Wednesday, February 18, 2009

“Junkyard Explorer”

c. 2009 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

It was early on a foggy morning in the Icehouse home office.

I had spent the previous day traveling deeper into the rural hinterland, in search of photographable treasures. Happily, the adventure proved to be a worthwhile endeavor. But now, these digital images had to be edited.

The sunrise was beginning. And I had not yet completed my work…

From far away, I could hear the strained cry of a rooster calling out to the waking dawn. Our computer hummed softly, while transferring files. Somewhere in the midst of those competing sounds was the thump of my own heartbeat.

Lingering shadows caressed the yawning sun. I huddled close to the monitor, and clicked through the last photos from my camera. A taste of cold coffee made me wish that the task were done.

Yet it felt good to be busy.

Liz, my wife, lay sleeping under layers of quilted fabric. At her feet was Quigley, our Pomeranian pooch. Both of them were snoring, gently.

I took comfort in their obliviousness. It would let me finish my work in silence.

Suddenly, Mrs. Ice sat up in bed.

“Have you been up all night?” she moaned. Her hair was a shock of unruly brown.

I nearly jumped out of the chair. “Well… good morning, honey!”

She slipped out of the tangled bedclothes. Her pink pajamas seemed to glow with luminous intensity. “Rodney! Don’t you ever sleep?”

“My schedule is backwards,” I confessed. When the sun is out, I’m slumbering in the recliner. But at night, ideas begin to dance in my head.”

Liz peered over my shoulder, at an album of electronic pictures. “What is that? An abandoned restaurant?”

I grinned proudly. “Yes, sort of… It’s a deserted Stuckey’s location. I’ve been fascinated with it for over twenty-five years.”

My wife wrinkled her nose. “A what??”

“Stuckey’s,” I repeated.

“Okay,” she sighed. “I’ve accepted that you’re a bit ‘different’ at times, Rodney. But, you drove around all day just to take pictures of an empty old building?”

“This will be my next installment of ‘Junkyard Explorer’ on the Icehouse weblog,” I observed.

“Oh, please!” she hissed. “Can’t you write about something normal for a change?”

“Think of it as an archaeological expedition,” I said. “A look into the past…”

She frowned. “Are you kidding?”

“Not at all!” I protested. “There are lots of urban explorers at work these days. Their projects are all over the Internet. This was unfinished business. I first saw the place in 1983.”

“Don’t tell me you’re turning into a cyber-geek!” she wailed. “Are you trespassing for kicks?”

“No, not at all,” I said in self-defense. “I’ll leave that for the disaffected college nerds. I just take photos from outside and do a bit of research.”

Liz yawned. “Research? You mean typing keywords into ‘Google’ until something matches?”

I cleared my throat. “You’re making me feel like Rodney Dangerfield – no respect!”

She giggled. “Most guys hunt or fish in their spare time. Or participate in fantasy sports leagues. But my husband searches for dilapidated buildings! Yikes!!”

My face reddened with embarrassment. “This is a post-modern form of study,” I said. “Just like examining the pyramids, or ancient temples. Every structure tells a story…”

Her stamina had evaporated. “Okay. I give up. So, why were you interested in this place?”

I felt vindicated by her change in tone. After searching through an unorganized stack of paperwork, I began to read from a Stuckey’s company brochure:

“A little magic, a lot of hard work, and an American tradition is born - When W.S. Stuckey, Sr. opened his Georgia pecan stand in 1937, his recipe for success consisted of melt-in-your-mouth treats (our world famous Pecan Log Roll speaks for itself), fun gifts and souvenirs, and the simple belief that nothing was more important than making - and keeping - the friendship of American travelers generation after generation. If you're of an age to remember tourist camps, Burma Shave signs, and two-lane blacktops - or even gas lines, Pintos, and crackling AM radio - chances are you remember the sprawling Stuckey's empire: A venerable roadside oasis - and a highway heaven of souvenirs, cold drinks, hot snacks, and pecan candy - marked by the pitched roof and teal blue shingles.”

My wife nodded. “Wow. I’ve never heard of them before.”

“Stuckey’s was an icon during my childhood,” I said. “They were part candy store, part gift shop, and part service station. After the company fell on hard times, they disappeared from Ohio. But I held on to those fanciful memories.”

Liz rubbed her eyes. “So… you hoped to peek through the time tunnel?”

“Yes,” I agreed. “That boarded-up outpost has always intrigued me… but for whatever reason, I never gave it a closer look. Until now.”

She sighed. “So, was there anything inside?”

“Not much that I could see through the dirty glass,” I replied. “No signs or fixtures. Just faux-brick paneling and stacks of old car tires.”

“Rubber tires?” she squawked with disbelief.

I nodded. “It was a strange sight. No vintage chairs or tables. No display cases or counter tops. Not even a discarded promotional pamphlet. Just piles and piles of worn out tires…”

“Were you disappointed?” she whispered.

“No, not really,” I explained. “Something in that musty tomb still offered a glimpse into yesterday. Especially the expansive view of its front windows. It made me reflect on being a kid in the 1960’s. Traveling in the family station wagon while listening to my transistor radio. Yearning for the simple pleasure of a meal at McDonald’s or Burger Chef. Planning custom modifications for my Schwinn Banana-bike.”

Liz began to giggle again. “Are you having a mid-life crisis?”

I shook my head. “Not at all. Just trying to piece together the memories.”

She wasn’t convinced. “What other places have you written about?”

“An abandoned water works hidden in the woods,” I confessed. “Only a few miles northeast of Thompson. It was a fascinating place, made of light brown bricks with an Art Deco entrance… A drive-in theater hidden by overgrown foliage, just down from the lakeshore… Then, going south, there was a closed general store that looked like something out of an old Western Movie… heading west, I found a dead mall that still looked like a creation from the 1970’s… And while on a family trip, there was a CB Radio shop I found in Indiana…”

My wife shuddered. “Hey, I remember the CB shop. We were getting soft drinks at a roadside gas station, and suddenly you went running with our camera!”

“Didn’t want to miss a photo opportunity,” I said.

She frowned. “Just once, Rodney. Can’t you do anything in your life without using the experience for a writing feature?”

I took a deep breath while considering her question.

“No,” I answered at last.

With a look of disgust, Liz walked out of the bedroom.

It was time to get back to work!

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