign to speak further.
"Good evening," he said. "MatC?"
Bingo! Everyone, meet Pathwalker. :-) We shook hands, I introduced FJ, and we stepped inside the building. It turned out that PW had been there for some time and had already had an opportunity to grab some food and drink. I did so as well and we sat and chatted about various subjects, including the weather, the mysterious bunker, and whether we thought anybody else from the board was coming. Luckily 'Dukes drove up shortly thereafter and so we had a jovial discussion about the Homestead.
It was getting on in the evening (we had set a 6:30 PM meeting time and it was now ten of seven) and so we agreed to wait around until 7:00 PM to see if anyone else showed. At about 7:05 PM we decided that nobody else was going to make it and so we headed out to the location.
I had been in the area of this particular factory before, but it was made much scarier this evening by the fierce wind, dim lighting, and my general nervousness about the expedition. We parked the cars much closer to the location than I had originally planned, but the evening was fairly cold, so it was nice not to have to walk very far. Plus, other cars were parked in the same general area, so there was no reason to suspect that ours would be associated with the abandoned factory.
However, my paranoia was immediately raised by a neighbor turning on a light and coming out onto his porch with a visitor. For a moment, it appeared that he was going to wait around and see what we were up to, and I began to think of some sort of strategy for us to slip away quietly in the cars and approach the location from another direction, but the person went back inside and turned off his light. Just as we were all set to head to the factory, though, someone walked by us with a dog, heading in the same direction we were going! FJ and I decided to try to walk around the block to reduce suspicion and get a look at the outside of the warehouse. As we walked, we heard a group of children caroling with their teacher/leader, and it lent a festive air to the exploration, even though the rain earlier in the day had washed away all the snow.
As we turned down the street towards the factory, we encountered the dog-walker, and we had nowhere to go, so we simply walked straight ahead and looked as un-suspicious as a group of four strange guys with bulging pockets and backpacks can, when spotted looking uncomfortable in a bad part of an old industrial town. So, yeah, we weren't exactly James Bond, but we managed to find the factory and a way inside.
The first floor was a little bit of a disappointment and I was worried that FJ and I had dragged our UER buddies out in the cold for nothing (or next-to-nothing, anyway). The factory turned out to be very interesting, though -- much more so than I expected. It was also a great opportunity for me to try out my digital SLR for the first time on a "real" UE'ing expedition (I had used it at UE locations before, but not with anyone else along, and not in such a big location as this, so I experienced many of the joys and sorrows of toting along a huge camera when scrambling up narrow stairways and stepping around piles of bird crap).
As the expedition moved forward, we became more comfortable talking with one another, as well as more and more amazed at the size of the building. From the outside I would have guessed that there were maybe four floors, but there were at least seven or eight, each with its own interesting offerings. As we climbed higher, the graffiti and broken windows diminished and the views got better. The two creepiest things that happened that night were the finding of the radio (see PW's story for a great recounting of this... I am glad that I happened to mention to the group that I had seen it!) and the discovery of a piece of paper on the ground which was dated "12-23-91" -- exactly thirteen years earlier, to the day, from our expedition. Coincidental, to say the least.
The crowning glory of the trip, for me, was the visit to the roof. Anytime I get the chance to visit the roof of a UE target, I will eschew almost everything else to do so. Imagine my disappointment, then, when the first roof access door we found was securely locked (unlike absolutely anything else in the whole building). Luckily we had spent the whole night ascending alternating stairwells, so we tried our luck in the other one and we struck gold. Pathwalker was ahead of me and he reached the door and, to my amazement, he swung it open.
Now, I have to admit, I am a sucker for a great (or startling) view and I got both from the top of the Coleco Factory. To our right, the town of Amsterdam swept away from us down the hill and, almsot at eye level, we could see cars skittering along the Thruway. Like I said before, I am bad with directions, and so I had never thought of the highway of being in that direction, so it was almost shocking to see it. Off to our left was a view over the roofs of the residential neighborhood on the outskirts of which the building is located. And straight ahead was, hey!, the Dunkin' Donuts where we had met, and off in the distance, the lights of an operation that FJ identified as a nearby quarry. I'm sure that the view is nice during the day, but it was very, very cool at night, and that night especially.
We spent maybe eight or ten minutes on the roof getting chilled by the wind (especially when leaving the lee of the roof entry hatch) but it was worth every moment. The moon was almost full and cast the whole scene in a chilly light that was complemented by the festive feel created by the Christmas lights on the surrounding houses. It was with some reluctance that I agreed to depart, especially since it signaled the nearing of the end of our evening and of the meet. Luckily, there was a surprise awaiting us several floors below.
Upon our arrival at the bottom floor, we found a huge cache of... well, random stuff. Street signs, crutches, lampposts, an organ, an empty 55-gallon drum, and a room full of one-piece school desks were just the highlights of the mess of odd things assembled in one corner of the first floor. It was as if someone had tossed all of their yard sale items into a single place, added a few brand new items, and called it good. (FJ's relatives later confirmed that the city of Amsterdam had indeed held a "yard sale" of sorts out of that location.) It was incongruous to see such obviously valuable and useful items sitting forgotten, or at least temporarily abandoned, in a corner of a random warehouse in the middle of Rug City.
Once we were done picking through the odd assortment of things (and taking a few irreverent pictures with the lonely toilet chair and a handy Halloween skull) we stepped outside and walked back to the cars. On our way out, though, we saw a "No Trespassing" sign... and boy were we embarrassed! Had we seen that initially, we would never have set foot inside!
Okay, maybe not. ;-)
Back at the cars, 'Dukes and PW graciously declined the offer to go out to eat afterwards, citing responsibilities surrounding the quickly-approaching holiday, which both of them had postponed in order to attend the meet, so we exchanged handshakes and, exhorting each other that we would have to get together again sometime, jumped into our respective vehicles and gunned the engines hoping for some trace of warmth from the heating systems to take the chill off the evening. FJ and I capped off the evening by going to dinner with FJ's wife and telling many of the interesting and humorous stories from the evening, perhaps somewhat mutedly, due to the tiredness that was creeping up on us.
All in all, I was very pleased with how things had gone. The only thing that would have made the event even better would have been if more UErs could have made it out for the night, but considering the weather and proximity to the holidays, we were pleased with the turnout. Also, we felt that the enthusiasm for this event bodes well for future Capital Area meets, so Eastern New York explorers beware! Watch your PM boxes for a mysterious letter inviting you to join a private board, and maybe you too will get the opportunity to meet the shadowy figures which skulked through the Amsterdam Coleco factory late one night in December '04...