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Okay, I feel like work avoidance today, so here's the tale of three artists, a car, a camera, and a pair of St. Paul's finest.

It was somepoint in 2002. I can't actually remember when, but the trees were red and hot pink and a lot of other improbable shades, so it must have been October or November. And we went to visit my parents, who lived in Western Pennsylvania.

Most of the towns in Western PA are relics of the oil days, and were maybe not named by the most imaginative of people, so they have names like "Oil City" and "Petrolia." They're also generally about five miles apart, which is evidentally how long you can drive the wagon before the horse needs a drink or something. Now that the oil is mostly gone, the economy has completely tanked out there, and you can get a 20 room mansion for $35K. My parents have a church. It's a cool church. It was built at a date exactly halfway between my birth and the signing of the Declaration of Independance. The sanctuary is set up as their studio, and it's friggin' enormous, has the arched ceiling and giant tall windows and the lot. Very cool. Heating bills like you wouldn't believe, of course, but very cool.

So one day, me, my husband, and my cousin, who's also an artist (there was a strong genetic tendency in my family, I'm guessing) go out for a drive to see the sights. There aren't all that many, but if you like crumbling concrete and rusted metal (and who doesn't?) it's a good thing. At the time, James (the husband) was working on a game that involved riding a stunt bike around inside a factory doing absurd tricks off steam pipes and whatnot. (This will be important later.)

At one point, we come over a rise, and there is this...THING. In the middle of Petrolia. It looked like a giant pipe spiderweb. It crawled across hillsides and made weird turns and had girders and boilers and generally would set the heart of an artist pinging with the sweet metallic sounds of Industrial Decay. Having no idea what it was, but thinking it looked cool, we took photos. James was seeing stunt bike levels and pipes you could grind on for minutes at a time. We took a LOT of photos.

And then we drove away, and had a pleasant vacation.

A month or so later, long since back in St. Paul, in the middle of the working day, there comes a knock 'pon the door of our apartment. I open it, and gaze into the pectorals of two of St. Paul PD.

I said "Whoa."

They said "Are you Ursula Vernon?"

"Yeeees..." I had nothing to hide, but like most people, worry on some level that I actually do and am not hiding it well enough because I don't know what it is.

"Do you own a Honda Accord with license plate ******?"

"Yeeeees...." (thinking "Crap, the car's been stolen...well, looks like they found it.")

"And was it in Pennsylvania last month?"

"Yeeeesss..." (Now thinking, "This is a long way to come for a parking ticket, and if I hit somebody, they didn't even make a thump.")

"We got a call from the Pennsylvania state police." (No thoughts whatsoever at this point, since my brain was completely out of ideas.) "They said someone in that car was taking photos of a kerosene plant out there, and they want to know why."

And then, the lights went on.

"OHHH!" I said, and James said, behind the door, where he'd been quietly wondering if he should try to eat his entire bag of weed before they noticed. I continued: "Oh, god, right. That was a kerosene plant? Wild. Come on in, officer."

They came in. Our living room was approximately three square feet, and the cops filled all of it. They explained that they'd been put on national security detail what with the whole terrorism threat thing. Even though I knew I was innocent, my brain twitched at the notion.

And then James turned in his chair and uttered the magic words, words that can bring a vast majority of red-blooded American males to their knees, words of such power that they got us off the hook immediately and in perpetuity:

"I make video games."

"OHHH!" the cops said, and suddenly we were all good buddies. James explained the riding-a-bike-on-pipes thing, and in fact had the game in front of him on the computer, and after a few minutes of the police eyeing the inner workings of 3DStudio Max with fascination and asked lots of questions about whether he'd ever considered a game about being a cop, they wrote the shortest report in history--"What company do you work for? Creative Carnage? Okay!" thanked us for our time, apologized for having scared us, but y'know, people were all just edgy these days, gave us their business cards, and we parted on good terms.

And then James and I lay on the floor clutching one another and giggled hysterically for about a quarter of an hour, and off-and-on for the rest of the day.

And that, boys and girls, is the tale of how Ursula got investigated as a possible threat to national security. The moral of the story is that if you're going to take photos of something cool looking, find somebody to ask for permission first.

Wild! I'm happy they decided you weren't a thread. ;)

That's a fantastic story. And this line:

I had nothing to hide, but like most people, worry on some level that I actually do and am not hiding it well enough because I don't know what it is.

...just put into words a feeling that I'm VERY well acquainted with. Why is it that the mere presence of an officer of the law (or even a mall security guard) strikes fear into the heart that maybe you DID steal something or there IS a body in the trunk and you've just forgotten about it ohgodohgod??? This is why, if I ever DO commit a crime, I'm going to make sure to write myself a sticky notes about it and maybe tie a string around my finger.

Wow, what a terrific story! And now I want to move to Pennsylvania, 'cause living in a church just sounds cool...

We have an overabundance of churches around here--we're more or less forced to convert them into other things. My dentist is in a church; there's a quilt museum in a church somewhere on the South Side, and my personal favorite, a restaurant and brewery in a church, with beer vats in a strategic location.

Which is also an excellent example of how seriously they take beer around here, but that's a whole 'nother story.

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Behold the power of video games! Wow, what a perfect little story, with suspicious confusion, and suspicious Officers of Law, and the whole thing. Thanks for sharing. :D

The folks over in urban_decay have lots of similar stories about getting in trouble for taking pictures of cool rotting things. :D


That's...Bizare. But my gosh, so frickin' funny... I mean, honestly...Hehe.

Are you serious, Grylus? How odd. 0.o

Yeah, there have been some charges for trespassing on property (it just *looked* abandoned...).

I just hope that they never find my photoshootings... granted, the most trespassing I did was an abandoned dairy processing plant (set for destruction) with cool graffiti in it, but still...


my dad and i got stopped on the ohio river coming into cincinnati for driving a boat on the ohio river. Granted it was january 3rd, but it was a freakishly warm january 3rd and we were enjoying the weather. The coast guard actually put their boat in the water and came out to meet us, leaving their trailer in the water. they made a special trip out onto the river to make sure we weren't terrorists. and all we were doing was riding a boat on the ohio river, which is a pretty common and non-suspicious thing to do, imho.

we think a casino boat security guard saw us, wondered what we were doing, and called the coast guard.

people are paranoid.

behold the power of the video game. hehe, and I agree with you on the thing about suspecting you might have done something wrong just because there's a cop there, even though you know you didn't do anything. creepy how they can do that to people

...I just loved this.
Do you possibly still have the photos? I'm a big fan of industrial ruins.

And may I pimp out this entry to urban_decay?


The photos are probably on a CD...somewhere or other...but by all means! Pimp away!

Just followed the link on urban_decay, funny story! Wish I had read it before my trip to Macedonia... a very nervous guard pointed his machine gun, screaming at me in a language I couldn't understand, because I took a picture of a snail... but it was in front of a ridiculously small dam... which seemed to be very important to protect, I don't know why. There weren't signs anywhere not to take pictures.

After some of the scariest seconds of my life, I finally showed him the picture of the snail (luckily, it was digital) and then he went on laughing and telling jokes about how he ate those snails for dinner... meanwhile, I was ready to have a nervous breakdown. ;-)

Oh, god. Oil City.

I'm also from St. Paul, and I spent a year over in Titusville for dog knows what reason. It's like another world. Really kind of cool to visit, if kind of sad, but nowhere to live unless you've got a job that allows you to avoid interacting with most people. I attended a small branch of the University of Pittsburgh there, and they *hated* us students. You could just see the town slowly rotting around you, all of those old Victorian buildings...

*fights the urge to go "Nyu-cle-ar Wessels"*
*dies laughing*


My dad and I were at this abandoned mill in western KY, the signs said No Tresspassing, but there was a big hole in the basement that we climbed through. After exploring the place for like three hours, we're just heading out. We're actually in the basement leaving when the owners walk in through the front door. Their footsteps were making dirt fall on our heads. We shimmied out that hole quick... Scared the crap out of us...

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No, I didn't--I just threw that in because I had mentioned my cousin in the same sentence and it occurred to me I was flinging pronouns around and figured I'd clarify.

Your parent's house/church sounds exactly like this one I saw on TV. The show was "extreme homes" or somesuch. Very cool. :)

*grin* Hopefully the one on TV doesn't have such a bad bat problem in the belfry...