Thursday, June 09, 2011

Ghosts of the Past
originally drafted 2001

I write from my new office. Finally. The view is dismal, not mountains or the river but a large parking lot bordered by the ugliest side of an abandoned gravel grinding business. Sigh. At least there are windows; at the Vo-Tech almost all offices were solid concrete block cells. In the distance, across yet another highway, up on a hill, there is one pretty spot: a large old white house with black shutters. The grandest classical architecture, all columns and pediments and gable ends, now surrounded by suburban sprawl of the WalMart variety.

Actually, train tracks are the true border of the parking lot, just beyond the weed-wrapped chain link fence – or at least I imagine those dead vines are weeds, as it is still too cold here for the growing season – and 10 times per day freight trains lumber by. The train must be my destiny, because in Castleton we have Amtrak, much louder and faster.

My neighbors – if you don’t count my secretary and a handful of teachers and students -- are a dot-com, a health insurance company and a vast expanse of emptiness. Behind the smoky glass of the other half of this flashcube*, and the entire one next door, are rows and rows of hallways made of moveable walls dotted by doors. Identical tiny office after tiny office with an occasional secretarial workstation, and in the building next door, a 1,500 seat cafeteria, now inhabited, I’m told by a friendly maintenance guy, only by an occasional raccoon or feral mother cat and kittens.

Where once an army of white-shirted IBMers toiled away at XTs, now there are only numbers designating locations in mod ‘70s type. It looks like they were golden parachuted, or transferred to Research Triangle North Carolina, just yesterday, if you don’t notice the weeds (make that potential weeds, maybe today the rest of the snow will melt) in the cracks of the parking lot.

This place tells the history of 20th Century America in a single square mile; economic boom circa 1900 meant railroads and Georgian mansions; economic boom circa 1960 meant cars and IBM; economic boom circa 1995 meant still more cars and WalMart.

The space we occupy is beautiful, and except for the bathroom, has been renovated to the extent that there is hardly a trace of its former inhabitants. 15,000 square feet and a seven year lease and a five year grant and four cars in a parking lot as big as an ocean. Something will have to give eventually.

*Just the other day (in May 2011), I said something about a flashcube and Bob replied that today's youth have no idea what that word means. Not only the actual technological thing that we used in the dark ages on cameras - but that metaphor for a typical ugly glass office building now has no reference point.

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