the DNA of a City


I used to wander the streets of the humble little town I grew up in, looking at all of the “ancient artifacts” that made up the history of the town.

The crumbling foundations of the depot loading docks marked the spot where the trains would enter and exit the underground cul-de-sac for re-routing trains back to Detroit.

the future of the city; Portrait of Grand Rapids, MI by Marley & Scott Warren

The high school auditorium, built in 1906, empty since 1953 and perpetually attracting drop-outs and transients of all types ever since, survived the fire of 1983 only to be torn down in the early 90’s when a teenage murder suspect was found to be hiding out there for the past 6 weeks.

The gravel pits with their empty mines, the old barge we used as a boat house, the abandoned train car, as well as various rusted machinery and vehicles provided endless hours of exploration and examination of the past inhabitants of this town.

Every time I unearthed some strange piece of crusty iron in our backyard or discovered some nearly illegible writing in the attic of some empty barn, it was like traveling back 100 years and catching a post-cognitive glimpse of what it must have been like “living in the moment” for people long gone.

Did they know that their “now” was somebody else’s “a long time ago”? Did they know some kid like myself would be peeking into dirty basements of empty factories trying to find some discarded key or scrap of paper or photograph that just may be the piece of the puzzle that would put it all into perspective?

It seemed that the more I learned about my town, the more there was that I didn’t know. There were few people that had been there from “way back when” that I could ask questions of. Or at least it seemed that way to me. 10 year old kids typically don’t really know too many 75 year old town historians.

The majority of my friends were from families just starting out, too poor to live somewhere good, so they went to where they could afford to go, until things got better. Which made me feel that the people here previously were largely forgotten by those here now. And for the people that did remember those before us, who had relatives buried in the town’s history, it seemed to me that they somehow benefited from this continuity of the town’s secrets.

It was almost as if in this town a majority of the population was  basically unconnected to the true essence of what this place really was, and by extension, unconnected to who they really might become.

Those who were “connected” may not have even realized it, but they were more intrinsic components of the machinations that kept the process flowing, the story and history of this small town developing. It was almost an organic synergy with the past and the present character of this town that these people embodied.  I am not sure if they were aware of this phenomenon, but I could sense this even then.

I was also keenly aware of the fact that sometime in the distant “future”, in a time where I couldn’t possibly fathom all of the radical social changes and stunning technological innovations that make up someone else’s commonplace “now”, some lonely kid would be discovering some long-forgotten artifact left by me somewhere in a filthy old warehouse or in the ground behind his parents’ garage.

Maybe this item would be a time capsule reaching out from a bygone era to unlock a hidden mystery for the future.  Would this knowledge be transmitted like DNA to the next generation, only to further propel the ages old mysterious origins of this town onward for future generations?

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About analogmutant

art, music, food, movies, citizen journalism, activism, and whatever else i am into at the moment...
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