Observations on The Observer
It will already be old news by the time you read this, but I was one of the explorers featured in the cover story for The Dallas Observer on the subject of urban exploration.  It can be found here.


The following are comments to specific items in the story.  I only address items pertaining to urban exploration in general or comments specifically about myself.  All else covered in the story pertaining to the respective parties is up to them to address on their own if they so chose.
>Depending on whom you ask, urban exploration is either a harmless hobby or a subversive secret society with members in virtually every city on earth.
I'm in the former camp.  If you're going to be subversive and secretive, you're going to look like you're up to no good.  And maybe you are.  I'm not.

>...there is no set definition of what an urban explorer is.
My definition is "exploration of man-made structures where you aren't supposed to be."  That's a bit cumbersome and entirely too ambiguous, but it beats Supreme Court Justice Stewart's I know it when I see it.

>The phenomenon is fueled by one of the most basic human impulses, the desire to snatch back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz.
Unfortunately, this story focused more on narratives than looking at the big picture.  Of course, I read entirely too many research articles and not nearly enough fiction to think like the average reader, so maybe I was mistakenly hoping for something more general than isolated (and therefore sometimes misleading) anecdotes.

>"It's much better than hiking when you circle the park and come back to where you started," Alex says. "Everything you see underground is going to be new and different and weird."
Since he didn't use a tape recorder, I wish Rick (the reporter covering this story) would have avoided quotes.  I don't remember saying many of the things I'm quoted as saying in this story.

>The only universal prerequisites for urban explorers seem to be curiosity and a disdain for trespassing laws.
I would have said "disregard" rather than "disdain."  There's actually a pretty big difference between iconoclasts and anarchists.

>"Sometimes graffiti can be funny or artistic," Alex says, "but it's only OK on a really boring stretch of wall."
Another quote I wouldn't have attributed to me.  For one thing, it makes me sound like a graffiti artist, which I'm not (nor much of an artist in any other regard).  However, I do like unexpectedly finding graffiti underground and out of view of the rest of the world.  It's a pleasant surprise for those who ventured into someplace new and it doesn't deface property.  In other cases, I'm more ambivalent.  See, for example, Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point on the subject.

>Alex's real name, however, is easy to encounter on his Web site, a fact he doesn't mind much. "Honestly, I think most cops have better things to do," he says.
I would have said "more important things to do."  Because, well, they do.

>After a half-hour below ground, the darkness begins to seem less oppressive. Not because my eyes are adjusting--eyes can't adjust to ambient light that doesn't exist. It's just that the sure footing, the ample space overhead, the unwavering straightness of the path are all in defiance of my preconceived notions of storm sewers.
Actually, your eyes do adjust.  Once your pupils dilate, you are able to make full use of the limited light source(s) you bring with you as well as occasional light from the surface.  Also, your brain begins filling in the blanks such that you're operating on a different paradigm.  Surprisingly, this doesn't take very long to achieve and is exactly what Rick experienced.

>Sure enough, there is no difference in this spot in the wall, other than the fact it's covered with roaches, some the size of cell phones.
Very, very small cell phones.

>"That's how it is down here," Alex says. "Everything I think ends with a question mark."
I don't know if I said this either, but it's a good line.

>As it turns out, the source of the fetid water is a side tube just 20 feet into the tunnel, and as we continue upstream the smell recedes.
For the record, this is rare, but I've run across a couple other places where we have encountered septic leakage into a drainage tunnel.  It's usually minimal (though the one we encountered here was pretty oppressive), but we don't exactly fill our canteens in the water down there.

>Still, I wonder if sewer gas collecting in the tunnel might pose a threat.
>"The thing about drains is that they're all sloped," Alex assures me. "All those gases just go straight up and out the manhole covers and drain grates."
I would have said "angled" rather than "sloped."  The distinction is that it isn't just that water runs down the drains; air runs out.  I discuss the assumptions of the ideal gas laws elsewhere on this site as to why gases cannot collect in manmade structures as they do in naturally formed caves.  In fact, caves are substantially more dangerous due to things like CO2 build-up when released from bicarbonate rocks.

>"That was real creepy," he says. "You could see the bloody handprints where they were stumbling against the walls when they were trying to get out."
Urban exploration vs. urban legend.  I think Rick cleverly addresses the veracity of this story indirectly with the following:

Later I ask Roy Bruce if any large storm drains had removable lids or would be temporarily closed for any reason anywhere in Dallas' estimated 2,500 miles of storm drains.
"Naw," he says. "There's nothing like that down there."


>"There's a guy," he breathes, almost mouthing the words, "walking his dog."
Actually, I said he was "watering his lawn."  That's what took me so long.  He stood facing the direction of the drain I was peaking out of, so I had to wait for him to move to another part of his front yard before I could get a picture of him and to take a GPS reading (which usually takes about 30 seconds or more).

>The weather is always two days behind in the storm sewers.
This is just a rule of thumb.  The bigger the temperature difference between consecutive days, the faster the temperature will penitrate the ground, but it's usually true unless you have apocalyptic weather conditions.  And if you do, exploring is the least of your concerns.

>This is one of two laws Alex has formulated in his years of exploring the tunnels.
Actually, there are more than this, but Rick doesn't differentiate between natural laws and design principles.  Admittedly, I didn't take the time to go into the fine points, but I guess that's my fault.

>We're facing downstream, yet one of the tunnels in front of us is smaller than the upstream one we've just come out of.
"Isaac Asimov has three laws of robotics, but I've only come up with two laws of draining--and we've already broken one of them," Alex says.
The distinction here is that you can break design principles.  For example, tunnels should get larger as they progress downstream, just as a river tends to expand in volume.  But there's no law of nature broken if a construction crew doesn't follow that plan (though civil suits may result from improper drainage).

Another such "law" (again, more of a design principle) is that tunnels tend to converge as you head downstream, just a branches of a tree (another natural water-carrying structure) converge toward the trunk.  Of course, this rule is periodically broken as well, including in the tunnel I explored with Rick.

>Urban exploration also provides almost unlimited opportunity for compelling photography, and some UE Web sites are packed with stunning images.
Not mine.  Sorry.  The best you get here is a scrapbook of my trip composed of relatively low-resolution pics.

>Explorers take their inspiration from movies as well. Many cite Raiders of the Lost Ark and its sequels as early influences. Others include Fight Club and the Matrix series.
I don't know if it's inspiration exactly. I see a hole, I climb in it (no innuendo implied).  However, I know I referenced both Fight Club and The Matrix while talking to Rick, although the former was to quote my relationship to my girlfriend when it comes to exploring: "I will drag you kicking and screaming, and in the end you will thank me."  She will readily confirm that this is a good description of a lot of things in our relationship.  The Matrix reference was originally coined (to my knowledge) by the founder of Infiltration.org (and the zine) on the "Invisible Worlds" episode of This American Life on NPR.

>Alexplorer has a growing collection of sporting goods from his years of draining.
Actually, they all get donated to Goodwill.  See also the "Found" page for more items.


Copyright 2005 Alexplorer.
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