The Beautiful Decay of Bedrock City
For the low, low price of $5, you can wander through the oblivion that is Valle, Arizona’s Bedrock City. And you should.
Photos by Megan Koester and Jamie Lee Curtis Taete
Let’s say you went to the Grand Canyon and the weather fucking sucked. It was cold. It was damp. It was windy. You paid $25 for the privilege of running through a parking lot, staring at a big, wet, windy, rainy fucking hole in the ground for five minutes, running right back to your car, and slowly, maddeningly, following a minivan plastered with those stupid goddamn “My Family” decals back to civilisation. If this happened to you, you’d probably be pretty upset.
But what if I told you better times were ahead? And, with them, an even more majestic attraction? A place where the sun shines, sparkles, even, and all you need is $5, not $25, to see it, even though it is one of the Seven Wonders of the World? What if I told you that, just a few miles down the road, lies Bedrock City? Would that make you feel any better?
Bedrock City opened in 1972. It is no longer 1972. It has, one would assume, been decaying since launch. A dank gift shop, filled with a combination of brand-new, unethically manufactured bald eagle statuettes and ancient knicknacks covered in patinas of dust, is the first thing you see when you enter. Plastic bags holding unsold magnets shaped like states, gummy to the touch, erode under your fingers. The magnets are so old, they were actually manufactured in America. The bald eagles are so shiny, they clearly weren't.
There is a diner, run by an extremely nice, extremely harried waitress, where you can purchase coffee at the prehistoric price of five cents. Despite the rock-bottom cost, she is liberal with refills.
You can eat Bronto burgers, and Fishasaurus sandwiches, and salads slathered in buttermilk-ranch dressing, for an unethically cheap rate. She’s glad you’re here, buying something. Anything.
A table filled with the problem, the patriarch of which is wearing an honest-to-Godless-universe Affliction shirt, pays for the meal they just ate in silence. The waitress takes their money and disappears for what feels like the entirety of the Paleolithic era. Affliction’s track-panted wife passive-aggressively stands by the counter, sighing, waiting for her to return. She eventually returns, out of breath. She had to break the $100 bill Affliction insisted on paying with.
This amount of money, this form of currency, has not been used in this establishment for decades. There is no protocol for a bill of this size – because of this, the waitress had to run to a different part of the park to get change. She is huffing, puffing, apologetic. She receives no remorse from Affliction, or his wife, or his children.
They, along with the family of four to your right, have devolved past the point of empathy. They think not of the dust-encrusted tchotchkes in the gift shop. They think not of the desperation hanging above their heads like a boulder about to drop. The family of four tipped one dollar.
Now sated, you pay the $5 park entrance fee to a teenage girl who taps away on her cell phone even though you’re in a wireless dead zone and know her Facebook app must take eons to load. You pity her for this reason, and for many other reasons. Once you open the door to Bedrock City, however, you no longer pity her. You envy her. She is the gum-chewing gatekeeper to a magical land.
You are outside now. Garishly coloured stucco, the kind that coats Los Angeles’s apartment buildings, surrounds you. Stucco in and of itself is almost menacingly mediocre. But with time and erosion against it, as well as the memories of happy days long since past, it becomes even more sinister. There is, after all, nothing spookier than the trapped laughs of former children.
Which is why we make profitable movies about that kind of shit. There is a peace, though, and a comfort, in the eeriness. In the passing of time. In the inescapable march to the grave.
If you are anything like me, you love decaying structures. It is why the great cities of the Midwest appeal to us so much. Their downtowns contain a core of modernity; the areas beyond are littered with trash and abandoned factories.
They are a parable for Earth. While it may seem as though we drift apart, in reality we huddle ever closer, throwing the detritus of our former societies behind us.
The buildings, while possessing different names (Fred’s House, Barney’s House, the Barbershop, et al.), are all essentially the same. Tattered window dressings. Wooden furniture. Concrete television sets. Bizarre displays, encased in Plexiglas, of cheap toys, scraps of paper and mannequin heads. Covered, naturally, in that ever-present patina of dust.
You are alone in Bedrock City, and you feel it. Its prehistoric, post-apocalyptic silence mixes with the sound of cartoons playing on an endless loop in the theater. Alone in the Bedrock Theater, the show plays just for you. The town, or what’s left of it, exists just for you.
Graffiti is everywhere, unable to avoid. Because creating it, in Bedrock City, is the perfect crime. Getting caught is a virtual impossibility. Getting caught doing anything is virtually impossible. You could kill your wife out here. Fuck your mistress. Bury uranium. You are free.
Bedrock City is symbolic of end times. But it won’t last forever. Even though, in spite of it all, Bedrock City still operates with the blessing of Hanna-Barbera, it is not long for this world – past, present or future. Which is what makes it so goddamn beautiful. You simply must see it. You must.
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