Race Among Ruins
It’s the last night of this winding tour. I have finished all of the music and I am sitting in a dim-lit bar in Sudbury as the remaining guests slowly filter out. It is done. I am exhausted and nearly busted open with visceral memories of faces, places and heartfelt conversations. I reconnected with more friends than I knew I had. I entangled with many astounding and complex personalities. There are intensely talented people in this country and I have the privilege of knowing more than a few. It’s always humbling to see the many ways in which people live, love and make things. I always return a bit changed. I choose to believe for the better.
The long northern Ontario drive between Thunder Bay and Sudbury was a run-down and bittersweet backdrop to these final days of travel. The winding highway kept me alert in spite of red-eye exhaustion. The highway is peppered with countless abandoned hotels, houses and gas shops, many of which I remember being in good repair when I began touring this way more than a decade ago. I’m a bit more worn myself. I stop with greater frequency for naps, snacks or simply to explore one of these wrecks. These empty relics are, of course, all unique in structure, but they share certain qualities brought on by their decay. They are rarely boarded up, almost always completely accessible through dangling, rain-warped doors and smashed or missing windows; they are decorated with spraypaint genitals and expletives; they are littered with the debris of clandestine parties and unknowable atrocities. These enticing and storied deathtraps call to me, though I know I should just drive on by.
I stopped at one such structure today. A home that had clearly been abandoned for a decade or more. I entered through a front window. The glass had long since been entirely smashed away. Only a line of diamond-like fragments remained embedded in the wooden frame. Clearing a space in the surrounding tangle of overgrown weeds, I lifted myself up and through this window and into the structure. It was once a house, clearly, but ‘structure’ is the most applicable word now. The small drywall pieces crunched under my feet as I carefully navigated a room strewn with broken chairs and disgusting blankets. I was careful not to touch anything. I tested each step before using my full weight. I kept clear of the collapsed part of the ceiling. I wasn’t afraid of the roof entirely falling in. Maybe I should have been. Nevertheless, some tact and caution seemed necessary, if only to counterbalance the sense of voyeuristic exhilaration I was feeling. Clearly there was something taboo — even vaguely perverse — about this kind of exploration.
The kitchen was adjacent the livingroom where I entered. It was small with oddly pristine, light blue cupboards. Wood chips and insulation fluff was strewn about. The wall beside the empty window frame had been smashed through somehow, sending debris about the room. I opened the cupboard under the sink and found a small metal case about the size of a cigar box. It was brown and rusted. It had a metal latch and a small rectangular keyhole — the kind one might find on a 1980s briefcase. I picked up the box and tried to open the latch. It was locked. I took the box.
Frightened by real or imagined movement in the forest visible through the gap in the wall, I swiftly made my way back through the ruined livingroom. I swung out of the window and into the tall weeds. When I made it back to my car I placed the metal box in the trunk, under the floor panel, nestled beside the spare tire. I’m not sure why I needed to hide the thing. It’s there now as I type. The bar is closing. My equipment is packed. I’m going to drive home. I’ll see my family in the morning.