I went to see McCollum Hall, a 10-story dorm, being imploded without knowing why, but drawn in like thousands of others. After all, how often do you get to see a massive thing disappeared? At the same time, I knew I was a bit of a hypocrite for going: for months, I complained about the impending destruction of a building that had (at least to my uneducated eyes) good bones but needed a lot of work. Why not turn it into a high-rise bevy of artist studios or, despite and because it’s in the middle of a bunch of dorm, housing for the homeless?
Getting closer to the implosion site, arriving just a few minutes beforehand and half a block away, I found an old friend, Kelly, someone I was very thankful to hang out with. Everyone and their dog were there: crowded of families gathered for the the oncoming holiday, gaggles of students and locals, some in flocks and some solo, many with cameras, cell phones and i-pads aimed toward the site to capture what would happen. An extended Mennonite family flanked us on one site, and a bunch of teenagers on the other.
Kelly reminded me about a quote from Marx about how capitalism thrives on destroying perfectly salvageable things to create perfectly new things. We were catching up on people we knew, meeting his co-workers, talking about how crazy this all was until the explosions began banging out their steady blasts, 16 in all, each one reverberating through our bodies and the bodies of all around us. Then the middle of the building poured down, bringing with it the right wing and then the left until everything was hidden in thick smoke. When it cleared, from the angle where we stood — which hid the new debris — there was nothing but the buildings behind McCollum.
Walking back, continuing to catch up with Kelly, I realized I was scared by the implosion, even knowing it would happen. We talked of the historic resonances: 9/11, bombing in Beirut, terrorist attacks around the world then and now. By the time I reached my car, I felt no joy, relief or excitement, but only a door slightly open into the kind of terror many in the world face, the setting off of dynamite and other explosives right before something terrible happens. At the same time, I can understand the joy, the sense of that-was-fucking-amazing! that permeated the crowd. I also know it’s just a building, one being cleared away after two new dorms were recently built nearby. So I don’t mean to channel Debbie Downer here, but given the news reports everyday of the ways in which explosives break lives, I drove away sad and startled.