Pirate Utopia in the Presence of High Way Desolation

Published

Last night, in Philadelphia, I fell into a Pirate Utopia entirely enabled by the construction of I-95. It was 2 a.m. in the morning and we played music loud with the front door open. The rest of the buildings on the block had long since crumbled away from the negative effect of the huge berm of the highway. My friends were completely comfortable throwing beer bottles over onto that berm, saying that “it doesn’t matter- no body comes here!” and “Boy, isn’t that liberating to throw the bottle? When is the last time you did that?” At the same time, they commented they saw a skunk walking along that overgrown edge of the highway. I thought the skunk was the most important aspect and wondered how to make that something to care about. “Who knew there where skunks in Fishtown?”

There was a frame of a new building on the block and it was easy to enter and explore. I was hesitant at first, and then realized I was in a space that the police would not care about. I was in a space that a select few people care about and yet, 180,000 automobiles pass daily. So I joined my fellow musicians and climbed up to the top of the building.

I could see the sky scrapers of Philadelphia in the distance. I could see the lights on top, pulsing, presumably to alert planes of their presence but I am not sure. The visual vector of i-95 led directly to them, and I couldn’t help but see the highway as a pulse of the city as an organism. I looked around at the row houses and tried to view the landscape as it would appear 10 years ago, 30 years ago or 50 years ago. I looked at the trees and tried to reverse their growth. I tried to remove the highway, the huge barrier it presented both physically and mentally. I saw the Delaware River in the distance and the non-linear aspects of progress.  I cherished the newness of the experience and the perspective it gave me, simply to be elevated above my neighborhood in an unclaimed space. We turned a big banner selling something backwards with a “Now who’s selling what?”

It was an escape from the escape we live in. It felt real.

By Noel Hefele

Noel Hefele is an artist living in the Bronx