“How the hell did you find a missile silo for sale?” is normally the first thing people ask after recovering. Well, it happened after I attempted to lease a mock Egyptian pylon located on Clontarf Beach from the Sydney Water Board in ‘96. It was so beautifully surreal, just plonked there on the sand in the middle of a suburban beach. It had a pair of massive steel doors on the beachside that opened onto a concrete ramp that led straight onto the sand and water; too fabulous!I knew the building was originally designed to cover a sewage pipeline,but that wasn’t going to stop me, however, Sydney Water had other ideas, and after three times rejecting my proposal, I had to concede.
My sister, who lives in Melbourne, and knowing of my obsessions for all things utilitarian, had seen a warehouse that she thought I’d like. I collected a few mags at the airport, and jumped on a plane to the great southern city. For reasons I’m not sure, when I fly, I need to read about science and technology; a kind of flying comfort food I guess. One article that fired me up was about a guy (I called him Dorothy) who actually lived under the Kansas Prairie. His home was a first generation Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) Silo. Well, I was hooked, and before the plane kissed Tullamarine, I wanted to turn back.
Back in Sydney, I called the directory. “There’s a guy living under the Kansas Prairie,” I said, “and his name’s Ed Peden” (Dorothy). Before I could light a cigy, I was connected to Dorothy and discussing the virtues of owning a piece of the US Post Military Industrial Complex, and only a month later, I was winging my way to New York City. Dorothy had done his homework and found a site that he thought would interest me in Upstate NY. All I then had to do was catch a connecting flight to Montreal, hire a car, and then drive back south across the border to the site of the fifty-year-old decommissioned ICBM silo. However, how could anyone fly into the Big Apple without taking at least one bite?
It was mid April, and only a day after a freak snowstorm had blanketed Montreal. The ride from the airport was quite a site for someone who’d just stepped off a plane in nothing more than a T-shirt and my King-G Lites. We soon pulled up at the hotel entrance, which was obliterated by a mountain of snow that had been ploughed off the road that morning, and nothing had been done to clear a path to the front door. Getting to Reception was an expedition in itself. “Monsieur, don’t forget your card credit,” shouted the taxi driver. I quickly blamed it on the weather, thanked him for not ruining my life (further), and then slammed the lobby door on the cold.
So, the following day, there I was at the Budget counter in Duval Airport (Montreal), ready to drive south on the second leg of my big adventure. “We have your booking Mr Michael,” said Ms Budget, “all we need now is your drivers licence and a major credit card.” Well, Mr Rocket Scientist had left his licence with the gymnasium he conscientiously used the night before in NY City, didn’t he, and needless to say, Ms Budget wasn’t about to hand over the damn car, or my adventure, without it. After half an hour of huffing and puffing at Ms Budget, she then knocked me for six after offering to drive me herself when her shift was up. I was incredibly honoured, but it did mean waiting around for five hours, plus another two hours drive to my destination.
“Welcome to the Auberge Mr Michael,” said the handsome receptionist. I singed in, he handed me the key, and then he said, “Your towels and linen have been placed in your room, sir.” Strange thing to say, I thought. Anyway, I soon settled in, and then made my call to Jim; my silo contact in Upstate NY. “Don’t give it a second thought,” said Jim, “I’ll come across and pick you up in the morn’n, first thing.” “That’s very generous Jim; shall we say Eight?” I gave Jim the address, thanked him again, and hung up. So relieved that not all was lost, I’d completely forgotten where I was staying, and as I didn’t know Jim from a bar of soap, I thought the rainbow flag hanging over the entrance might cause him some discomfort when he arrives in the morning. I quickly called him back. “Don’t worry about coming into the hotel Jim,” I said, “It’s so cold up here. I’ll wait for you in the lobby and come out when I see you pull up”. While I was talking, I could hear repeated attempts by somebody trying to get into the room. Thinking it was housekeeping, I called out “Later thanks,” and then got back to Jim
Although I knew the Hotel Auberge was “Gay friendly”, as the Guide described it, I was only there for twenty minutes before realising it wasn’t your “Family Rest” style of hotel, and that rest was not to be had. The rattling of the doorknob went on well into the wee hours until I could bare it no longer. I scribbled onto a note pad the largest “DO NOT DISTURB” sign I could manage, called reception for a wake-up call at seven, and then finally got some shut-eye.
The phone rang at six. “Mr Michael, there’s a Jim waiting for you in reception.” “Christ, he’s two hours early!” I complained. I didn’t even give myself time in the bathroom; I just threw everything into my bags, race down to Reception in a panic, and then whispered anxiously, “Well, where is he?” “In the Breakfast Room,” said the new and resplendent receptionist. I headed off to find Jim, but was also wondering how to explain why the receptionist was sporting a splendid set of silver nipple rings. I then realised my cover was really blown when I found Jim sitting in a dark corner with a copy of The Advocate in front of him, and a giant poster of Jeff Striker above his head, also resplendent in rings. “Jim, hi, nice to meet you. Let’s go,”was all I could come up with.
To my surprise, Jim never mentioned the hotel again, but I knew it must have been playing on his mind when he told me the only place outside the States he’d ever travelled to (aside from Canada, thanks to your’s truly) was Haiti. “Oh, why was that?” I asked. “Well my church delivered a shipment of bibles a few years back.” “Oh,” I replied, but then he added, “And I must say, it wasn’t easy to travel today either, being Sunday and all.” My stomach churned with fear, and my head swelled with the gruesome image of me being dug from a snowdrift on the southern plains of Quebec. I thought the only thing going to save me from this bible bash’n, gun tote’n redneck from Fargo, was a demeanour that luckily defied the stereotypes, and some hunt-n-fish’n banter. However, only after a few minutes with Jim in his huge F 350 and possibly something dead in the back, I realised what a kind and non-judgmental person he was, and that my own stereotypes were just getting in the way. So, aside from thinking Australia was somewhere in the Caribbean, Jim was a fountain of local geographic knowledge. Taking advantage of the situation, I felt almost guilty plundering his memories as we headed south across the floor of the historic Champlain Valley, and the border into the US of A. As it turned out, it was one of the most memorable drives of my life. The sky was white, the horizon was white, to our left and right was nothing but white, and only the road ahead with its sharp white lines on jet-black ashfelt seemed to lead us along.
As Jim’s knowledge was gushing forth, I was sitting there gob-smacked as the powder snow drifted across the four-lane highway. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” I said to Jim. “Don’t suppose you would in the Caribbean.” It wasn’t too long before the landscape ahead of us began to take shape with the grey granite cliffs of the Adirondack Mountains slowly materialising through the white. It took us another thirty minutes to wind our way through the most amazing mountain landscapes I’d ever seen, and then we finally arrived at Bouquet 556-5 (aka Lewis Base).
Bouquet was the air force’s curious designation for the Missile Base in 1961 when it was built. We sat for a second at the beginning of a long drive that had been snow-ploughed in expectation of my arrival the previous day. It led to a huge sliding gate, and a ten-foot high chain-link fence that enclosed the eight-acre compound. From our vantage point at the top of the road, I could see how the site had been carved into the foot of a granite mountain, and how it was conspicuously barren in the lushness of the surrounding conifer forest. Mmm, Location, Location, I thought.
On arriving in the compound, the first thing that came to mind was what a beautiful location it was; surrounded by forests of spruce, poplars, white pine, cedars, birch, and snow-capped mountains in every direction. For a bush-bleeder like myself, it was a Disney fantasy, and not unlike Disney, there was an undercurrent of creepiness about the place. Now I’ve never told anyone this, but aside from all that was right about the property I was about to inspect, I almost pissed myself with fear, and was full apprehension when I finally saw what I had travelled so far to see.
With Ms Budget having other clients to attend, public transport non-existent in those parts, and me resigned to stupidity, I collected my bags, and plonk myself in the cafe to ponder the options.
I knew that if I had accepted Ms Budget’s offer, it would be night by the time we’d arrive at my destination, being the tail end of winter and all. So, after having already committed myself financially and emotionally to the endeavour, I was left with no choice but to reschedule my silo inspection for the following day. I dragged out my trusty Sparticus Guide, found a nice but cheap hotel in Montreal, made a booking for the night, and headed for the taxi rank.
Although Jim was my contact, he was not the owner of the property, that being a Mr Carl, an explosives engineer who loved, believe it or not, to blow things up. There was something about Mr Carl. Maybe it was his huge black Cadillac, or the way he half covered his mouth and diverted his gaze when he spoke, or possibly his unnaturally blond and buxom wife who came along for the Sunday ride and never uttered a word. Fortunately, Mr and Mrs Plastique left Jim and I alone to look over the site.