I remember walking along the railroad tracks.  

I was small—small enough to squeeze through the hole in the barbed-wire fence—small enough that to advance from one tie to the next required not just a stride, but a deep bend of the knees…and a leap.

I was the oldest, which meant I was the scout.

I remember the tracks smelled like hot tar; the wooden planks were rotting.  I leapt along from one tie to the next, stopping to balance myself on each one, intensely focused.  I might as well have been up in the sky, leaping along steel construction beams.

When I finally reached the platform, I looked up and realized I had no idea where I was.  This was before cell phones.  I had nothing in my pockets but a red Swiss Army Knife and maybe a few dimes my Dad had given more for bringing up the trash cans.  Not sure what else to do—but feeling strangely gratified—I turned around and leapt back down the tracks, back through the hole in the fence, and home, where my brothers awaited my report.
How often do you explore the space around you?  If you’re like me and most Americans I know…not very often.  Above all we value EFFICIENCY.  Time is a commodity like gold and silver and coffee beans.  We “spend” it.  We hoard it.  We divide it.  “Work time.”  “Lunch time.”  “Leisure time.”  How did things get this way?

Well, that’s a complicated question, but one name that gets thrown around a lot is Frederick Winslow Taylor.  Back around the turn of the 20th century, this dude went into steel factories with a stop watch and started peeking over people’s shoulders.  He made little frenzied notes like: “If worker A turns to the LEFT instead of the RIGHT, he will save .75 seconds!”  He made calculations for all the workers.  He took his findings to the bosses, who of course loved it, because they could make more wheels per day, which made them more money.  The workers, whose fathers and grandfathers had been wheelmakers—craftsmen—became more and more like drones.  But at least they were efficient.  (I never took any business classes but I’m pretty sure I just saved you $100,000 on an MBA.  You’re welcome.)

The argument that some have made (and it makes sense to me) is this same process that once played out with blue collar workers in factories is now playing out with white collar workers in office parks.  What happens when you get a new job?  They send you away for “training.”  If Situation A arises, do this; if Situation B arises, do that.  Who makes these decisions?  An increasingly small pool of “experts.”  Everyone else in the middle is just following orders, hurrying along, trying to be as efficient as possible.  Thus you get a workforce of increasingly powerless, increasingly passive, increasingly efficient drones (even you, “middle manager!”).

Does this sound like your work day?

Part of my reason for starting the Project, and executing it the way I did, was a rejection of this ethic.  I reject the cult of efficiency.  I liked getting lost, navigating from one town to the next without a GPS; I liked being hyperlinked from one clueless corner-dweller to the next (“Oh yeah, just up the road, you can’t miss it!”).  I liked it because it reminded me of being a scout.  Am I saying we should all slack off?  No!  The opposite!  I think we should pay attention.  I think we’d be better off, collectively, if we valued curiosity and attention to detail instead of just “doing things to get them done.”

Of course, I know what you’re thinking.  Yeah, tell that to my boss!  Tell that to my teacher!  And you’re right.  It’s hard to “explore” when there are deadlines to be met, mortgages to be paid, student loans to be paid back, grades to be earned.

But what if we explored in the in-between times?  The last few weeks I’ve been scouting locations for my album cover.  If anyone asked: “Where did Matt go?”  The response would be: “For a run.”  But really I’m exploring.  I’ve been searching for the perfect place that fits the “overlapping generations” vibe of the record.

Some of my favorites so far:

Eastern State Penitentiary in Fairmount.  Maybe too touristy.  But it’s definitely epic, in the Old World sense of the word. 

The Divine Lorraine, an elegant, crumbling hotel on the corner of Broad and Fairmount.

And the old abandoned Reading Railroad in North Philly.

I had to do some climbing to get up there (it’s elevated) and take this picture, but wow, what a view!  (For the record, I’m tall enough now that I can step over the railroad ties two at a time.  But that doesn’t make it any less fun.)

4 responses to “Scoutin’ (Album Cover Locations)”

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I think fear of the unknown probably plays a big part in our mechanical nature, but anytime I’ve ever veered off the beaten path it’s been an incredibly rewarding experience.

  3. Anonymous says:

    It’s no coincidence that right after Adam Smith wrote his iconic “Wealth of Nations” that this “great” country was born.  Don’t get me wrong, there is no other place I’d rather be in the world, but you must understand that this country was created out of the necessity to participate in and expand upon commerce whereby any Tom, Dick, or Harry could become a somebody because of either his or her ability to realize that a service or product was missing from everyday life, or that the service or product wasn’t being offered or produced in an “efficient” manner for cost sake.  This country was destined from day one to be on the road to efficiency, it was just kicked into high gear with the industrial revolution and shows no sign of slow down to date. 
    I once learned that all production and services can be broken down into three basic factors:  Land, Capital, and Labor.  Land – The earth and the resources that come from it, i.e., agriculture, timber, metals, minerals, oil & gas, water, etc… Capital – The items placed on the land to facilitate production, i.e., machinery, factories, buildings, etc… Labor – The people placed on the land that use the capital to produce the services and products people need.  The interesting part is how these three factors of production are viewed.  Land is always seen as an asset; Capital is a hybrid depending on the nature of its use (can be either an asset or an expense); and Labor is always seen as an expense.  This to me literally means that blue collar America, and surprisingly most of white collar America, is expendable.  If you’re not efficient enough, they’ll find someone who is, if you cost too much, we’ll find someone who can do it cheaper.  It’s really sad to think that corporate America puts more value on the dirt (land) being dug up by a shovel (capital) than it does the person (labor) actually doing the digging.  Until people are seen as assets… and I mean asset from a business perspective, not as a clever media campaign drummed up by mega corp. in order to make you think that what you’re doing is somehow important… then we, as a labor force, will always be destined to be droned worker bees tricked into seeking ways to perform tasks efficiently.

    I applaud you for not giving in and doing what so few of us do and that simply is do for sake of doing; not because someone is telling you to do and not certainly being told to do it a particular way.  You my fiend are an inspiration and I hope that this leads to OUR cultural revolution… one that picks up where those in the 60’s fell short.

  4. Rachel Ann says:

    I like the old abandoned railroad for your cover idea. I bet if you look between the tracks you will find amazing stories.

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