4/8 -- Riding the Rails.
(FYI: My e-mail is almost completely screwed up thanks to a recent server switchover. If you've written me recently and been snubbed, that's probably why. Either that, or I'm being my usual lazy and rude self again.)
On Friday afternoon, I took an Amtrak train up to Connellsville, Pennsylvania to join Bill and his parents.
Once again, graffiti played a part in my Friday afternoon musings. As the train pulled out of Union Station, I could see graffiti all over the backs of buildings facing the tracks. Much of what I remember from when I used to take the Red Line Metro out of Union Station has been obscured by enormous, slick-looking, elaborate murals that look incredible but seem to try way too hard to impress the viewer.
But you can still spot the occasional "COOL 'DISCO' DAN" peeking up from behind the fancy-schmancy pictures. I used to be able to count dozens of "COOL 'DISCO' DAN"s on my rides from Takoma Park to Union Station back in the early 90s. "COOL 'DISCO' DAN" didn't just inscribe a place once or twice and move on -- he'd write his handle over and over again, in simple and unadorned script. Every time you'd glance at the dingy DC-to-Maryland landscape, you'd see the name. He'd seep into your consciousness and before long, you'd be actively looking for more and more of his tags. And you'd find them. This guy was freaking everywhere.
I don't know what happened to "COOL 'DISCO' DAN". He became something of a cult figure in DC back in 1991. A local alterna-rag ran a cover story titled "Who is 'Cool "Disco" Dan?'", and the City Paper and the Washington Post picked up the scent. But when the Post finally tracked him down and he turned out to be your basic no-account loser, interesting only because of his determination to scrawl his handle in as many spots as he could find from Virginia to New Jersey and perhaps beyond, he faded back into obscurity.
But his handle lives on. I counted only four on various buildings, but the fact that they're still there at all is oddly comforting.
Something I meant to scrawl down on paper so I wouldn't forget to mention it tonight (but look! I remembered it anyhow): As I get older, it's really odd to see what's survived my younger years. At some point after the train had passed through Rockville and into a wooded area without obvious identifying landmarks, I lost interest in gazing out the window and tried to read a little. I kept glancing at the landscape and found myself looking at a street that seemed unsettlingly familiar. And then it appeared full in my vision -- Hershey's bar. Brick building. Brown-lettered sign. My dad's favorite hangout in Gaithersburg, where I grew up.
That place was utterly horrid. Cloying disinfectants and cigarette smoke couldn't fully cover the odors of piss and vomit. I don't remember much of the decor except for a garish, filthy red carpet. The patrons were mostly greasy, ugly, stupid, and determined to get as drunk as possible before closing time.
And my dad loved this place. Fucking loved it. He'd bring the whole family sometimes. We'd eat their awful food and then Dad would give me a roll of quarters for the Galaga machine and sit up at the bar chewing off the ear of whatever bartender would listen to him. (He stopped bringing me when I hit puberty and developed prematurely large breasts and started attracting the attention of some of Hershey's more alarming male patrons.)
Sometimes he'd go there straight from work, and the bartender would call Mom to come get him if he got too drunk to drive. They liked him there. They liked our whole family. One of the barmaids called the house in tears when she learned that Dad had died, and the owners sent a floral arrangement to our house.
And Hershey's is still there. I couldn't believe it on Friday; I let out a gasp that startled my seatmate. I hadn't thought about it in years; I didn't think I'd ever see it again. I doubt I could even find the way there now. Gaithersburg today bears little resemblance to how it was in my childhood; it's been overrun by Best Buys and Starbucks and Barnes and Nobles just like many other suburbs close to DC.
But this nasty, divey bar that by all rights should have been torn down or burned to the ground or sold and turned into a kicky little pseudo-French bistro long before now? Still there.
(Clix me, you fool. Please.)