Near the district where I work, nostalgically called “The Steelyards,” after a bygone era in which we made things, lurks a place of beauty, passion, despair, decay and life I call the “Rustyards”. Here, trees grow out of convention with the aesthetic so carefully crafted for its un-oxidized neighbor. The weeds run riot over a landscape untended by gardener or flamethrower. What pavement remains lies cracked in oddly ordered patterns ushering reminders of the things that lie beneath a city, trees 15 years old grow up through it–reminders that nature would not take long to recover from us were we hairless apes to vanish. The buildings stand forlorn and crying out for the love only a long dead economic heart could give, the very structural representation of how it feels to be abandoned.
The roughly 7 acres that corrode so gracefully are bordered on the north by the alley-side backs of a row of shops– a crossfit gym, a custom auto shop, maybe a paint store, who knows? The backs of the stores turned on the failed and overlooked ventures gone back to the wild that lie behind them.
To the south a street, appropriately named ‘Bluff’, separates the Rustyards (RY) from its resurrected breakaway republic–the Steelyards (SY). It once served the old industrial district, but now its southward ranks are the backs of the modern nouveau-sheik-living-spaces-intermixed-with-businesses that are currently in vogue that is SY. What the fuck are those things called? Burbclaves? BusHomes? BusApts? ShopAtHome? HomeAtShop? HideousLiving? DogPoopIsSomeoneElsesProblem? Certainly not communities. They are popping up like a cancer. They merely await their time before the ‘dozer comes for them, backs turned to the northward decay like harried drivers at a stoplight desperately trying to avoid the gaze of a begging mother of three– maybe afraid that misfortune is catching, not realizing that it is.
East and west are empty lots or businesses whose wares and activities suggest mysterious blue-collar-driven nightmares of drudgery, noise and dirt. They must make someone money, the evidence of what will become of them should they not being both at hand and plentiful. Reminders that life can still be nasty, brutish and short for many, and low-paid to boot.
There is a gas-supply outlet (O2, Acetylene, etc.) next to the railroad tracks, to the southeast of RY, across Bluff but outside the co-prosperity sphere that is sister SY’s domain. The building hisses away in a manner that makes passing pedestrians, obviously lost and only doing so by mistake, to cringe in unconscious anticipation of a some sudden and severe outgassing event. Living across the street on the edge of posh SY is an act of sheer balls.
In the midst of RY is an abandoned factory that once held the promise of the PC hardware boom, but now holds secrets I’ve not yet found the courage to uncover. It is fronted and backed by rather large parking lots, sitting quietly in the middle of the acreage disguised as a copse of trees. Here lies the fortress of a once great empire, overgrown by vines and brambles– maybe a maiden sleeps within (doubtful). A mix of mortared brick facade on the front, but of corrugated tin over steel post design. The only door to the place that lacks a sign reading “Employees only, please use main entrance” by it must be the main entrance. It’s sided by a large window boarded over with plywood, once looking out on a sunny south and well-groomed shrubbery, it is now shadowed by overgrown “fitzer” juniper bushes and trees fighting a years-long battle for the light.
There are still fragments of printed circuit boards lying in the front (south) parking lot, kicked out over the years by the homeless who dared enter the dark hulk– first, a potential prize of some worth, now warning signs of the inevitability of obsolescence. Buggy whips, telegraphs, courtesy.
The huge breaker housings on the east side testify to the amount of power once drawn by the structure and its denizens; disemboweled of any organs that once made them hum in tune with the wealth made within. They sit, doors agape in still-ransacked manner, facing a one-lane driveway best driven carefully from one lot to the other, a lurking place to at least the fears of the pedestrian who stumbles through before or after dark. Best to keep to the light from the alleyway behind cast over the east side of the lane and your best kung fu moves ready.
The back has a loading (or unloading) dock, lined up with its counterpart on the south side. Raw materials once entered this maw to be chewed, swallowed, digested and shat out as finished electronics. There is another walkway that covers about a third of the bare north-facing wall– whenever the water is high back here, mounting the stairs to it requires wading to your ankles or leaping from a nearby skid. A large picture window next to the had at one point last summer been broken out– old PCs and monitors could be seen within, dusty, cobwebbed. It has since been boarded over, by whom? An occasionally conscientious landlord who has a flippant need to make sure his property is “secure”? One of the homeless denizens who haunt the area shoring up a good place to park while trying to make scratch?
The west side of the facility is a mystery to me. A weed-covered lot stretches over an acre and a half, trees and bushes native to the climate gather in protective clumps, sheltering deer from eyes and heat during the days of the summer months. The spot of nature is untraversed by human feet for the most part, there being no reason for the people who appear to be working at the scrappy garage startup on the other side to visit the dead factory.
Maybe a setting for a horror film, but as yet a mysterious outlet of harmlessness and curiosity.
Lake Rust appears on the building’s north side after a good rain. It stands over a drain in an old parking lot long ago clogged with the detritus blown or washed there, a welcome oasis resulting from negligence. The sole semi-permanent feature of water in the RY, like many things comes and goes, her bed at times dry and others a murky pond whose depths promise surprises for fools who would drive through without fearing a the lurking bottle.
A placid reflective miracle hosting waterbugs and sometimes tadpoles, lake Rust serves and abides. It plunders the sky.
Animals live in the RY. A copse of low bushes shelters a buck and his harem of one sole doe during the day. At dawn they forage as though the surrounding city is the nightmare from which they’ve found their happy hunting ground dream, the cars that stalk their footsteps years and miles away.
A raccoon brings its latest forage to its lair under a disused loading dock lift plate, its chittering answered by its mate and children within. ‘Home’ sounds the same in animal as it does in human.
People live there. At 5 am during the local flooding, a person coughs and rolls over in an unwashed sleeping bag on the south-side porch of the hulk. The coughing fit continues– he says, “shut up” to himself. He is alone by every normal definition of the word. Sometimes there is only one person to listen when we talk.
Lovers meet there. A woman appears in a BMW, her lover, a man one would never think as a lothario, balding and desolate moves from his beat up Honda to her car. How strange. How rare. For weeks in the summer the scene repeats–I ignore the details, smiling at the beauty, oddity and sadness of it all. Eventually, they see me in my blind on the south porch and seeing that I observe separate. Guiltily they leave and I never see them again. Did they think I was a voyeur? A camera-toting private dick sorting out the legal from the emotional for an estranged wife or husband looking for that last bit to overcome denial? Or maybe just some vicarious writer looking for other souls in a desert of perdition, happy to find some lovely corner in this very 1984 world? I have sent them away and I will forever feel that I have uprooted something wonderful but also sad.
People lunch there. Cell reception is good. There are not many places to park a UPS or FedEx truck, so lunchtime finds the Rustyards a busy place. Many of the drivers, even from fierce competitors, recognize and nod to each other. Occasionally they walk over an exchange pleasantries or swap tales of the delivery road.
Time has taken its toll here. It has laid it mark and given this place a spirit all its own. (The older things are, the more spirit they contain, as do the things that are more alive). Here, spirit is king. It is entirely out of place in the middle of a town of such shallowness.