Saturday, July 20, 2013

Urban Anagrams

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:  My second encounter with Coal Pier #18 came on the way home from the silk mill. Two years earlier the way in to the pier had been hard to find, but now new highways were under construction along the waterfront, and for awhile we weren't sure if the pier and ramp were even still there.  We took a left into a road that looked like it would get us closer to the water. A policeman parked like a sentry stood guard.  I took a deep breath as we asked about the pier.  At the exact same moment, my friend and I recognized the spot in spite of its recent transformation. The cinder road to the pier was at the back of this lot, almost within sight, though the sentry said he'd never heard of Coal Pier 18. All our hearts were thumping a bit, but he never stopped us as we continued to the back of the lot where the trail we knew began.  

The road was mostly as I remembered it, lined on one side by the willow forest, thick as thatch, too thick to enter except at several points where small trails emerged like scoops. They were the work of ATV's. A pedestrian in there would have no chance if one came speeding by. I imagine few cities in America offer such an extensive network of un-patroled byways for the daredevil hellraising of urban ATV enthusiasts as the yards around Coal Pier #18.  The other side of the path had been brutally cleared; it was a gaping wasteland of hardening mud to the point where jungle was still unmolested.  

The first view of Coal Pier  #18 is as a cleft through a high dirt embankment. Two concrete retaining walls hold back the earth so the cinder path can continue at grade through this canyon. In fact, standing there, we are already within the great ruin of the pier. The concrete retaining walls on either side once supported the heavy-gauge tracks that carried coal trains over our heads and along the pier's ramp. The cinder path itself must be an old rail bed crossing beneath. 

A few steps back, a narrow path beside the cleft leads down to cavernous spaces beneath the piers structure.  From here it is clear that ATV racers are not alone in this people's park.