anybody into urban exploration in northeast philly would remember byberry, otherwise known as philadelphia state hospital. Byberry was a shuttered mental hospital, made up of a few dozen(?) buildings, on a large property that had been abandoned for a decade before we found out about it.
to think that we spent our teenage years destroying what was left of an abandoned mental hospital — and after a thousand other people had already destroyed it before us.
you’d think that spraypainting graffiti deep inside abandoned buildings would be considered pretty harmless. we hated the local town-watch even more than they hated us. the George Zimmermans who lived in that neighborhood made it their life’s mission to whine about people venturing into buildings that they themselves didn’t even own.
one old bitch, the head of the town-watch organization, once famously complained to our local newspaper, “What do these kids need to go in there for? My grandkids don’t go in there!”
yeah, because instead, your fuckhead grandkids spend every weekend getting wasted in the woods behind the place with kegs they bought from the school janitor.
Shane had made some old stunt videos way back then, and here’s a clip of one of them. this was the flip that worked out okay; because another time — and i’ll never forget this — he was walking along the edge of one of these rooves like the usual madman he was, when the crumbling edge suddenly crumbled a little more. he actually started falling backward, basically certain to die, and incredibly, just kind of hopped forward just enough to shift his weight and fall forward onto the edge of the roof. I remember us thinking it didn’t even really make much physical sense how that worked out, but okay, fine.
thinking about that makes my palms sweat; absolutely cheated this place out of death.
another time, determined to graffiti farther out on our favorite roof than anyone else, i remember just straight-up crawling along this one ledge, trying not to look over the side. I remember feeling the wind blow against me, crawling forward an inch at a time, forcing myself to stare directly into the concrete i was crawling on and nothing else, then meekly tagging “Roo” on the wall before shimmying backwards back onto the roof.
years later, talking to Mike “Eneme” Fenton, he says, “I think about those days and I’m like, ‘What the *fuck* were we thinking? How did we survive all that?”
yet unbelievably, just months before the buildings were finally demolished, an inspector (the only person actually allowed and qualified to be there) was climbing a staircase when it collapsed, killing him.
i used to spend hours writing on the walls with Tom “Face” (RIP), who was my best friend back then. tags, jokes, every impulsive thought just spilled out onto the walls through magnum markers. i think that if you counted the number of tags in those buildings before they were demolished, Face would’ve topped the charts by far.
there was one day, in one hot summer, when me and Jimmy B (also RIP) had to cancel a trip to Byberry, and so we went into the woods behind our friend’s house, and i showed him the train tracks where we would routinely place stuff to watch the train run into.
honestly, this became a small obsession for me: every time the train plowed through whatever we place on it, i always wanted to pile more stuff on for the next time. i remember some of us dragging huge logs, like multiple felled telephone poles, across the tracks to see if the train could destroy them. i really don’t know what i was thinking; it was like a game of dominos for us.
one time, when he was on vacation, we put Mike’s grandmom’s old wheelchair on the tracks, with its back facing the train, with a license plate at the top so it’d look like the shape of a person’s head, lol, and imagined the conductor’s confusion that someone had wheeled themselves onto the middle of train-tracks in a ravine and gotten stuck there. but no, the train flattened it no problem.
but on this day, when i went back there with just Jimmy B, for some reason i really went too far. i piled some of the biggest logs on the tracks that day. it was like a barricade for that train. we got tired of waiting for it and started walking home.
as we crossed a street of the same suburban houses we walked past every day, we heard the train’s whistle blaring way off in the distance. i braced myself. i regretted it. i hoped the train would stop and they’d move all the shit off. but then it hit.
we were 2 blocks away and it sounded like a shotgun blast. i swore the sidewalk we were standing on shook. and i got that feeling in my stomach like it suddenly opened up into a hole. i remember thinking, “that’s it, i’m done. i’ve been lucky so far, but now i’m done. i’m going to jail forever, that’s it, it was inevitable.”
i thought there was no way that train didn’t derail. i don’t know how that thing didn’t explode. and to be honest i don’t even remember anything after that…i don’t know if we started running, laughing, anything. “i swear to god i’ll never put shit on the tracks again.”
and i didn’t (except for a few more times).
we were among the last ones in Byberry before they finally killed the place and demolished everything. they built a retirement community in its place. i remember when i released music for the first time, i picked up Tom and we pulled into one of the little streets in there to park and listen to it. We wondered, “where would we be right now, physically, if Byberry were still here?” sad that he never got to see this song and video, but he did get to experience the best of it.
Hottest days are in the northeast
Philly’s got that hot heat
Suburbs don’t let up for kids who burn up on concrete
Heard that shit like a gunshot
From 2 blocks
And I don’t think I’ve ever been the same
And now nobody fucks with me
Almost nobody’s left
Cheatin’ death so hard the noose is tying itself
Help me it’s quicksand it’ll never give up — enough
Fuck if I can help it
bitch I’m retarded
Stuck in my head bitch I’m stuck in the waves
You ride right past me bitch pray for your graves
I got the grave right by ur mom and daddy
Pray for the sinner I got cash in the caddy
Cash in my pants I got cash in my whips
You don’t want hands I got plans for ur bitch
No I don’t use straps cuz all ur friends flinch
Out in the road I steal things like the grinch