The thread increasingly surrounded by darkness Riding out the winter (decline) of industrial civilization


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Orange Crush Interchange
I’ve never experienced the displeasure of being patted down on the side of a freeway—not before today that is. I tried not to take offence since it appeared to be a procedural formality associated with riding in a patrol car: another first. Apparently more than one concerned (read: over concerned) citizen called to report my suspicious roadside behavior and a CHP motorcycle unit was dispatched to intercept me. I did my best to play stupid (“What signs?”) but the officer wasn’t buying it and wrote me a ticket. I wasn’t allowed to leave under my own steam since it would have required further lane crossings, and a cruiser showed up later to taxi me back to where I’d parked the bike.
I have some experience documenting freeway interchanges. Their massive scale and wide flat forms make them particularly difficult subjects. They’re designed to be as unobtrusive as possible, both visually and audibly, and are often at least partially surrounded by large walls. To fully comprehend the magnitude of the space they occupy one must view them from above.
The Orange Crush is a special case, even by Southern California standards. According to The Center for Land Use Interpretation, the structure “provides 34 routes (including onramps and offramps) for 629,000 cars a day, traveling in 66 lanes over 13 bridges.” The 2002 edition of the Guinness World Records book credits the Crush with being “the most complex road interchange in the world.” The concrete trough known as the Santa Ana River crosses in the vicinity, adding a sub-layer to the clusterfuck.

The Crush is unarguably a feat of modern roadway engineering and I’ll attest to its absurd level of complexity. I’ve driven through it, circled its vast perimeter, and wandered deep into its core yet remain unable to produce a comprehensive mental map of its twists and turns. There’s an overwhelming moment, even as a passenger, when you drive beneath a baffling line of signs identifying which lane you’re meant to be in.

Making sense of what exactly I was doing there, the highway patrol officer asked the usual questions. We had a marginally successful conversation over the sound of tractor-trailers thundering by at freeway speeds. With the arrival of the inevitable exchange concerning why it’s not ok to photograph overpasses, he actually used the phrase: “not in this day and age.” While renewing my disgust for the meaningless cliché, I made an important realization. The qualities that make a structure a good case study for post-industrial decay also make it a potential terrorist target.
Large overbuilt pieces of infrastructure like bridges and power plants are designed and built for permanence. They represent enormous concentrations of public wealth, making their premature replacement almost unthinkable. Their sudden disappearance would have immediate and dramatic effects on commerce and the day-to-day operation of civilization. For these reasons, they’re expected to live out the entirety of their design life. Also, constructions in this category tend to have a significant presence in the landscape. They become landmarks, and in some cases landforms.

Structures as durable as an elevated section of freeway have the potential to outlast the function they were built to perform. I’d like for them to inherit new uses as those for which they were created fade into history. Above all, I imagine a reframing of their value as they go form being utilitarian infrastructure to monuments of the industrial age. And the longer they’re around, the more of their natural decomposition may be witnessed by whoever is present. When the Crush is no longer choked with cars, but harvesting rainwater from a passing storm, our descendents will gaze at its sweeping curves and marvel at the strength of its massive columns. They’ll say to each other, “Look at what our fathers and mothers built!” instead of, “Damn it! This thing needs like three more lanes!”

Note: The “PEDESTRIAN ON FREEWAY” ticket is available in the support section. Don’t be surprised if those three words end up as the title of a documentary.
AES’s Huntington Beach Power Plant:
Orange County uses vast sums of energy but only produces a modest amount within its borders; importing the rest from neighboring territories. Its only power plant is a natural gas-fired operation near Huntington Beach, just north of where the Santa Ana River trickles into the Pacific. The plant itself is relatively unremarkable but notable still for what it’s surrounded by. A wastewater treatment plant, an extended family of oil storage tanks and a 40-acre parcel that was used as an oil drilling waste dump for sixty years are all within the vicinity. In case you’re just dieing to know, waste at the superfund site includes chromic acid, sulfuric acid, aluminum slag, mercaptans, drilling wastes and styrene, all substances classified as “toxic” by the EPA.
My visit to Huntington Beach would have been routine if it weren’t for an odd roadside interaction I had with a fellow cyclist. The gentleman, probably in his late fifties, had closely cropped white hair and beard and a kind face with a brilliant smile that activated the lines around his eyes. I’ve dubbed our chat “Sermon by the Sea” because what started as a pleasant talk on vintage bicycles and the wonderful coastal climate became an indictment of my sinning ways.
“Have you ever stolen something—even something small?”


“Have you ever lusted after a woman?”

“All the time.”

“Have you ever used the lord’s name as an expression of discontent?”

He then gently delivered the news that I’d flunked his little test and was headed for eternal damnation unless I accepted Jesus into my heart. His logic was infallible so I just asked if this was his typical morning: riding up and down the coast rescuing sinners. As we prepared to part ways he added:
“May your journey deliver you to the foot of the cross.”

“—Or to the base of a nuclear power plant,” I countered, anticipating San Onofre later in the day.

“You’ve got a good spirit Brett.”
He had presented me with a little folded up pamphlet pulled from his bicycle seat bag. When he’d disappeared down the road I read the words printed in some childish font on its cover: Are you good enough to go to Heaven?
San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant:
In terms of access, San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) couldn’t be more different from Diablo Canyon, its sister plant on California’s coast. When the tide is out you can actually walk the thin strip of beach between the plant and the ocean, bringing you right up beneath the security fence. There are rules though and a ban on photography in the vicinity is strictly enforced. My breaking of this rule did not go unnoticed and, interrupting my sandy march back to the bike, a barely discernable warning was squawked at me from a loudspeaker:
“…[unintelligible] camera [unintelligible] restricted area…”

I answered with a generous wave and continued up the beach. With the afternoon’s reconnaissance work complete, it was time for a swim. The water was cold and the seafloor rocky so, leaving the surf to the surfers, I dried in the sun then headed inland. As I exited through the state beach’s park gate, the nice woman I’d spoken to when I entered popped out of her little shed and hollered:

“We’re you taking pictures of the plant?”


“Plant security called—said they were looking for a guy in a yellow shirt.”

“Thanks,” I returned, glancing at my sleeve, confirming its color and resolving to perform a costume change as soon as possible.
The next day I approached the plant from the south. It was a grey misty morning and the beach was deserted. Repairs to the plant’s seaward facing fencing were underway and I sat casually on a driftlog while crews worked nearby. When I returned to the trailhead, a park service security officer was waiting for me.
“Were you taking pictures of the plant?”


“What were you taking pictures of?”

“The sea cliffs… and… the surf!”

“We got a call from plant security. They get kinda nervous since the whole terrorist thing.”
The lie I’d fed him was a private joke because it’s safe to assume plant security knew exactly what my camera was pointed at. He took down my driver’s license number but sent me on my way before the inquiry’s results had returned. I sped off like I’d just robbed a bank wondering if having your name run through law enforcement databases is anything like having your credit checked. If you’re screened too often do you automatically become a criminal in the eyes of the system? Following this paranoid line of thought, I imagined the government’s profile on me as it currently stood: power plants, freeway overpasses, Disneyland. I’m sure they’re thoroughly confused.
Annie at Bubble Tea for the sandwich to go

Lisa, Paul and mom for the open fridge and bottom bunk.
Border Field:

This site has the feel of a militarized security zone. With helicopter’s flying about, border patrol agents on ATVs, surveillance towers and a formidable fence, one might mistake it for the West Bank. I was the only civilian for miles on the US side and kept expecting to be picked up and detained for questioning. Instead, I was studiously ignored. It seemed not being Mexican made me invisible. Even when I approached an agent at the window of his pickup he appeared distracted and paid me minimum attention.

You can thank the Clinton administration for the heightened security. The upgrades were part of Operation Gatekeeper, an effort to, "restore integrity and safety to the nation's busiest border." The first phase of the operation, focusing on the five westernmost miles of the border, succeeded in shifting migration routes east and benefiting professional smugglers by increasing demand for their services.
While we’ve stemmed the flow of Mexico’s citizens through the area, we’re unable to redirect the course of its water. The heavily polluted Tijuana River crosses the border a few miles from the ocean and must be treated (like raw sewage) before its waters are released into a large flat estuary and eventually the Pacific.
Update post on state of mind:
On what your days consist of. I find myself with only a very slight sense of dissatisfaction—perhaps the lowest since childhood. Maybe add that you’re doing what amounts to a feasibility study for extremely low-budget transient living—figuring out how to best manage it—a guide to post-industrial living
Collecting food stamps is strangely like passing go in monopoly. It’s cyclical, occurring once a month, and it’s $200!
Crazy shit for the radio show:
Met founder of, Casey Fenton at a campground in the middle of the big sur coastline.
Meeting Jessica in the paradise that is Santa Barbara.
Noticing what type of rack a town went with.—Santa Barbara being the worst with the pole and loop.

Touring the California coast with the cars and the pullouts—just arriving after the climb as they’re jumping back into the car—“yeah it’s a nice one – enjoy it.”

Realized that depending on where in the ride they’re passing me—climbing or descending probably completely affects how they interpret the kind of time I’m having.

Sleeping in strange places—abandoned sugar plant, across the street from a massive power plant (steam bursts)—abandoned refinery—see the sites throughout the diurnal cycle—morning is often some of the best lighting—and also lowers the chance that you’ll be bothered
Questioned at the Disneyland parking garage—then escorted out.
One of the most photographed places—yet only specific spots—and only certain types of images allowed.
Avoiding security at the refinery—after setting off an alarm.

Another Disneyland Adventure—betrayed by security girl.

Getting food stamps—no bike rack at social services? The paging system.

Girls in Santa Barbara.

Malibu Sprinklers.
Shitting Outdoors: The Water-Bottle Bidet Method of taking a shit outside: very important psychological barrier to overcome before setting off to places without toilets—letting that leash go. We’ve been shitting outside for a really long time—it’s only relatively recently that we’ve required indoor plumbing.

  1. Selecting a spot (sometimes your on a bluff watching the sunset—in a redwwod grove—next to

  2. Securing water (Richmond example)

  3. Digging a hole

  4. Shitting

  5. Cleaning

  6. Covering

Don’t shit where you or someone else is likely to go for some time.
Military types on the train
Blog talk radio call in:


Project Notes:
On Being poor:

Humbling, impossible to think of yourself as the center of the universe when you stand in line for food stamps. More interesting challenges: how am I going to acquire the things I need without access to money? Plus all the good stuff from DO.

Perpetual economic growth is a lie.

Entering a new era of post exuberance—contraction—numbers getting smaller

Developed nations just had their first experience with production (deceiving word) limits and it threw the global economy into turmoil.
What do these sites have in common—they tend to be places where cameras are not welcome—places that are large in scale, often severely degraded and contaminated, although in some cases are making a recovery.
To get readers to welcome the shift to the new paradigm and to perhaps hasten its arrival.

To see that collapse can be engaging, inspiring, etc.
I want people to look at these places and think: “they are more valuable to us in their current form than they ever were when they were processing resources of producing whatever. They are valuable as a reminder of our industrial past, and as a welcome symbol of our future as we lay them to rest as we carry on into a more humane and human paradigm.
getting outside the money economy. You can’t critique, and it certainly doesn’t make sense to undermine a system you’re part of—one that you depend on for resources. But once outside you can 1. See it for what it is without looking through a filter of bias 2. Help others get out by providing your services for free, and setting an example 3. Undermine it and work toward a shift away from it.
a large part is showing how beautiful and spiritually healing (in not such a new-age type of way)

Gary, Indiana- industrial ghost city—Cathedral—in a rain storm—very tarkovski

You should totally mine the television series for sites.—you’re kinda the reflective version—the Tarkovski version—but no following.

Atlanta-- images are carved into the rock—not making good photos --- largest piece of exposed granite.

Migraines: your medical condition.
Other Southern California sites:

open pit mines and City of Industry

gravel mine and power plant off the Antelope Valley train line—just after Sun Valley
Operating energy infrastructure—to document the sites before the industrial decline gains traction—for historical purposes. The before image in the before/after pair.

Also—shortages in fossel fuel based energy will be the first thing that really curtails growth and sends us down the backside of the bell shaped curve. We’ve already seen this invisible ceiling in action.

And to create an archive of sites if any coordinated effort to derail civilization ever gets under way.
The project is also about getting imagery of sites where photographs are typically not permitted.—tie this with creating an industrial target archive.
Things are so fucking predictable. I’d like to have to exercise my ingenuity, creativity, intuition and adaptability
The illuminated thread is currently marooned in Southern California and needs to raise $2000 for stage three: Los Angeles, CA to Houston, TX
Please help by donating or spreading the word to those that can.

CLUI exhibition space: open Friday/Saturday—Culver City.

Eventually you may ride with someone else again. (hey! This is before meeting Jessica L.)
more things you need:

soap box

soft sack for camera

moccasins-- $30
two new tires/break pads-- $100

external hard drive-- $150

food (LA to Houston)-- $1750

Hosting expires in August-- $50
Total: $2050
Stage three: LA to Houston sites:
El mirage dry lakebed—see list above

Largest aircraft graveyard-- AZ

Tucson, AZ missile site

Overnight Millionaire’s bachelor pad, New Mexico

Houston Petrochemical patch
Future stages: (add to the bottom of the ‘about’ page)
East coast—rust belt

England’s industrial ruins—

Eastern Europe including Germany and the struggling post-soviet states—lots of soviet era abandonments
Chinese coastline—world’s busiest container port

[Shizuishan City in Western China was once described as the best place to make a film about the end of the world.]

Japan and Korea—offshore coal producing island/abandoned futuristic beach community

Cuba and the Caribbean including Haiti—model of self-sufficiency
Archdruid on varying experiences during collapse:

another thing that happens when civilizations break down is that historical events downshift to a more local scale. To borrow Thomas Friedman’s metaphor, civilizations flatten out the Earth, but this is a temporary effect; when civilizations decline and fall, roundness returns, and communities once bound into a sprawling whole find themselves cut loose to shape their own histories.

(only possible if communication isn’t occurring? Not necessarily the case.)
Commencement speech

learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.

so I’m biking around southern California listening to:
gently caress the outside of your thigh with the tips of your black painted fingernails. Play absentmindedly with your ring, flip your hair over your shoulder, balance your crossed leg on the heel of you boots.
Gps lines

People wil fucking shit themselves if this is done right

On Plexiglas

Painted with a computer’s assistance—one really big one, you could design the rides to look good after some practice—to be aesthetic in three dimensions.

Red and blue lines—or color changed (subtly) as speed changes.
Rides around Los Angeles

Tracked in three axis.

Medical on UCLA neighborhood

Deliver here.

Or work making coffee or tea.
You should do a “worlds largest cities tour—crowded metroplexes of planet EARTH.

UCLA med center has it’s own power plant.

Shoot it
Falling in love with the view at Westwood. The moon coming up between the buildings. The flickering television sets, the building that looks like a flat façade, the glints of reflected afternoon sunlight.
Anything local, DIY, cooperative, dealing with alternative modes of exchange, subversive of the status quo, or on the margins of legality. Count me in

A letter to Walkabout Jones

I can’t remember how I came across the website for your delivery service. I think I was …

We could play up the qualities of each variety—give a really good presentation. Make it all sheik and Hollywood—if it isn’t already.

The bicycle delivery could be a ‘reduce your carbon footprint’ bullshit option [link to coral reefs article]—eventually a bit more—just tip based initially. Super approachable—un assuming—disarming—personality traits. I’ll work for tips for a week—see if there’s interest—till it’s established.

Probably still more efficient at certain times of the day—with traffic and all.

Would really help out the project—a different type of scholarship.

More captions--

Really? We’re going to let the coral reefs die? Has anyone out there ever seen one of these?

Post with carbon emission politics wanky. Where is the direct action? Are we really going to let this happen while these wankers drag their feet? Yes, we are—truthfully, at this later stage there’s nothing we can do to stop it.
trampled at mall reminder links—lots of examples of these strange incidents. China, UK, US—imagine being the person responsible for reporting the death to their families—“yeah, your son died at his Wall Mart job this morning when he was trampled by shoppers looking for deals on patio furniture. I’m sorry for your loss.”
Automobiles enjoying the Anaheim sunset.
From nick’s perspective—yeah I got this unemployed dude (that never seems to wear a shirt) living in my guest room and doing ecstasy with my girlfriend.

[Transcript of a text message based conversation I had with an 18-year-old girl]—maybe not.

[lost when phone was flushed]
So ur note was really
More gifts:

-- Transcript of Julia text exchange—find out what happened when she reveals her age.

-- Legal parking notice single sheet used for the storage and transportation of a small amount of marijuana.

-- café cover letter or craigslist email package.

-- add pedestrian on freeway to ticket package

-- mailing of something random

-- hottest image moment
-- train experiences including soldiers—1000 rounds—picturing some beach littered with rifle shells, video game, and digging bike out of tetris luggage problem

-- unemployed in southern California—mental report, plus some practical advice

-- review of texas oil—cramped—good audio. A little confused in terms of what to do with the information—very little of it will be retained so it just becomes overwhelming—flier—

texasoil—is the name I propose we give to toxified soil not safe to grow food in.

-- review of World made by hand—just a few criticisms here. Women? More projections of recent technology being carried forward—tinkering—unnecessary catastrophic events. Seems to be saying that organized groups get more done. Recycling renaissance—I mean this could just because it sounds good to me. What about the language reverting to old west? Dumb.

Welcome to the post-exuberant era: to the age of contraction.
Those of us alive today are living through a particularly momentous time for the human species. Peak everything.
Headstand class pitched to a high end LA yoga studio—30 minutes—three “flushes” with stretching of applicable muscles in between—the goal is to improve comfort and endurance in inverted poses.

Inverted [yoga] poses provide the anti-aging benefits that many people are seeking.

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