The Rookie: Week 2 Day 9

For the past week I’ve been in the nation’s capitol, part of a team surveying historic buildings on a large campus that the government is seeking a new use.  The buildings date from the late 19th century to the early 20th century with modifications through the middle of the century.  Most of the buildings are quite large and have been abandoned for over 20 years.  So there’s a lot of neglect and deterioation to be found and yet surpises and treasures abound.

In some buildings its as though a whistle blew, the workers left and never returned.  Papers rest on tables as they did when the last person left.  Machinery and equipment sit waiting for the next shift.  It’s as though the buildings are a time capsule and once you unlock the door and enter the boarded up spaces, the 1950s come back to life.

And then there are even greater surprises, such as you open a door expecting to find nothing more than a pump station, and you find a 40′ by 40′ space with pristine brick barrel vaults and square columns.  Or there’s fantastic decorative brickwork, the likes which you never see today.

Part of the game is sifting through what is not historic and therefore disposable and what holds important historic value and is need of preservation.  And that’s not the easiest thing to determine when you find shattered windows, crumbling walls, sagging ceilings, and piles of junk in most of the buildings.  And who really knows what hazards exists with these materials and junk.

But its all worth it.  Not only because its an adventure canvassing the buildings but because for a long period of time these buildings played an important role and contributed to their time.  Working in the field for the past week made me realize a handful of things:

  • The LL Bean backpack I am using as my field bag is the one I got in 6th grade.  I’ll do the math for you, and thats 13 years (check my math) I’ve had it.  I’m pretty sure it can go another 13 as its missing just a single buckle for the waste strap.  Maybe this just proves how few books and homework I brought home from school.
  • The headlamp my sister and brother-in-law gave me as an undergraduate gift not only is perfect for the Inca Trail, and biking Crespi d’Adda but also exploring these historic buildings.  Not to mention the boots and pants I used on the Inca Trail now make up my field uniform.
  • I don’t think I want to read the study, but I wonder if there has been one that compares the life expectancy of a normal person to that of one whom works with historic buildings on a regular basis.  Granted, I take all the necessary precautions but you just never know with historic materials.
  • The campus we’re working at is an virtual nature reserve.  I’ve seen over ten deer, eight ground hogs, four turkeys, and a snake.  It makes me wonder what is going to happen to all the animals if the government does what it wants.
  • I saw a wild assortment of military aircraft buzz the campus.  There was a formation of fighter jets, a pairing of Marine helicopters, and an Air Force refueling plane.
  • We had picnic style lunches on campus but I had some tasty dinners.  Tuesday night was Ethiopian food.  Wednesday was tapas.  Thursday night was Thai.

Its been a long but enjoyable week.  Now I head back to Chicago and a Coldplay concert in Milwaukee awaits.  Things just keep getting better.

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