Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A town of ghosts

Not to be confused with a ghost town, Genoa is very much a town of ghosts. I got off the exit ramp in search of gas. I arrived too late. A year too late? ten? It's hard to say. The nearest pavement is the on ramp to get back onto I-70.

A green sign placed next to a dirt road informs that I am entering the Business District.  Hard to say when it was that any business last took place here.

This must be main street. The few
windows that aren't boarded up stare out on empty sidewalks - dark sockets in the sunken frames of sagging siding. People were here not too long ago. Children. There's a dollhouse. A trike. A car-seat. Not everyone is gone. A car cruises slowly down mainstreet, chased by a bitter wind and dead brittle sounds of fall. Headed for the senior citizen center no doubt. The only building on main street that still appears to be in use.
The Christian prosperity center is no longer prospering, the cafe is boarded up, and (bummer for me) the service station doesn't appear to have been in "service" for quite some time.

I've been to ghost towns. I've been to cities that never sleep. But Genoa is making a strong bid for being the strangest of the lot. It's a town existing on the cusp. The cusp of what? Death I think. Too much life left in it, or too many signs of recent life, for anyone to be comfortable visiting it as a historical site. Too much a part of recent history to be interesting. Yet too dead for anyone to give it a second glance. Trucks speed by headed east. headed west. I sped past just a few months ago. So did you. Or at least you will if given the chance.

Genoa is a husk of a town, and it is making me really uncomfortable. Maybe it's the sociologist in me. Probably it's something more instinctual, triggered by the tangible signs of life, yet lack of accompanying lives. It's not that I've stumbled upon something remarkable. Far from it. In and of itself, the very unremarkableness of Genoa, is the reason that it will exist only in memory before too long.

Leaving town I met William. His was the last trailer. Catching a movement out of the corner or my eye I stopped my truck, and committed myself to some sort of explanation. I got out and introduced myself, mumbling something about doing a story on towns along I-70. I guess I am now.Too curious not to talk to him, but too embarrassed about my clearly morbid fascination with Genoa; I couldn't bring myself to objectify him by taking his picture. I couldn't risk the possibility of him picking up on the exploitative look of a nature photographer documenting the last of an endangered species. I asked how many people live in Genoa. "About 50" was his response. Adding "they come and go". I couldn't think of much else to say, so I left.

I'm not a journalist. As my friend Mary - who has a degree in journalism - has, on occasion, pointed out. I'm more of a reality-fiction author. Get it? Like historical fiction? Whatever. I make up stories according to my observations, and I choose whether or not to include other people's opinions. With full disclosure of course. I didn't bother getting the full story from Will. A - because I'm not a good reporter, and B - I don't think he was shooting me straight. I'll allow him his population estimate of 50. However, people are clearly not "coming" with the frequency with which they are "going" here in Genoa. Maybe it's his perception (or delusion) of comings which keep him here, but I wonder if he's not more frightened of the goings. Whether it's from old age, and the passing of time, or the growing up and moving on of new generations, Genoa is disappearing.

Genoa is the sort of place we avoid, because, quite frankly, it's frightening. Though it exists in plain sight of the freeway, the act of setting foot on its lonely streets conjures up images of lives and dreams that never saw the light of a wider world. I wonder about the last time an outsider set foot in Genoa. For that matter, I wonder when the last time someone who wasn't from Genoa, even wondered about Genoa. We spend so much time seeking out the latest in technology and entertainment, or the oldest in art and history, a town like Genoa doesn't fit the schedule. It's not new enough, or old enough, to be interesting. To be safe. Certainly you don't want to take your kids here, at best it would bore them, at worst it would terrify them. Take them to a ghost town, those are fun. Genoa is real, and reality is no longer in vogue. At least not realities that speak this clearly. That lay bare the fragility of life in mosaics of broken glass. Whose strangeness is matched only by the stubborn shadows of the lives that framed those same panes.


  1. amazing forest. absolutely amazing.

  2. wow!! i particularly enjoy your use of the words "husk" and "cusp." not as much as the photos, but almost.

  3. Great images, great words. Loving your work my friend.

  4. I wish I was there.....I feel like I was there....I really like the broken window one.

  5. Soulful and haunting. The words make me sigh.

  6. Very cool Forest. Love the photos.

  7. Hey thanks for the ups guys, it was a pretty fascinating and strange place. Part of what makes it strange though, is the fact that it wasn't really that strange at all. There are a lot of towns like Genoa out there. Look for one coming to your part of the country soon ;)