When I was a kid, one of the things I most liked to do was "explore." In my maturity, I'd probably call it "trespassing," but as a boy -- especially between the ages of nine and fourteen -- I found it thrilling, and a lot of fun.
Most of it, I'm sure, was pretty harmless: checking out the secluded walkway/tunnels that looped around the basement area of the apartment building beside the Lutheran Church (something I did in company with the minister's son); sneaking into the rooftop gymnasium at Our Lady of Angel's Elementary School (bizarre place for a gym, but a cool spot to go exploring); discovering a "hideout" on a catwalk behind a billboard on Jamaica Avenue...
But some of it, I'm also sure, was pretty dangerous: hopping the fence protecting the train tracks of the Long Island Railroad; wandering an abandoned meat-packing warehouse which some enterprising teenagers were apparently using as a sex pad; climbing onto the roof of an elevator in my high school and shimmying up a girder to open the door onto the next (unauthorized) floor...
Dumb, yes, but fun.
I don't know what attracted me to this sort of thing: curiosity, surely; boredom, probably; bonding with friends and cousins, I guess; a taste for danger, certainly. (This aggressive disregard for the rules of appropriate behavior served me well when I was breaking into the comic book business at fifteen, though. More on that in another post.)
Whatever the attraction, the need to explore faded as I grew older, until by the time I was in my early twenties, I was probably as timid and conservative about "unauthorized access" as anyone else. One of the last "explorations" I remember taking was when I was twenty or so, and living in an apartment with Len Wein near a cemetery in Queens. One night we threw a party, and way late in the evening a group of us (probably stoned) decided to check out a few graves. We trooped to the cemetery, somehow managed to climb a seven-foot chain link fence, and spent half an hour wandering in the dark tripping over tombstones.
As far as I can recall, that's the last "urban exploration" I ever participated in. A long time ago, and far far away.
So why do I bring this up now? Because I'm reading a book by a guy who made a hobby out of what he's termed infiltration and has written a fairly entertaining book on the topic: "Access All Areas: A User's Guide to the Art of Urban Exploration." (See the sidebar to the right for a link.) The book stirs up memories, for me, of a time in my life when trespassing was just a word adults used. Maybe it's nostalgia for a time when everything seemed possible, and all doors, particularly the ones with No Trespassing signs, were potential portals to wondrous new worlds. (Hey, there's a reason the Narnia books are popular with people other than Christians.) That sense of eager anticipation, that desire to discover new things, hasn't left me completely, though it's mutated (or evolved) into something different. (An insatiable need to know a little bit about everything, for example.) But I guess I miss the pure fire of that young, foolish, and naive adventurer. He was a daring soul.
I hope he's not gone for good.