Wednesday, March 14, 2001

Thou Shalt Trespass

'Urban Explorers' go where they aren't wanted

By Douglas McDaniel

The city is the next great frontier, say the purveyors of Web sites for urban adventurers, those surreptitious souls who enter the crawl spaces of civilization to reveal their mysteries.

A "Keep Out" sign is the boundary to uncharted wilderness. "Off-limits" means "go there." The online zine Infiltration is about "going places you're not supposed to go."

"When we emerge in an alley blocks away from where we started, it's hot, blindingly bright and I feel just a tad dirty and mischievous," opens an Infiltration article by Murray Battle about the catacombs of Paris.

Fascinating, yes. But kids, don't try this at home. That's the most responsible advice we can give. The sign doesn't read "Danger! High Voltage!" because some grump at the power company wants to keep the electricity to himself.

Subterranean sites are opportunities to explore, vicariously, through the eyes of the participants. But their practices are controversial, often illegal and dangerous.
Flash-enabled Jinx magazine's present-tense dispatches have a conspiratorial tone. Read what it's like high atop the Manhattan Bridge, or beneath the streets on a 24-hour "Subway Odyssey." The site's scope is international: A recent posting recounts an exploration of Hong Kong's slums.

Another site, Dark Passage, presents adventures "for armchair archaeologists" according to their level of danger: "low risk," "storm warning" and "superdangerous." Reports here describe ventures into abandoned hotels, subway tunnels and old hospitals. The site emphasizes "safe conduct."

The Urban Exploration Ring also runs deep with lore. Just don't forget: It's dangerous out there.