Saturday, October 06, 2007

An Alien World Below

A short drive from the Saturday morning downtown Farmer's Market in Des Moines is a turn-off that leads to a gravel path. Follow it past the weeds, keeping an eye on the power lines, and you find yourself in a different world.

My son works on billboards and tells me of the interesting locations and sometimes difficult terraine he has to negotiate to reach them. "All you have to do is follow the power lines, Mom...."

So we did. We followed them alongside railroad tracks, rows of which run under the East 14th Street bridge, a bridge that I've crossed hundreds of times over the years I've lived in Des Moines. I just never gave much thought to the world below.

I gave it some thought last winter when he called and mentioned that the billboard on which he was working had just "leaned" in the wind. Leaned????

"Well, it just sort of gently started to tip..."

"While you were on it??"

"Yup. It stopped, though."

"So it just started to lean and then it stopped??"


"And what did you do???"

"We got the hell off there, that's what we did."

I didn't ask how high up in the air he was when the billboard began to tip. The leaning had stopped. He was safe on the ground. Really, how high could it have been??

Really, really high. REALLY high. I took this photo from the ground below the bridge.

Taken with my zoom lens, this is the same billboard that started to lean while Mike and his crew were changing the picture. The board itself is 40-some feet ABOVE the surface of the East 14th Street bridge.

And the expanse below is like an alien world.

Aliens with spray cans, that is.

See what I mean? I kept thinking someone was going to pop out of the weeds and ask me to take them to my leader. It's spooky down there. It's a world of broken bottles, random castaway car parts and suspicious paths leading off into the woods through which, if you squinted and parted the leaves, you can make out the shape of tents fashioned from tarp.

This is also a world of mosquitoes. Zillions of mosquitoes, all of whom lie in the weeds in wait for the next unsuspecting warm-blooded entree.

Mike assured me these are the bones of a deer. Maybe I've seen too many episodes of C.S.I. but I wasn't interested in sticking around long enough to find out. We hiked back to the car with a new understanding of the phrase, "the other side of the tracks."

See that dark little block off in the distance, the one that has a little point on the top?

That's 801 Grand.

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