I finally summoned up the courage to visit the Turcot yards, after contemplating them for close to a half-century. I remember the rows upon rows of railway cars that were lined up along the network of tracks whenever my family would make a westward venture- we were from the East Island. I would eye the graffiti-ized rail cars, even way back then, with youthful fascination.
Somehow, it would conjure images of Kerouac’s “On the Road” or Ed Abbey’s “The Fool’s Progress”, of train-hopping, bumming around in illicit adventures in distant locales, drinking mescal out of brown paper- shrouded bottles and of counting one’s last days on the planet. Local lore that characterized the place as a haven for tripping disenfranchised youth only added to the strange appeal.
Even as a mature adult, long after the trains had disappeared, the place held an inexplicable attraction. Rife with overgrown weeds, tumbled-over concrete abutments, and rails that lead to nowhere, the only sign of life, really, was the graffiti that one could only catch the briefest glimpse of, especially when racing pell-mell along highway 20.
I never even saw the access to the yards until just three years ago, when I rediscovered my urban nature and moved back to the city. I soon spent many hours exploring the nooks and crannies, hidden alleyways and side streets of the city on foot and on bicycle, but I was always too afraid to venture underneath the expressways alone. Neither could I convince any of my aging friends to accompany me. “The sign says you can’t enter”. “We’re not supposed to be here”. “No, sorry, not interested”. And to think that these people were once hippies, yes but I digress.
I suppose it shouldn’t be a major big deal that I visited the Turcot yards. It’s not like I toured the Acropolis, or Petra or the Great Wall for that matter, but I suppose the bigger deal was going alone. Unlike the Acropolis or Petra, you actually can be alone in the Turcot Yards, even when surrounded by thousands of speeding vehicles.
I didn’t have the nerve to go until I spoke to Henry, a young artist who, if not a graffiti-ist himself, is well-acquainted with the people and the art of the graffiti world. Intending to ask him to accompany me to the Yards, but deciding at the last minute that that would be too weird, I instead asked him if it was safe for me to go. He sort of chuckled and said that it wasn’t something he had ever considered.
With my loins as firmly girded as they can be at this age, I decided to head over to the yards- on my own. I soon discovered that the only sign of life, other than the vehicular congestion and crumbling superstructures, is still the graffiti. As such I duly documented the numerous tags and images that are virtually impossible to see from any highway vantage point.
It was a quiet and meditative experience, finally, right in the midst of rush-hour, as if I’d entered a quiet chapel just off a main thoroughfare, with not an ambulating human in sight! Maybe next time, I might even paint something. –Judith Brisson