Back in those days, we could still make out the stars in the night sky, all the brilliant pinpoints of light along with the constellations—Orion, Cassiopeia, Ursa Major and Minor.
We were surrounded on all sides by cornfields rustling in the warm early summer air. Those night-green fields went on and on ad infinitum. At least it seemed that way. There was a remarkable lack of ambient light back then, in this stretch of far-west suburban Chicago. This was before the incessant creep of asphalt and Klieg lights and big box stores—before the rural acquiesced to sprawl.
We were twenty-one, me and Tom and Bill; childhood friends on the cusp of adulthood. On a quiet country road we had discovered an old concrete pipe factory out amidst the darkness and the wispy corn stalks that would, in weeks, be knee high by the fourth of July.
We parked our car in a subdivision about a mile away from the factory. This was the first subdivision of many that would soon arrive, a harbinger of the development to come, a real estate malignancy bearing such ironic monikers as “Cedar Ridge” and “Willow Creek.” We were in Tom’s nocturnal blue Chevy with scrunched-up fast-food bags on the floor and heavy metal looping from the glowing stereo. Tom doused the headlights. We rolled up the windows and stepped from the car. It was a quintessential Midwest summer night, crickets in the fields a June night chorus. A lone firefly rose from the ground, drifting spirit light. A freight train off somewhere in the distance passed.
As we walked, the concrete factory loomed, a shadowy industrial acropolis with a rising sheet metal tower and a connected rundown warehouse. An old chain-link fence surrounded the place. We found an opening and sneaked in. There were hundreds of concrete pipes of various sizes, stacked up like toys in the vast gravel yard. They were drainage pipes, many of them large enough to stand inside. What called us to this place, we did not know. But we were drawn to it nonetheless. We wandered around the gravel lot, through the labyrinthine corridors of stacked concrete pipes.
Everything about the factory building itself was covered in rust. The place was old and worn. The tower, some sort of silo we assumed for mixing cement, had a rusted ladder attached and we decided to climb.
The ladder felt precarious, going up at least four stories. Yet, undaunted and for no apparent reason, we continued to ascend. Because that’s what young people do. They explore for no reason except to explore. And as we got higher and higher the view was magnificent. We reached the roof of the tower and looked out at the endless miles of dark cornfields rustling in tremendous sheets in the summer night. Far off, we could see the lights of St. Charles.
We stepped upon the roof of the old factory and we talked, just three young men who were, really, three boys seeking answers to a lot of unknowns about the future on a summer night. And we laid down on the roof and stared up at the stars and the constellations and we pondered where our lives would take us. What we didn’t realize then is that none of that really mattered. What mattered then, was that moment, and our friendship, and the fact that all the world was out before us. It was summer and that moment was good. (Sam Weller)