This is the second part of a two-part article
Last issue I reported in these pages on the existence of the Secret North New York Street Industrial Complex ("the Complex" hereafter, because the acronym SNNYSIC too easily recalls N*Synch), and in the intervening week some readers jumped the gun and drove there without complete instructions. If you are among those readers, you probably agree that the Complex is a strange place to visit. But I want to caution you, too, that the Complex is fractal-like in its complexity and that it probably didn't reveal all of its secrets to you.
To recap, the Complex is achieved by taking New York Street north from 21st Street (the turn is immediately to the west of the Canal Route and is marked by a standard green street sign); follow New York as it twists along between the remains of the Derby Refinery and the concrete ditch until you reach the tunnel that leads New York Street under I-135, and at the end of the tunnel you get to where we left off last week. This is where, for me, the Complex really gets underway.
Down the Rabbit Hole
Maybe all of us occasionally get bored with the known geography of our city and take side streets we've never noticed before on impulse, just to see where they lead; that's what first took me down New York. We're hoping to be surprised, to find anything a little out of the ordinary before the street inevitably dumps us out on a thoroughfare we've driven down a thousand times, or dead ends in a bare concrete cul-de-sac, cut off by a highway from whatever lay on the other side. Looking at a map of Wichita, you can see the main culprit: the Canal Route, truncating streets like an amputation-mad surgeon, neighborhoods piling up against it on both sides.
The last thing you expect, driving up New York Street, is that this little road with no traffic will be the one that takes you across the six-lane tyrant roaring overhead. It feels like a secret passage, but why would a secret passage take you where this one does? And where, exactly, is it that this leads?
We expect nature, where it occurs within cities, to be represented in polite patches: a park, a river with tended banks, a few trees. But what you encounter emerging from the tunnel on North New York Street is a weird swath of the city that's returned to nature: nature's savage last stand. Grove Park borders this little jungle to the south, out of sight, and to the north there's Highway 96. In between lay a Kansas landscape at its harshest, a field of immortal weeds and hardy, volunteer trees growing out of soil that's better described as a floor. (When it rains this ground is transformed instantly into a mud with the consistency of really stiff batter.) A few trails lead off into it — why? — and a creek meanders through with steep banks on both sides.
A sign on the road reads PAVEMENT ENDS, but CIVILIZATION ENDS would feel closer to the truth, because I think that this is what a lot of us picture when, killing time at stoplights, we wonder what Wichita will look like fifty years after the bomb. It's hard to remember that you're in a city — actually within city limits — in this part of the Complex. Have the city planners forgotten it? But then again, what would they do with it? Putting a swing set out there would be tantamount to luring children to their doom, and who would take a child out New York Street in the first place? It's too easy to envision how even an adult would be stymied, trying to get away from someone or something, by precipitous creek banks, thorny vegetation, and baked, uneven earth. Maybe there are crop — or rather "weed" — circles out there too. Who knows? Dennis Rader couldn't have known that it was there.
The road, which is now no longer called "New York Street" according to the map, and which has gone in an instant from paved to post-apocalyptic, winds to the left along this Halloween landscape and then meets railroad tracks and turns back to the right. The fact that neon green signs alert you to the presence, on these railroad tracks, of remote-controlled trains — trains that run without humans aboard — seems almost inconsequential at this point, although it's strange to see them moving along unmanned beside your car just the same. You'll follow these tracks for a block or two and then turn to the left, crossing them.
A Water Feature
I'm about to answer a question that you may not even realize you had. Your question is, How the fuck do you get to that lake you can see when you exit the Canal Route northbound onto 96 east? We all know the one: it stretches out along the street-length exit, off to the right, as we make our way out to North Rock Road or the Warren East. Maybe you assumed that this was a private lake or that it was reserved for use by Boeing employees — something like that — or maybe even that your vehicle had to be lowered down to it by helicopter. But no, the unlikely answer is that this stocked lake is in fact a city park and that the only way to get to it is to enter the Complex.
And crossing the tracks, it's this unnamed, uncharted lake that you come to next. Depending on the time of day, you may now encounter other humans enjoying the Complex, fishing, or having sex and doing drugs in parked cars. (At night, you'll learn to dread encountering any other car up in the Complex, and a person on foot? It's the province of horror films, too weird to consider.) A little boardwalk ventures out along the water at one point — here you find the remains of mysterious fires — and there's a boat slip. The city has gamely provided landscaping, too, although you can feel the whole area straining to return to a condition like the wilderness you've just left across the tracks.
Here the Complex appears to reach its terminus: the road once known as New York Street peters out, ending in the parking area bordering the lake. On my first several visits to the Complex — for awhile I was driving out there any time I could find someone who would ride along — I turned around here and made my way back the way I'd come. Probably any readers who took the drive last week did the same thing.
Enjoy the lake for as long as you dare, but save some energy because there's more to come.
A Dead End and a Deeper Mystery
Maybe it's best to have a city map with you for this next part. A friend and I, out there once at dawn without having slept, did not, but when I later checked I found the roads we had taken marked on the Wichita map without names, in a configuration so unlikely that you can't help but doubt it. The next part of your adventure begins like an adventure in a children's book: before you get back to the tracks when returning from the lake, you turn to the right (west) down a dead end road that runs immediately to the north of the tracks, parallel to them. You can see with your own eyes where the road ends abruptly, cut off by the Canal Route like every other street in the city, but your eyes are playing tricks on you, and behind an artificial hill at the road's apparent end another thing happens altogether.
It's no tease like those other side streets you've tried. From here on out, the Secret North New York Street Industrial Complex offers nothing but surprise and I'll leave you to discover all of it — the viewing couch, the elevator, the burial vaults, and, not least, the enigmatic intersection of 25 th and 26th Streets north — on you own. (Is it safe? I think so, but then I'll never venture into this part of the Complex after dark again, and having a map with you will help prevent inadvertent trespassing. In this part of the Complex you may indeed encounter people and these people frown on trespassers.) With some experimentation you'll find that the Complex dumps you back into civilization on north Broadway — the strangest and most circuitous short cut through north Midtown you've ever known.
And for a final time I'll issue this disclaimer: the Secret North New York Street Industrial Complex may not be the thrill for everyone that it is for me. But how will you ever know if you don't give it a try?
This is the second part of a two-part article.