My break started out as being pretty mundane. I ate out at restaurants a lot for the first week (I never had time for this during the school year), and got caught up on my Netflix while I arranged travel plans to see old friends and family. First, I would drive back to the Midwest to see family. Then I would drive down to Virginia to meet up with Mike. Finally, I would start my trek north to Boston to see Jon.
During my stay in my home city, I drove through old downtown to see what had happened to our old stomping grounds. It was all shiny and new. All of the brownstone buildings had either been renovated, or torn down. Where there were once ramshackle ghostly neighborhoods, there were now new housing developments populated by frustrated businessmen and soccer moms. Businesses had cropped up from concrete and glass where once before had been brick buildings. Seeing all of this urban reinvigoration made me long for the summers now almost seven years past. We were three teenagers equipped only with flashlights, all gushing over forgotten photographs and stacks of faded newspaper.
This feeling of loss of a time gone by stuck with me for my drive to Virginia, finally reaching climax on my drive through West Virginia. All along I-64 I saw abandoned barns and long forlorn farmhouses just screaming for me to peruse through them at nightfall. At one point I took a turn off of the highway to find a motel and stop for the night. I wound up in what looked like was a small coal town where none of the residents had been told that the town was dead. I almost stopped twice to jump fences with rusted signs which formerly clearly announced: "Danger". It would have just been me, my mag-lite, and the crickets of that muggy summer night, but it wasn't to be. I felt like it would be wrong of me relive the past glories of we three brave archaeologists without first offering the other two the chance to take part.
When I got to Virginia, I was astounded to find out that Mike had done well for himself. He was rocketing through the enlisted ranks, and was on track to make Chief in just a few more years. He'd embraced everything about the Navy life, whereas I had struggled to live within the confines of the Air Force. He drank to the foam, and did everything to excess; still somehow inhumanly able to wake up at five AM and be ready to greet the next day with little more than a fit of vomiting followed by a thick black sludge he insisted was coffee.
Mike and I spent a lot of time comparing war stories while he tried his damnedest to get me put in the hospital for alcohol poisoning. Eventually, we managed to get on the subject of those four summers we spent together, rummaging through old houses. I told him I was thinking about finding an amazing site to explore so the three of us could take some time off and relive the past a little. Only this time, I wanted to go bigger than we'd ever gone before, exploring a place that had real history. Mike thought it was a great idea at the time, so I spent another four days surfing his couch while I planned our trip.
Finally, I narrowed down what I wanted to explore to one site. It was an abandoned hydro-electric power plant on the east coast that had over 120 years of history. It would be less than a day's driving from Jon's place, and the internet had all kinds of cool stories about the place. I read an article about how there were a maze of unfinished canals beneath the plant. Three of the power stations for the plant had been torn down in the 1960s and 1970s, but one was still standing despite being condemned. None of the canals and tunnels had been filled in. During my research, I discovered stories of entire homeless communes living in the canals beneath the sites, and bodies being discovered at the outflow drains. There were even stories about workers who had lost their lives during construction and maintenance workers who had lost their lives in a series of regular unfortunate accidents. The canals were said by some locals to be haunted. It was perfect.
I went over everything with Mike, but after a few hours of discussion over dinner, he backed out. I won't lie by saying I wasn't bummed out. I left Virginia a few days later than I had planned, and started my drive to Boston to visit Jon. Jon and I had a lot more in common when we were teenagers than Mike and I did. I had really enjoyed my visit with Mike a lot more than I expected, and was really looking forward to seeing Jon. Mike and I had hit it off so well that my trip to see Jon was going to be an absolute blast. Looking back, I'm glad that I stayed beyond what my plan was with Mike, because my trip to see Jon did not go well at all. Jon had become an asshole.
Jon was a Chemical Engineering major. He had just finished his
Master's and was working at a firm that was paying him pretty well. I
point this out, because while Jon had a lot of nice things in his
life, and sure thought highly of himself, nobody else did. Jon was an
Since I had spent four extra days with Mike, Jon and I only spent
three days together out of our planned week. I felt like a dick about
it, and he was putting me up, so I paid for just about everything
during the trip. Jon had no understanding that I was on a fixed
income, and I easily blew through $800 in 3 days hanging out with the
guy. Not only that, but he was a complete prick about our relative
levels of education. He even made it clear that he looked down on
Mike and I for joining the military. I didn't even bother to ask him
to come with me to the plant.
I was pretty angry with him at the time just for changing who he was. It felt like a massive betrayal, and my want to relive our days exploring places the world had left behind helped bolster that feeling. Without Mike and Jon, I wouldn't really be reliving it. It'd just be me alone, unable to share the experience with two guys that I had held as close friends for so long. I was bitter most of the way to the plant, but soon I got back to thinking about the matter at hand. I thought long and hard about my plan for the last half of that drive, and I'm glad I did. If I had gone in those tunnels unprepared, I never would have come out again.