The best places you find are always not exactly what you were looking for. And that is precisely what we found a few weeks ago.
Our friend Marissa had visited and brought her housewarming gifts to the #shamhouse. Among the Nerf guns and adult beverages, and after talking about recent horror movies with Dylan and I, she had her new high-end camera in tow and was incredibly excited about it. Even though it was a similar model to one that we use, I gave her a hard time about it, telling her that she should co-star with Zooey Deschanel in a new movie, considering how “fresh and hip” the device was. You know, age and technology jokes! Wocka wocka.
Well, after breakfast at the diner, she wanted to go to a nearby park to get some pictures. She was going back to her hippie lovefest in California soon, so she wanted to capture some of the greenery she had grown up around. Since I was (and still am) relatively new to Piscataway and our suburbs, I did not really know of any decent parks. A quick search on my phone brought up some suggestions, but none of their names really stuck out or seemed familiar, so I arbitrarily chose one and we were off.
Anyone familiar with central-to-north Jersey knows that driving anywhere at anytime of day is a terrible idea. The GPS told us we were about twenty minutes away and I had no idea where we were actually heading. I began having my doubts when the route became increasingly industrial and the landscape increasingly less green. The traffic was getting worse, but our surroundings momentarily opened up. We were driving with a row of residential homes on our left and a weed-taken, knotty field on our right when something caught my eye. There, in the field, was a small, broken, residential property. They did not look like farmhouses. They looked like someone plucked two houses from a random piece of suburbia and placed them in this field.
“Well, make a decision. I can keep driving to this place that we don’t even know is a park, or we can check out that.”
We were both anxiously glancing back to the shrinking property.
“To hell with it.”
I immediately swing into the nearest turn-off, into a small cul-de-sac of houses and parked the car. Some of the nice residents were doing yard work and we tried not to make a scene as we rapidly deserted the vehicle and jogged back to the main road. I am sure they deal with this a lot, so I appreciate their whole not-calling-the-authorities. There was about two hundred yards from the road to the houses, and the entire time, I was aware of just how exposed we really were to anyone passing by. I mean, we were realistically running across a business highway into an obviously abandoned property. And we obviously had no business there. But we did not care as we reached the mouth of a lane that rose in the dirt on the side of the busy road.
About ten feet off of the road was a chain lazily draped over a dirt path, with the tell-tale “no trespassing” sign. There was also a large, molding log blocking the road from vehicular access. Things got exponentially more interesting from here. We realized that this path rose up and not only passed these two (pretty) houses, but kept going into the field. The field crested into a hill lined with shrubbery and a few trees, so we could not see too far beyond them. With the busy road behind us, I willed to check out the path first, before the buildings, because I did not know how much time we would actually have before someone showed up. Admittedly, I was nervous.
As we crested the hill, anxiety was replaced with wanderlust. Although the two houses we passed seemed to just be out of place buildings, they very well may have been farmhouses. What appeared to be one property, that was linked by this dirt path, had opened up to us. As we followed along we realized that this land also contained an entire other house, a shop front and small warehouse, a silo, a greenhouse, and a small garage hangar, all in varying stages of dilapidation and disrepair. Some looked just fine; others were piles of concrete and rusted iron. Many of the structures were branded with a circular symbol which we assumed to indicate either asbestos or some other condemning presence.
We made our way around the buildings and took a lot of pictures. The most memorable structure was the garage-type arch that was collapsed in the front. It looked like something straight out of the Fallout video game franchise or a place you would find in Star Wars. Easily the most terrifying was what appeared to be an old storefront. The building was average enough, but the owners seemed to have indiscriminately added on and had built structurally unsound additions and compartments to the original. Some doors opened to alleyways that were only inches wide and half-filled with dirt and glass. Walls would be rowed with doors of irregular and mismatched heights, with large panes of broken glass dotting others.
Some ceilings opened up to reveal the skeleton of a second-story that never truly was. In the center of the sunlight-blocking building was a cement room. On one of its walls was a small, machine-cut doorway, only two or three feet high. We could only see darkness within. What was the purpose of such a useless, little compartment? Probably storage, but our minds, ever stuck in an adventurous-set, assumed something more sinister. That’s half the fun, eh?
On the way back, we stopped near the two houses that had originally caught my eye. The door to one was blown open and oddly inviting. It was your typical two-story American home. It couldn’t have been more than ten years abandoned. It was still far too clean and modern for any alternative. The best part of this place was the children’s drawings and coloring book tear-outs that lined the small stairway into the attic, which was completely uninhabitable. Some rooms, especially the corners and ceilings, revealed the presence of light wildlife occupation. Birds and the like. One window even had a nest tucked firmly between the two panes of glass.
The second building was much closer to the road and looked to be much more locked down and secured with wooden boards. We decided that we had tested our luck enough and it was time to go back to the car. We only took with us memories and photographs, but the nature of the place, its condition, its unknown history, left us scratching our heads. It was a beautiful piece of land and probably profitable. Why couldn’t they just doze the unsafe structures? It was not as if they were afraid to rebuild portions themselves, by the look of the warehouses. Why... nevermind. Perhaps some things are better left unanswered. Let us pretend that some horror-movie-quality incident happened and this charming family is on the run from some ethereal being, leaving this beloved farmstead behind.