Thursday, October 9, 2008

Sleeping Pill

So. What do you do when you can't sleep?

Me? I cruise around the notorious flats of Holyoke; in the dead of night; taking pictures.



I was out riding around aimlessly about 11-ish Wednesday night. The cold weather has temporarily passed, and it was a pretty good night (in the 50's) to be out on the bike. I've been going through a night-pic phase lately, and I found myself meandering over the South Hadley bridge into Holyoke, looking for stuff to shoot. (no pun intended).





On the other side of the bridge is one of the tougher sections of Holyoke; the 'Flats', as I've heard them being called since I was a teen.







They're so called because of the low, level ground that three large canals, and numerous 19th century silk and paper factories were built on. In the central area of the flats, a lot of the old factories and warehouses have burned down or were otherwise demolished, and were replaced with low income housing and tenements. Poverty is rife here, in a city troubled with poverty.







I've cruised through this area before, (quickly), on a few hot summer nights. And believe me, if you're not from here, or don't know the people in this neighborhood, you don't want to loiter around, or have a sudden engine problem...









Yet here I was, snapping pictures and monitoring the tachometer on the bike. I didn't belong here, and I wasn't the only one who knew it. I was concentrating and tinkering with focus and aperture settings, and just raising the camera up to snap another picture, when everything suddenly turned blue.



"What are you doing?" was the plaintive question. "...Taking pictures for a blog" was the now familiar, sheepish reply.

"Do you have any ID?" Yes. I took the helmet off and produced my ID to the officer, with slightly shaking hands. My mind raced to recall any outstanding parking tickets, fines, insurance payments...

"Are you aware of where you are? There have been a lot of break-ins and other trouble around here...you can see how someone taking pictures looks suspicious..." ( he squinted at the slightly chubby white suburbanite, dead in the eyes ), "...do you know where you are?" I nodded affirmative; I know. And it's a dangerous part of town. I don't even get off the bike to take the pictures. Just shoot and scoot. I think he raised an eyebrow when I said that...

"Just, um, taking pictures for the website...", I repeated, and a weak smile formed over my face. I told him the web address, and offered to show him the pics on the camera viewfinder, to prove I wasn't doing anything too illegal. "You know...just architecture, landscapes and stuff..." He radioed my licence and plate info in to headquarters, and we flipped through the pictures on the camera as we waited.

He seemed satisfied that I wasn't up to no-good, but warned me again that I really shouldn't be hanging out around here by myself. I asked if I could get a shot of them for the blog, but they said no way, they didn't want their pictures out somewhere on the Internet. A picture of the police cars was OK though. The response finally came back over the radio from headquarters: the bike checks out, insurance checks out, warrants...long, long pause...negative. Whew.

It was time to move out of the flats. Up the hill, to the old downtown sections of Holyoke, for a couple more pics before heading home.













Holyoke is an architectural gem if there ever was one. The massive expanses of crumbling red brick factories from the post Civil War era, to the turn of the 20th century hotels, restaurants, pubs, office buildings and churches that catered to the folk that lived here, worked and ran those factories.





The fortunes of Holyoke have changed, but most of the structures and layout of the once booming city still stand. Weathering decades-old onslaughts of poverty, crime, and hopelessness, a beautiful city sleeps, and awaits a return to more fortunate days...

In the meantime, I went home, and slept like a baby...

7 comments:

VanDog said...

What strange social cues make people think alike? I have been trying to get a few friends together this week to walk around the downtown for a night time photo shoot, but now you beat me to it!

Tony said...

Well, I hope you still do it VanDog, this post was just one (outsider's) view..!

Anonymous said...

Poignant....

Thanks for sharing, Roma :)

mcblm921 said...

Wow, what a ride that was - the streets seemed pretty empty, but the cops were still out in force. Weird.

Reducing in HM said...

I really love those red doors, I drive by them now and them and always wish I had my own camera. Does anyone know what they are or why they are painted such a vibrant red?

Mary E.Carey said...

Ambitious blogging! I wonder if the Holyoke police ever checked out the Amherst police blog.

judith said...

enjoy seeing the old structures.