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Stokes's Bristol Nightclub incident in detail (From: The Comeback Summer by Geoff Lemon)

IF YOU’RE LOOKING for a place where misadventure could begin, you can’t go past Mbargo. The nightclub’s streetfront is painted a purple so bright you’ll see it in your dreams. Strings of giant sequins shimmer in the breeze. Its phonically inventive name is spelt in silver letters that climb its three-storey terrace facade. Inside are strips of burning neon, a few booths, floorboards so marinated in drink that they have an ingredients list. Bristol is a student city on England’s south coast crowded with music and nightlife and street art. This is Banksy’s home town, and the tourism board suggests in rather strong terms that ‘you would be a fool not to see his amazing work firsthand’. The same organisation describes Mbargo as ‘intimate’, which is fair for a place where you can catch an STI standing up. Students cram into its modest dimensions while people with names like DJ Klaud battle for billing with £1.50 drink deals over seven sloppy nights a week. To get a sense of the story about to come, consider that it’s the kind of place open until two o’clock on a Monday morning, and that at two o’clock on a Monday morning, Ben Stokes still thought it had closed too early.
The Ashes of 2017–18 had disciplinary bookends. It was after that series that Australia’s two leaders went off the rails in South Africa. It was a few weeks before that Ashes tour that England’s biggest star windmilled his way into his own disaster.
In the early hours of 25 September 2017, Stokes and teammate Alex Hales were barred from re-entering Mbargo after a night out on the piss. A Sunday thrashing of an abject West Indies in an ignored series at the fag-end of the season apparently required ample celebration. After arguing with the bouncer and hanging about at the door for a while, they wandered off to find a casino in the hope of more drinking. They’d barely made it around the corner before getting in the middle of a conflict between four locals. As is said on the internet, it escalated quickly.
The 26 September reporting was bloodless. Withholding names, police stated that a man ‘was arrested on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm’ while another went to hospital with facial injuries. England’s director of cricket Andrew Strauss separately confirmed that Stokes was the arrestee, adding that he had been released without charge and that Hales had gamely offered to ‘help police with their enquiries’. Administrators had a good chance of hiding behind that investigation, and the next day Stokes was named in the upcoming Ashes squad as expected. But that night the video emerged.
Bristol student Max Wilson had shot it on his phone, then offered it to The Sun. What he thought was playing hardball was actually lowball: his opening price of £3000 was snapped up by a tabloid that would have paid ten times that. The Sun went on to make a mint by syndicating the rights worldwide. From a window above the fray, the vision showed six men on the street below performing the muddled choreography of a melee. One was right at the centre of it. One was waving a bottle, one dipped in and out, one tried to calm it. Two others floated around the edges. The central figure was unmistakable: red hair burning even in the streetlight as he launched into a series of blows against two of the men, falling to grapple with them on the ground, then following both across the street, swinging punches the whole way. Hales trailed behind, repeatedly and impotently shouting ‘Stokes! Stop! Stokes! Enough!’ The ECB could fudge issues that existed only in thickets of legalese, but not those captured in moving colour. Stokes was stood down from the next West Indies match, then suspended indefinitely. It emerged that he had broken his hand during the fight, something he’d done twice before while punching objects in dressing rooms.
The response in Australia was fierce: Stokes was a thug, a lowlife, a selection that would disgrace England. It was not entirely coincidental that a ban for England’s best player would be handy for the Aussie team, but there was also a cultural split. In England, plenty of people still minimise pub fights as lads letting off steam. In Australia, heavy media coverage as a succession of young men were killed had inverted that tolerance. The discourse now saw any punch as potentially deadly and accordingly reckless. This was more poignant in a cricket context given that David Hookes, the dashing Test batsman and state coach, was killed in 2004 by a pub bouncer’s fist.
The PR situation was bad for Stokes as details emerged of the injuries to the men he’d hit, and that one was a young war veteran and father. Stokes wasn’t officially removed from the Ashes squad through October but stayed behind when his teammates left, hoping for police to dismiss the matter in time for a late dash to Australia. His annual contract was renewed on the due date in case that came to pass. Then 29 October brought a twist in the tale.
‘Ben Stokes praised by gay couple after defending them from homophobic thugs,’ ran the headline. Kai Barry and Billy O’Connell had emerged. Not entirely out of nowhere: while Stokes had made no public comment, this story in his defence had initially been leaked to TV host Piers Morgan after the fight, as soon as the video appeared. Police body-camera footage played in court would later show that Stokes had given the same story to the arresting officer on the night. But no-one knew the identities of the fifth and sixth men in the video, and police appeals had turned up nothing.
It was The Sun again with the breakthrough. Kai and Billy were perfect for a readership not keen on nuance. ‘We couldn’t believe it when we found out they were famous cricketers. I just thought Ben and Alex were quite hot, fit guys,’ said Kai, who was memorably described as a ‘former House of Fraser sales assistant’. The paper had the pair do a full photo shoot: layering the fake tan, showing off chest waxes, mixing Ralph Lauren and Louis Vuitton into a range of outfits. Their best shot had them standing back to back, heads turned to the camera, in a mirror-image Zoolander moment.
Suddenly The Sun was the England team’s best friend. ‘Their claims could lead to the all-rounder being cleared over the punch-up and freed to play in the First Test in Australia next month,’ it gushed, then gave a tasting platter of quotes: ‘We were so grateful to Ben for stepping in to help. He was a real hero.’ ‘If Ben hadn’t intervened it could have been a lot worse for us.’ ‘We could’ve been in real trouble. Ben was a real gentleman.’ Would it be known forever as Kai and Billy’s Ashes? No. While the Bristol boys provided spin for Stokes’ reputation they didn’t influence the police. With charges still pending there was little choice – not given Strauss had previously sacked Kevin Pietersen for being annoying. Stokes remained suspended through the Ashes and a one-day series in Australia, and lost the vice-captaincy. It was January 2018 before the Crown Prosecution Service laid a charge.
That charge surprisingly came in as affray, a crime that can carry prison time but is classified as ‘a breach of the peace as a result of disorderly conduct’. The men he had punched, Ryan Ali and Ryan Hale, faced the same count, charged as equal participants in a fight rather than Stokes being charged with assaulting them. Alex Hales was not charged, despite being seen in the video to aim several kicks when Ryan Ali was lying on the ground. Given the underwhelming standing of the offence, Stokes was cleared by the ECB to tour New Zealand, and kept playing until his trial in August 2018, which he missed a Test to attend. None of the three defendants would be convicted.
The reasoning behind the charges was never released and was attributed vaguely to ‘CPS lawyers’. The service gave the case to Alison Morgan, a prosecutor of a class known as Treasury Counsel who usually handle serious criminal matters. Morgan had a scheduling clash and never ended up court for the case, but in 2018 and 2019 she would go on to win damages and admissions of libel from The Daily Mail, The Times and The Daily Telegraph variously for incorrectly reporting that she had been responsible for the inadequate and inconsistent charging decisions.
Morgan’s successor on the case was Nicholas Corsellis QC, who on the first day of trial was permitted by the CPS to request two assault charges be added against Stokes. ‘Upon further review,’ claimed a CPS statement, ‘we considered that additional assault charges would also be appropriate.’ This was patent nonsense from the service that eight months earlier had chosen the lesser charge. Any lawyer knows that no judge will allow new charges once a trial has begun, because the defence hasn’t had time to prepare. But such a request could deflect criticism of the prosecution service by technically making the judge the one who disallows the charge.
Working through the story from the trial and the tape is complicated. You had a Ryan and a Ryan, a Hale and a Hales, a Billy and a Barry and a Ben. You had several versions of events as to who knew whom, who was drinking with whom, who had insulted whom and who had merely engaged in ‘banter’, a word that in modern Britain has to do an unconscionable amount of lifting. The reporting had constantly mixed up the Ryans as to who had which injury, who was in hospital, who had played which part in the fight, and whose mum had which stern words to say about it.
Let’s agree that from now Ryan Ali is Ryan One, the firefighter who ended up with a fractured eye socket and a cracked tooth. Ryan Two can be Ryan Hale, the soldier who scored concussion and facial lacerations. Mr Barry and Mr O’Connell are best known per The Sun as Kai and Billy. In scorecard parlance we’ll leave the cricketers as Stokes and Hales.
Amid the confusion, Stokes and his lawyers built his case in a straightforward way. The UK legal definition of affray is ‘if a person threatens or uses unlawful violence or force towards another person, which causes another person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for their safety’. That means it doesn’t account for violence that harms a target, but violence that might frighten a theoretical bystander. The wiggle room for Stokes was with ‘unlawful’, because the charge excuses violence in defending oneself or others.
This interpretation hinged on the beginning of the video, where Ryan One waves a beer bottle about and takes a swing at Kai. The version from Stokes was that he was minding his own business walking down the street when he heard homophobic abuse. He intervened verbally and was threatened verbally by Ryan One – something that Ryan One denied but that couldn’t be proved or disproved. In fear for his safety Stokes had to nullify that threat by bashing Ryan One before it went the other way. He registered Ryan Two in his peripheral vision as another possible threat, and again had only one recourse.
Stokes also had to convince the jury to disregard testimony from Mbargo’s bouncer that he had been looking for a fight. A solid lump of a man, Andrew Cunningham had not enjoyed his patron’s attempts to get back into the club after the bouncer declined an offer of a bribe. ‘He got a bit verbally abusive towards myself. He mentioned my gold teeth and he said I looked like a cunt and I replied, “Thank you very much.” He just looked at me and told me my tattoos were shit and to look at my job.’ Cunningham described these words as coming in ‘a spiteful tone, quite an angry tone’, and said that Stokes still seemed angry as he walked away.
These were details the doorman had nothing to gain by inventing, but each of them Stokes denied. By his own accounting he had drunk a beer at the game and three pints at his hotel, then ‘potentially had some Jägerbombs’ along with half a dozen vodkas at the club. He insisted that after all of this he was not drunk.
If I may take a moment here to call upon the wisdom of experience – a person who cannot definitively say whether they have had any Jägerbombs has definitely had some Jägerbombs. A Jägerbomb is an experience that does not pass one by. Further to that, a person who says they have ‘potentially’ done something has definitely done that thing and doesn’t want to admit it. A person who has had between 15 and 24 standard drinks in one evening is shitfaced. A person who tries to bribe a bouncer £300 – three hundred quid! – to get into Mbargo – Mbargo! – is beyond shitfaced.
If Stokes admitted that he was drunk then the prosecution could say he was out of control. He claimed clear recall of assessing a threat, feeling fear and deciding to protect himself with force. He confidently denied details from the bouncer’s testimony, like using the word ‘cunt’ or mentioning gold teeth. Yet on other details he claimed a ‘significant memory blackout’. He didn’t remember the punch that saw Ryan One taken away by ambulance. He didn’t remember what the Ryans had said to Kai and Billy, only that those words were homophobic. With no head injury, as one of the few people who hadn’t been hit, he had supposedly suffered this memory loss despite being sober.
The version from Kai and Billy was compatible but vague: they had been walking along, they ‘heard … shouts’ of abuse from an unspecified source, then Stokes ‘stepped in’ and thus they avoided possible harm. They claimed to have been bought a drink by Stokes at Mbargo, although CCTV showed them meeting outside. The overall implication from both accounts was that the cricketers had been pals with Kai and Billy, while the Ryans as per The Sun’s headline were a roving band of thugs.
The reality though is that the Ryans were the ones hanging out with Kai and Billy at Mbargo. Police discussed CCTV from inside the club in questioning and at trial. On that footage the four Bristolians bought drinks for one another, danced together, and Kai was noted to have variously touched Ryan Two’s crotch and Ryan One’s buttock. Ryan One told police that all of this was taken lightheartedly and wasn’t a problem. Indeed, when the Ryans called it a night the other two left with them.
This much is clear from footage out the front of Mbargo, which shows Kai and Billy exit the club and start talking with a subdued Hales and a demonstrative Stokes, who are stuck outside. The vision was played in court to determine whether Stokes was antagonistic towards Kai and Billy, as he appears to impersonate them and to throw a lit cigarette their way. More interesting is that after a few minutes the Ryans emerge, and all six actors in the fight video briefly form a prequel in the one frame.
Ryan Two pats Billy on the chest in friendly fashion with his right hand before clapping him on the back with his left. He moves past and does the same to Kai before leaving the shot. Ryan One stops to speak to Kai. They lean in for a moment, talking, then Kai turns and they walk out of frame together. Billy hangs around for a few seconds at the door and then looks after them and races to catch up. Stokes and Hales remain outside the club to remonstrate further with the bouncers. Whatever discord develops around the corner is between four men who left amicably together minutes earlier.
There’s no way to know what caused that friction. If Ryan One did use homophobic slurs, he might have been drunkenly obnoxious for no reason. He might have had an insecure macho response to some extra flirtation. He might have thought unkindness was funny – ‘banter’ once again. Or he might have said something that was misunderstood, as both Ryans insisted in court that they had not used nor had the impulse to use any abusive language.
What clearly didn’t happen was an attack by bigots on random passers-by. This kind of crime is regular enough that an audience understands the horror of it, and this is what was evoked by the public accounts of Stokes, Billy and Kai. All we know is that there was some verbal dispute among the Bristol locals, and that Stokes came along behind them and put himself in the middle of it. Ryan One responded to the interference aggressively and away they went. There are plenty of reasons to look sideways at the idea that Stokes was a saviour. Foremost, neither Kai nor Billy was called upon as witnesses in court. You’d think it would be ideal to have Stokes’ story backed up by those who benefited from his selflessness. But his defence team had developed the impression that the pair had shown a changeable recall of events amid a hard-partying lifestyle, and would be dismantled by the prosecution on the stand.
That raises the question of whether The Sun coached their quotes for the 2017 interview. Despite missing court, Kai and Billy clearly enjoyed the attention. In 2018 after the trial they did a follow-up spread in the same paper about how poor Ben had been mistreated. They got a television spot on Good Morning Britain and glowed about his heroism. In 2019 The Sun wheeled them out once more to say that Stokes should get a knighthood. In 2017 they had ‘never watched cricket’ but by 2019 were supposedly volunteering sentences like, ‘He saved us, now he’s saved the Ashes.’ Whether they were paid for these appearances is not known, but the chance to be famous for a day can be lure enough.
If you find this cynical, consider that on the night in question, the Bristol boys were so deeply moved and thankful for Ben’s intervention that they left him to be arrested and never attempted to find out who he was. Seconds after the video ended, an off-duty policeman reached the scene. You might think that someone grateful to a saviour would speak on his behalf. Instead, said Kai, ‘it all got a bit scary so we walked off. It was too much for me and we went to Quigley’s takeaway for chicken burgers and cheesy chips.’ They didn’t give their hero a thought for over a month while police issued multiple appeals for witnesses.
As for Stokes, he told his arresting officer that ‘his friends’ had been attacked. After three minutes of chat outside a nightclub, these friends were so dear to him that he has never contacted them again: not after the newspaper piece, not after the verdict. He didn’t want to see how they were or thank them for their support. He didn’t mention them by name in his solicitor’s statement after the trial.
The Stokes defence rested on Ryan One’s bottle, which he had carried out of Mbargo to finish a beer, not to use in a Sharks versus Jets amateur production. But once he turned it over to hold it by the neck it became a weapon. Intent and interpretation can change the material nature of things. Part of Stokes’ justification in court was that the bottle implied that the two Ryans might have ‘other weapons’ hidden away. You can understand how a jury could decide that created doubt.
Not being convicted, though, doesn’t give the contents of the video a big green tick. It does not, as his lawyer claimed, vindicate Stokes. Looking in detail, Ryan One is belligerent but his movements telegraph a bluff. Hales is the person he’s gesturing at, but they’re several metres apart when Ryan One cocks his arm ostentatiously, showing off the bottle rather than bracing to swing. He skips forward but Hales skips back and Ryan One doesn’t follow. Kai stretches out an arm to impede Ryan One, who has a drunken stumble, nearly eats pavement, then staggers towards Kai and hits him in the back. That hand is still holding the bottle, but his strike is a side-arm cuff on a soft part of the body. It’s all pretty tame.
This is where Stokes gets involved. Having moved across to protect Hales, he now takes three large steps to run around Kai and booms his first punch at Ryan One. They fall to the ground and the bottle clinks away. Stokes gets to his feet to punch down at the fallen man, while Hales arrives to kick him ineffectively then runs off across the street for some unknown reason. Ice-cream van? Stokes is soon back in the grapple having his shirt pulled up to show off his Durham tan. Ryan Two steps in for the first time to pull Stokes away, prompting a couple more random punches at this new target, then Stokes trips backwards over Ryan One and sprawls in the street. Hales chooses this moment to return and aim some solid kicks at the head of the man on the ground. Nothing so far is a triumph of moral philosophy or the pugilistic arts. But if it all stopped here, perhaps you could say it was somewhere approaching fair. Ryan One has behaved like a turnip and it’s not an entirely unjust world that would give him a whack across the chops. The antagonists have disentangled, Stokes has some distance, it’s time to dust off and go home. Ryan Two steps forward for this purpose with his palm raised in conciliatory style and says, ‘Settle down, stop.’
So Stokes punches him.
It’s roughly his fifth punch overall, and he really winds up into this one. He misses so hard that he stumbles away into the shadows of the shop awnings along the road.
Hales starts shouting for him to stop. Ryan Two backs into the street, still holding his palm up. Stokes closes on him from about five metres away, six large steps, to where Ryan Two is standing on his own. Stokes pushes him a couple of times, as Ryan Two keeps trying to placate him and saying ‘Stop.’ Stokes throws his sixth punch, largely missing as his target ducks.
Ryan Two keeps pulling away and reversing, into the middle of the street now. Stokes follows him, grabbing his sleeve to drag him back. By this point Ryan One has found his feet and walked around behind his friend. Both of them are in the same line of sight for Stokes, and both are backing away. Stokes aims his seventh and his eighth punches, which Ryan Two tries to deflect, as Hales walks up behind Stokes to grab him.
Stokes yanks away from his friend and switches to Ryan One instead, taking seven paces to grab him before throwing his ninth punch of the night. He grabs again; Ryan One blocks that arm and pushes himself back away from Stokes. Ryan Two again intercedes, putting himself between the two with his palms up and his arm extended.
Stokes throws his tenth punch, a right-hander at the face of Ryan Two, then shoves him backwards. Ryan Two backs away once more, four paces. Stokes follows, steadies, lines up, then launches his strongest punch yet, his eleventh, a proper right hook from a solid base, one that cracks across the man’s head and gives him concussion. Ryan Two ends up flat on his back in the middle of the street, his hands still outstretched for a moment in useless protest until they twitch and drop to the blacktop.
Stokes isn’t done. He once more shoves away the restraining Hales and follows Ryan One, who keeps backing away saying, ‘Alright, alright, alright.’ Five more paces from Stokes before another blow at the man’s head. Kai and Billy are now standing over the poleaxed Ryan Two. The video ends, but seconds later Stokes will punch Ryan One hard enough to knock him out too, before off-duty cop Andrew Spure arrives on the scene to bring down the curtain. When the body-camera footage kicks in some minutes later, Stokes is in handcuffs but Ryan One is still laid out in the street. Ryan Two has regained consciousness, folded his shirt under his friend’s head and is asking police for an ambulance.
‘At this point, I felt vulnerable and frightened. I was concerned for myself and others.’ This was how Stokes described that sequence to the court. An elite athlete with years of gym work and training to snap a bat through the line of a ball with astounding power and precision, swinging fists as hard as he can at men with none of those advantages. Punching so hard that he breaks his hand, and repeatedly shoving away a friend so he can punch some more. Frightened and threatened by two targets shouting ‘Get back!’ and ‘Stop!’
The off-duty officer testified that Stokes ‘seemed to be the main aggressor or was progressing forward trying to get to’ Ryan One, who was ‘trying to back away or get away from the situation’. The student who filmed the video can be heard on the tape at one stage exclaiming ‘Fuck!’ and testified that it was because ‘I felt a little bit sorry about the lad that had been punched and it looked like he had his hands up’. That tallied with the prosecutor’s depiction of ‘a sustained episode of significant violence that left onlookers shocked at what was taking place’.
The defendant stuck to his strategy. ‘No, my sole focus was to protect myself.’ All up, in the 33 seconds of footage after he falls over, Stokes takes 35 steps forward to keep hitting two men who keep trying to get away. Not once is he hit back.
After the verdict, Stokes’ solicitor positioned him as the victim. It had been ‘an eleven-month ordeal for Ben … The jury’s decision fairly reflects the truth of what happened that night … He was minding his own business … It was only when others came under threat that Ben became physically engaged. The steps that he took were solely aimed at ensuring the safety of himself and the others present …’ The statement was impossibly self-righteous and self-absorbed.
If there was anyone to feel sorry for it was Ryan Hale, the second of our two Ryans. He’s the one who emerged from the club with a friendly arm around the shoulder for Kai and Billy. He’s the one who interposed himself to end the fight, then kept putting himself back in the firing line, trying to calm an intimidating stranger while dodging blows. For his show of restraint he got laid out regardless, concussed in the street, then was issued a criminal charge equal to that of the man who hit him, and described in national media as a violent bigot in an untested story to support that man’s defence.
Lawyers for Ryan Two made a more convincing post-trial statement, noting that Kai and Billy, ‘neither of whom were relied upon by the prosecution or the defence team for Mr Stokes, have taken the opportunity to speak with various media outlets about the alleged homophobic abuse that they received in the early hours of September 25. Mr Hale has passionately denied this allegation throughout the course of this case,’ it continued.
‘It is upsetting to Mr Hale that although he was acquitted, the accusation that he was the author of such abuse remains. Both Mr Hale and Mr Ali were knocked unconscious by Mr Stokes, and although Mr Stokes has been acquitted of an affray, Mr Hale struggles with the reasons why the Crown Prosecution Service did not treat him as a victim of an unlawful assault.’Good question. Avon and Somerset police were the investigating force, and they were frustrated by the decision. Ryan Two was filmed clearly not hurting anyone, but police were instructed by the CPS to proceed with a charge. Hales (the cricketer) was filmed fighting but ‘a decision was made at a senior level of the CPS’ not to proceed. Police expected Stokes to be charged with assault but the CPS declined. It doesn’t take a wild cynic to think that placing the same lukewarm charge on three men for vastly divergent behaviour might ensure that none would be convicted, even as the trial would maintain the pretence that a defendant of influential standing had not been given a free pass.
A couple of years down the line, the original interview with Kai and Billy has disappeared. All traces have been scrubbed from The Sun website, its social media history, and even from the Wayback Machine internet archive. Given its headline of ‘homophobic thugs’ and text that names Ryan Two but not Ryan One, the libel liability isn’t hard to spot. Later interviews with Kai and Billy take the passive voice – they ‘suffered homophobic slurs outside a Bristol nightclub’.
The article that was once claimed to exonerate brave Ben Stokes now links only to a missing content page, with a picture of a dropped ice-cream cone and the phrase ‘legal removal’ inserted into the web URL. In terms of consequences, Stokes missed one tour. When he resumed his career in January 2018, the Australians hadn’t yet ruined theirs. Their year-long bans looked much more stringent. But the Stokes case dragged on in other ways. With no criminal liability, the Australians confessed promptly enough for the sporting world to give them the full length of the lash. Their situation was ugly but there was closure. Stokes got stuck in legal stasis, unable to be fully backed or condemned. Instead his issue was always present, a browser full of open tabs that the ECB swore they would read any day now.
Through 2018 Stokes was back but he wasn’t back, in the sunglasses and finger-guns sense. In his return one-day series he nearly cost England a match with 39 from 73 balls in Wellington. His first Test hit was a duck as England got rolled in Auckland for 58. At Trent Bridge while Stokes was injured, England posted a world record 481 against Australia. With Stokes three weeks later at the same ground they made 268. He crawled to 50 from 103, the second-slowest any Englishman had reached that milestone in 20 years. That span covered Alastair Cook’s whole career. It was apologetic batting, acting out responsibility via the scorecard. Stokes was creeping back into the team like he’d been kicked out in a blazing row and was hoping to tip-toe to the sofa.
It was December 2018 before the ECB disciplinary committee ruled on him and Hales. In a ‘remarkable coincidence’, wrote Simon Heffer in The Telegraph, ‘the punishment both players faced in terms of bans from playing at international level was covered by the amount of games they had already missed when dropped by England’s selectors, in the furore that followed the incident’. The verdict compounded the omissions around the case by not addressing the violence at its heart. Nor did Stokes, apologising only ‘to my team-mates, coaches and support staff’, and then ‘to England supporters and to the public for bringing the game into disrepute’.
The implicit next step was to rebuild that reputation. It might have been easier had his court defence not meant that he wasn’t game to admit any fault at all. It might have been easier if he or his advisers had been willing to change tack once the trial was done. Imagine a world where Stokes had stood outside court and apologised for overreacting, for the injuries he’d caused, and for the time and energy he had sucked out of other people’s lives. That would have been a show of responsibility beyond a scorecard. When the time came around to assess forgiveness, it might have meant forgiveness was deserved.
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The 13th floor: The Back-room Break-room Birthday Party.

I've been navigating the seemingly endless collection of mostly empty offices and hallways for what seems like ages now. My watch had stopped working sometime shortly after I awoke here, wherever here is, and my phone had zero reception everywhere I went, so I had turned it off to save battery life what seemed like forever ago. The only sound here breaking the ominous silence is the constant buzz of the lights overhead. It is almost maddening. It gets to you in a dark way, an ever constant droning sound that works it's way into your mind like a splinter, driving you mad. The walls are a sickly mono-yellow color that makes me nauseous the more I look at them, so I try not to. A seemingly impossible tasks because they are everywhere you look, all painted or wallpapered that same uniformly ugly pattern. Even the carpet pattern is hard to stomach. This entire place is deeply unsettling to look at. The interior designer was obviously a sadist who had no sense of good taste.
I type this now, with what little battery life I have left, partly so some record exists of the events I've seen, maybe someone will find this phone, and partly because I do not know how much longer I'll be able to hold on to the memories myself. I'll power my phone on once a day and record what I can before turning it back off again. If I try hard enough, I can sometimes remember moments of my life from before "this" place, and then the buzzing sound seems to intensify and washes those thoughts away again. I vaguely remember sitting in a chair, across from a man dressed in a black business suit, asking me about my previous work history. I was being interviewed for a job opening in security, that he explained needed to be filled because the previous new hire had apparently quit and walked off-site without a word to anyone, having never returned to the security office after taking lunch.
He said the previous new hires name was Logan, and Logan had apparently vanished. We had a brief conversation concerning Logan's girlfriend who had come by the building several times, and distraught over his disappearance, had caused a scene in the lobby. I remember reading about his disappearance in the papers, and seeing a clip about him on the news a week or two prior. The police were actively investigating his disappearance, and had already came through and combed the building, questioning employee's and looking over the security footage. Logan's girlfriend Sarah was now on the banned list, and the man sitting across from me was adamant she wasn't permitted on the property. We were to call the police immediately if she arrived on the premises, and that her picture was posted on the wall in the security office for easy reference.
If I close my eyes and plug my ears to drone out the buzzing, I can almost recall the mans face. Almost. I can barely make out the basic features of a nose, ears, and glasses, but the more I try to focus on any one detail, the more his face blurs and becomes almost like tv channel static. Then the memory fades and the buzzing intensifies. The next thing I can remember, I'm being issued a badge, keys, a radio, a flashlight, a night-stick, and an employee handbook. An elderly man in a security uniform, whose name-tag reads "Michael", is giving me a tour of the building, explaining my various duties before leaving me to my own devices for my first shift. I remember I sat for hours in the security office, precariously flipping the pages of the employee handbook while periodically glancing at the security cameras. I wrote the hourly annotations in my log, ate a snack, and checked the messages on my phone. Pretty dull work day, which in the security field is ideal.
I stuffed the book in my back pocket and looked at the clock. It was late, 9:56PM. It would be just me now, until the following morning at 6am. 6PM-6AM shifts are pretty drab. The last employee had left hours ago, and I could see the janitors leaving the front lobby now. It was time to lock-up behind them and do my first rounds. I left the office and made my way through the building checking doors, and turning off lights, and computer monitors employee's had left running. I made my way to the lobby, locked the front doors, and then made fresh coffee in the break room.
I filled my thermos and took the stairs down into the basement, to the boiler rooms and went from riser to riser, checking the pressure gauges and writing my initials on the safety clipboard sheets hanging nearby. The boiler rooms were dimly lit, smelled awful, and there was a heaviness in the air, probably due to electro-magnetism given off by all the electrical boxes on the walls. I jokingly said to myself "This is what Freddy Kruegers bedroom must look like." It gave me the creeps, and I didn't want to spend any more time down there then I had to, so I quickly finished the riser checks and decided to take the elevator back up to the security offices, instead of climbing the stairs.
I climbed in, and noticed that in typical western superstitious fashion, the architect had omitted the 13th floor entirely. It went from 12 to 14 and then proceeded to count normally. This is standard in most high rise office buildings, hotels and casino's. I punched the button for floor 6, where our security office is located, and the doors glided shut. The elevator began to climb. That is when it happened. As the light dinged for floor 5 the elevator stopped. I was confused and thumbed the button for 6 again. The doors opened, closed, and then the elevator started moving again. It took me back down to the basement labelled B1. The doors opened. I again hit the button for 6, the doors closed and started to ascend. I calmed myself and swore I'd skip the elevator and just take the stairs next time, however long the climb might be.
The elevator went to 6 and the doors opened. I sighed in relief, but it was short lived. When the doors parted it was the basement level again! I panicked and began hitting the Emergency button, all the while knowing no one was inside the building to help me. I thought to myself I should sprint out the doors, through the boiler rooms and into the stairwell but before I could act on the thought, the doors shut and the elevator began moving again. It rose and rose, 10th floor dinged past. 11. 12. Then it stopped on 14 (the actual 13th floor of the building). The lights flickered momentarily, the air seemed to crackle and made my hair stand on end. There was an intense buzzing sound that was almost deafening. The doors opened and I darted out. The doors closed, and I turned around to discover a solid yellow wall where they had been! The doors were just gone, and the wall seemed to momentarily shimmer before becoming solid and blending in to the surrounding walls.
I reached out and ran my hand over where the doors had been, felt a static shock, and fell crumpled to the floor. I awoke some time later, dazed and confused. I looked at my watch and it had stopped. It read 10:36PM, but it felt much later than that and I was hungry again. My stomach rumbled. I spent what must have been the first day exploring empty rooms, looking for another elevator, a stairwell, or a window. I found nothing and no one. There is no way to keep track of time here, except for when I sleep. So I explore for as long as I can, then sleep. That is a day. Rinse, repeat. This place is impossible huge. It cannot be this big. There has to be an exit somewhere. I keep thinking about the elevator doors disappearing and cannot wrap my mind around it.
All the rooms are universally mostly the same, with little to no distinguishing features. Most are unfurnished. Day 2 I found a desk with a sharpie in it. So I started marking off tally marks in the employee handbook to keep track of my days. Day 3 I found a bottle of almond water on a filing cabinet, which is good because my coffee thermos was nearing empty. I've now taking to relieving myself in the corners of rooms partly because I have to, partly to mark rooms I've already explored, and partly as a screw you to whoever designed this place.
Day 5, my head hurts. The continuous buzzing from the florescent lights is giving me a migraine. Caffeine withdraws aren't helping either. Day 7 I found a patch of mushrooms growing on top of the moldy carpet in an empty office. I rubbed them on my arm and there was no allergic reaction so I assume they are safe to eat. I ate some and they had no ill effects, so I began rationing them. Day 9 and I've smoked my last cigarette, the pack is empty. Day 10 and nicotine withdraws hit. Day 12 and a thought occurred to me: I have a lighter. I don't know why I didn't think of this sooner! I used the empty cigarette pack and a few pages from the handbook to start a fire. I thought maybe if I set the wallpaper on fire, I can catch the building on fire, and then finally someone will rescue me. If they don't, then at least I'll die and finally be free of this place and the fire will take this hellish place with it.
The wallpaper crackled slightly but wouldn't take to the flame. Flame retardant wallpaper? Does such a thing exist or is this place limbo? Am I dead? Is this the waiting room of the afterlife? If so, where is everyone else? I tried the carpet too but it's damp, wet and moldy everywhere. Later that day I found another filing cabinet and climbed on it to reach the ceiling. The ceiling is solid. I could reach a sprinkler head, so I made another fire, and held the flame close. It came to life and soon every nearby room was down-pouring water, but no fire alarm sounded. I pulled out the empty filing cabinet drawers and used them as buckets to collect the water. At least now I won't die of dehydration. I cleaned myself up, and washed my hair and face. After about 20 minutes, the sprinklers drizzled up and stopped producing water.
Day 15 and I swear I've passed through this room before. The pile of shit in the corner is unmistakably mine from days ago. With a grouping of mushrooms sprouting from the top of it. Great. I'm now eating mushrooms grown from my own shit. Day 19, I found a metal chair in the corner of a big office, and began using it to attempt to break through the wall. After about 30 minutes, I managed to punch a decent sized hole, only to peer through and discover it goes to another identical empty office. I managed to squeeze through, only to discover it's leads to an almost identical maze of empty rooms and hallways just like the ones I had just come from!
The air is stale here. I found a desk with some felt tipped pens in it, so I'm now using those for tally marks and the sharpie to write X's on walls and doors of rooms and areas I've explored. This area seems darker, and less illuminated. Some days I have to backtrack back through the hole to fill my thermos from the filing cabinet drawers. Day 22, I found a message written on the wall in black marker that reads "Sarah, I love you!". My heart sank. Is Logan down here? Had the same thing happened to him? Had he returned from lunch, and rode the same elevator, just to be deposited here like I had? That meant the elevator entrance wasn't localized, as he was deposited on the other side of the hole I had punched in the wall. What in the hell is this place? Is this Hell?
Day 25, I'm out of water again, so I've taken to ripping up the moldy carpet and wringing it out into my thermos for what little water I can. I've found many mushrooms, and what I can only surmise is piles of Logan's shit in the corner of many rooms.
Day 29... I found Logan. Or rather, what is left of him. I rounded a corner and forced open a door peppered with holes, that was blocked by a toppled filing cabinet, into what appeared to be an office break room, complete with a table, chairs, a water cooler, a half-eaten yet stale birthday cake, and Logan seated in front of it. The smell was horrible. Written on the wall behind him was the words "I'm sorry Sarah!". Logan had apparently holed up in this room, and finally, taken his own life by slitting his wrists with the knife used to cut and serve the birthday cake. I looted him, found a 9mm pistol with no ammo on his belt, though the floor was littered with spent casings, and moved him to the hallway and let the room air out. I secured the door the same way he had, found a fire-extinguisher in the corner, ate the cake, counted my supplies and rations, and slept hard under the table to escape the lights overhead.
I awoke a few hours later to rustling in the hallway. I sprang to my feet thinking someone had found me. I peered through one of the many holes in the door and to my horror I saw two black human like creatures on all-fours feasting on Logan in the hallway. I began shouting and pounding on the door hoping to scare them away, but though frightened at first, they returned and simply dragged him out of sight. I laid awake the rest of the night, listening to low pitched inhuman growling, the sound of bones snapping, and the wet slap of meat as they devoured him.
Day 30, starring at the door, I realized the holes I'd peered through were Logan's attempt to shoot the creatures who had boxed him in here. Realizing he had fired his last shot, and had nothing but the cake and water cooler left, he chose to slit his wrists instead of starving to death, or being eaten alive. I waited until I thought the creatures were gone, before I peered out the hole again, but immediately I saw movement and heard growling again. I had inadvertently fed them Logan, they had just eaten and time was on their side. They were going to simply wait me out.
Day 31, I peeked out and they are still there! So I devised a plan. I armed myself with the knife, I have a night-stick and a fire-extinguisher. I was going to make a run for it, or die trying. I slide the filing cabinet aside, readied myself, and threw the door open. I bolted into the hallway, unclipped the ring on the extinguisher and hosed the first creature that lunged at me. It howled and scurried off down the hall, rounding a corner and disappeared from sight. The second creature crouched down and growled but didn't move. I sprayed the extinguisher at it, and it cowered back a few feet and continued to growl. I locked eyes with it, and sprayed it again. It darted off bouncing down the hallway and disappeared around the same corner as the first. I dragged Logan back into the room, closed the door, and sprinted back to the hole in the wall. I climbed through and barricaded it with a desk. What the bloody hell were those things?
Day 32, I mustered up the courage to return through the hole, to the break room to fill my thermos with water from the water cooler only to find Logan propped back up in the seat, this time surrounded by mannequins wearing birthday hats posed in odd fashion like they are having a party. I freaked out and ran back to the hole and climbed through. I re-secured the hole with the desk, and filing cabinets I dragged from several rooms. I spent the night half crying, half sleeping on the floor. When I finally slept, I awoke because I thought I heard a phone ringing somewhere in the distance, but I can't be sure where, or even if it was real.
Day 33, I've got plenty of water both in my thermos and in two of the remaining file cabinet drawers, a lot of mushrooms, a knife, an empty gun, my flashlight, and night-stick. Those "things" and the mannequins don't seem to be on THIS side. My phone is at 17% and I've run out of ideas. I can't imagine what I've done to end up in this place. I'm going to explore more of this side, the safe half, and see if I can't find the phone.
Day 34, my phone is at 4% and...
submitted by Vitralis to TheBackrooms [link] [comments]

Wrestling Observer Rewind ★ Feb. 1, 1988

Going through old issues of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter and posting highlights in my own words, continuing in the footsteps of daprice82. For anyone interested, I highly recommend signing up for the actual site at f4wonline and checking out the full archives.
• PREVIOUS •
1987
FUTURE YEARS ARCHIVE:
The Complete Observer Rewind Archive by daprice82
1-4-1988 1-11-1988 1-18-1988 1-25-1988
  • The Bunkhouse Stampede Finals and Royal Rumble are in the books, and as a head-to-head it’s best described as a stalemate. Neither show is what Dave would consider among the best cards he’s ever seen, and from the perspective of a tv viewer they were about what you’d expect. No strong overall lineup for either, and what was delivered wasn’t spectacular either. WWF had the edge in glitz, but not as much as usual because of the live factor meaning they couldn’t rely on post-production editing tricks. Here’s a sentence that describes a typical Raw today: “The three-hour show had too many replays and looked like it may have dragged in spots if you were there live.” Dave’s gotten some word from people who were there for the Bunkhouse finals live, and all rated it terribly as a live experience. From the tv viewer perspective, though, it was better than Starrcade despite some major issues (Dave says they owe the audience an explanation for why the Rock & Roll Express and Steve Williams were absent, as well as for the lack of Mike Rotunda vs. Sting which was pushed on WTBS half an hour before the show).
  • Dave’s tired of writing a lot of the same complaints about NWA, but they do seem to be responding to fans. They’re going to start showing the finishes to matches that go off the air on the following week’s show and have made changes to the announce desk. Jim Ross did a great job on ppv and toned back on calling every match an all-time classic like he did at Starrcade. But there were eight no-shows among the wrestlers and on Thursday night they had a terrible show in Los Angeles. Most of the no-shows were guys they pulled from the card to save money on flights. The Bunkhouse Finals were advertised with a 7 pm start time, but many of the tickets had 8 pm printed on them, and the show itself actually started at 6:35. Pm and ended at 9 pm, so those arriving at 8 missed most of the show. Not all the no-shows can be blamed on the promotion (Mighty Wilbur got injured, Rock & Roll Express appear to have up and quit), but some kind of explanation needs to be made for the fans. Between all that, getting chants of “Refund” after the Stampede and Dusty getting booed (which fans watching on tv heard) when he won the finals, NWA has significantly hurt its position in two of the biggest markets in the country in LA and New York. They’re making changes, slowly, but some changes need to be made or they’re going to sink. NWA fans come for action, but you can’t get the kind of action the fans want with the schedule they’re running (contrast to WWF which can get by with less action because their guys are seen as stars and the fans want to see the stars). Doing cross-country double shots on weekends is killing NWA, and they need to make new stars. Turning Flair face, since he’s more popular than almost anyone else, isn’t even something to do right now because Luger’s turn is in full throttle and they don’t have a heel to take up the slack. They could turn Dusty heel and have him feud with the Road Warriors, but they won’t.
  • In the past few weeks, NWA has managed to lose several guys they really shouldn’t have. Terry Taylor is gone apparently because the office had it in for him because of when he left the promotion in 1985. Big Bubba Rogers had become a good worker and had a great gimmick going, but WWF poached him. Rock and Roll Express apparently quit because they were unhappy about their push (though Dave thinks despite their ability and work, they’ve been on borrowed time for nine months now). Dave gives Steve Williams 50/50 odds of coming back and just kind of gestures to UWF as explanation. Sean Royal quit, and Chris Champion, Eddie Gilbert, and Brad Armstrong are all but disappeared. And more are looking to get out. Dave hates writing all this stuff about what Crockett’s doing wrong on the front page, especially when he’s been talking about it for months, and especially because he’s a fan of the NWA. He wouldn’t classify himself as a fan of WWF, but they’ve earned his respect with what they’ve done to take the business to another level and in the next two months he expects them to blow the whole wrestling business wide open. But WWF’s success isn’t the reason for NWA’s problems. WWF doing counterprogramming has made Crockett earn less money than he would have unopposed, and Dusty probably books himself the way he does because he knows WWF won’t steal him (spoilers: WWF gets Dusty in just over a year) and it’s hard to leave the limelight, but WWF isn’t the reason for most of Crockett’s issues.
  • According to the newspapers this morning, Wrestlemania IV will take place in Atlantic City’s Convention Center. Capacity is 16,000. There were rumblings of Vince being close to a deal in Vegas for either UNLV Gym or Caesar’s Palace, so Atlantic City’s a surprise. Wrestlemania is going to be more focused on ppv than closed-circuit this year, apparently. But most of the audience can’t get ppv, so they’ll still need closed-circuit in major cities.
  • Two weeks after Wrestlemania will be the Crockett Cup. Place is to be announced, and Dave thinks it’s high time Crockett re-establishes working relationships with at least one or two other North American promotions in order to help make the Cup a big event. They just don’t have the talent roster this year to get away with doing otherwise.
  • A correction on Starrcade: Dave reported a 6.6 percent buy-rate, but the reality was a 3.3 percent buy-rate. Dave heard they got 20,000 buys and just assumed it was of the 300,000 homes available on cable, but forgot to factor in the 300,000 homes it was also available in via satellite. Dave’s received reports that there were 6 million potential homes for the Bunkhouse finals, but that seems high to him. Even matching the buyrate of Starrcade at that number would mean over $3 million in gross revenue, and Dave doesn’t think they were remotely close to that.

- Anyway, Dave goes through the Bunkhouse finals. An estimated 7,000 were in the arena, and the dark match was Sting and Jimmy Garvin beating the Sheepherders by DQ. Nikita Koloff retained the NWA TV title against Bobby Eaton in a 20 minute draw. -2 stars. Larry Zbyszko beat Barry Windham for the Western States Title, with the match starting slow and getting very good in the last ten minutes. 3.5 stars. Road Warrior Hawk beat Ric Flair by DQ in the NWA World Title match. 3.75 stars. Dusty Rhodes won the Bunkhouse Stampede finals. Lots of blood, a lot of guys going the distance you wouldn’t expect to have the stamina to do so (the match was 26 minutes long), and it was exactly what was promised and was good stuff. 3 stars.

Watch: a brief clip of the bunkhouse finals

- As for the Royal Rumble, the crowd appeared to be nearly sold out with almost 18,000 in attendance. Ricky Steamboat beat Rick Rude by DQ. Heavy with rest holds and stalling before the final two minutes had them trading near falls constantly and getting good heat from it. 2 stars. The Jumping Bomb Angels won the WWF Women’s Tag Titles from the Glamour Girls in a 2/3 falls match. They started behind with Judy Martin getting the first fall, then the Angels won two straight falls with each Angel pinning Judy Martin (sunset flip and double missile dropkicks, respectively). It was a good match, but not great - the Angels missed a lot of moves and seemed to be out of shape. 3 stars. Jum Duggan won the Royal Rumble, last eliminating One Man Gang. The match was much better than Dave anticipated, and the match went on roughly at the same time as the Bunkhouse finals match. Better camera work in it, and Dave notes that WWF seems to have fudged the two minute intervals after a bit. 3.5 stars. The Islanders beat the Young Stallions (Paul Roma and Jim Powers; Dave’s nickname for them is The Barbie Dolls) in two straight falls. He makes a weird joke about a submission actually working on a pushed guy (Haku submitted Roma with a Boston crab) making him go out for “Oriental food” afterwards because it was so surprising. I’m too confused to even know what to make of the line. 2.5 stars.

Watch: the finish to the 1988 Royal Rumble match
  • Outside the matches, Royal Rumble had some other stuff. Andre and Hogan had a contract signing for the Main Event, where Andre slammed Hogan’s head into the table and pushed the table onto him. Dave’s amazed people buy Hogan as a face, because there’s just something naturally dislikable about people who act the way Hogan does and he thinks Vince could probably get Lee Harvey Oswald over as a face. Dino Bravo attempted to set a world bench press record. Of course, the weights were as legit as the half a million dollars Dusty supposedly won, but Bravo’s supposedly able to bench over 600 lbs legit. Jesse Ventura helped him with “715 lbs” and then claimed he didn’t help at all (the Road Warriors are scheduled to bench on the 30th and were originally planned to use legit weights, but they’ll have to use bogus weights to keep from looking weak next to WWF’s monsters now). Anyway, now they’ll bill Bravo as unofficial bench record holder, and that should get him heat because of the obvious cheating.
  • Next up then for WWF is The Main Event on February 5. Dave’s told not to worry about Andre, because his back is in much better shape than last year. He and Hogan are practicing daily and have worked out the gist of the match. Dave says you can be sure to expect Ted DiBiase to interfere somehow on the 5th.
  • Stampede is continuing to do good business and nearly selling out all their big shows. Chris Benoit and Great Gama get 4 stars (from Trent Walters, who I guess submitted the reports for the matches in Edmonton) for their Commonwealth Title match from January 9 in Edmonton.
  • [Stampede] Jason the Terrible has been made an “honorary member” of Bad Company, Bruce Hart and Brian Pillman’s tag team. So now in addition to the hockey mask he’s also got sunglasses over the hockey mask and a bandana and a black leather jacket. The whole getup is hilarious.
  • Do you remember Central States? Mike George won the WWA World Title tournament on January 23. They had 800 fans. Match ended on blood stoppage.
  • Speaking of blood, Keiji Mutoh is headed to Puerto Rico.
  • Tatsumi Fujinami and Kengo Kimura won the IWGP World Tag Titles from Yoshiaki Fujiwara and Kazuo Yamazaki on January 18. Riki Choshu and Super Strong Machine were originally slated to face the tag champs, but Choshu injured his knee and had to miss the match. Dave expects Choshu and Machine to face Fujinami and Kimura on February 7. He then goes on about how bad Choshu’s luck has been lately. Dave thinks he was supposed to win the tournament, except the Maeda shoot happened, and he was definitely supposed to win the tag titles (the match was scheduled for his hometown and New Japan actually does nice things for wrestlers in front of their home audiences). And with all the work they’ve put into getting Choshu on tv, it’s surprising they’ve phased him down the card so much from where he was.
  • Lots of stuff about Vader’s look in New Japan. On December 27 he wore long tights and had Road Warrior Hawk’s hair, and it didn’t get him over at all. On January 4 he had a mask and full bodysuit to hide his size. January 11 saw him ditch the bodysuit and keep the mask. The evolution of a mastodon, I guess.
  • Antonio Inoki began negotiations with Fuji TV after TV Asahi scheduled NJPW tv to move to midnight Mondays, and TV Asahi caved. They’ll now be on a 5 pm Saturday time slot. It’s not as good as their old Monday evening slot, but it’s not a death slot like midnight Monday.
  • Akira Maeda turned down NJPW’s plan to have him go to the U.S. Also, he and NJPW are fighting over his contract. They offered him a new contract for 1988 with a 15% pay cut and he’s not willing to sign it.
  • There are rumors that Inoki will wrestle Koji Kitao (the sumo wrestler mentioned a few weeks back) at the Tokyo Dome in April. Kitao is 24 years old and 6’5.5”, weighing 345 lbs. The story of his exit from Sumo is he apparently lost his temper and started kicking one of his sponsors (who is 92 years old) and the knocked his stable master’s wife through a sliding door. Dave’s been told if this match does happen, it could draw very big. Kitao is denying he’s going into wrestling (nope). Kitao was made a yokozuna in 1986, just before he turned 23, because the sumo hierarchy felt they needed a new young star to create interest in the younger generation of fans. But Kitao liked the party lifestyle and didn’t care for tradition, and sumo does not tolerate that. But you can’t demote a yokozuna, and that made him controversial (it would turn out that most of this was made up because Kitao’s stablemaster didn’t like him and felt he was underperforming and wanted him out - more on Kitao’s sumo years here if you want to read it). Turns out sumo is kind of worked too, though not as much as pro wrestling.
  • All Japan is promoting a “Martial Arts Olympic” show on April 2 at Sumo Hall, to feature all kinds of stuff. Tiger Mask II and Giant Baba will team against some foreigners, Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling (the group running against AJW) will have two matches on the show (Miss A vs. Harley Saito and Rumi Kazama vs. Xochitl Hamada). There will be boxing, kick boxing, the original Tiger Mask Satoru Sayama’s “shooting” sport he invented, shoot boxing (boxing + wrestling with gloves), and more. The whole show is being billed as a memorial service to Ikki Kajiwara, who created the Tiger Mask cartoon and comic.
  • When baseball season starts, All Japan’s tv will be moved to 10:30-11:30 pm Sunday nights. Usually they get moved to Saturday afternoon during baseball season, and this shift will lose Baba lots of money and viewers.
  • While Crockett and McMahon ran big shows on January 24, Giant Baba met with their rivals in Las Vegas. Baba’s plan in the U.S. is to send his guys, as well as Bruiser Brody, Abdullah the Butcher, Jimmy Snuka, Stan Hansen, and Terry Gordy to smaller promotions to help them fight against the big two.
  • Dave finally saw Hennig vs. Tiger Mask II. Not terrible, but no heat and little action, he thinks. Meanwhile, John Tenta’s improving well, and Baba seems high on Akira Taue, though he’s so new it’s hard to guess what kind of future he has.
  • [AJW] Yukai Omori’s retirement show will be on February 15. This was announced after her January 15 world title match with Chigusa Nagayo, where she said if she couldn’t win the title she was ending her career. They went 32 minutes to a double count out in the ring after both collapsed.
  • [Memphis] Lawler vs. Hennig for the AWA Title on January 18 had Lawler’s ring on the line as well. Hennig promised to give his dad the ring if he won, and Larry Hennig was there. The Axe helped Curt win, and Curt gave him the ring, but Lalwer stole it back.
  • Memphis local prelim wrestler Jerry Bryant has been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease.
  • Global Wrestling in Florida somehow turned what was an awful live show on January 22 into a good tv show. They taped on Friday night and by Sunday had it polished up into a good looking product. The miracles of post-production. Issues with the live show included starting 30 minutes late, long delays between matches, the ring mic not working, and bad wrestlers. What they lack in wrestling talent, though, they make up for in knowing how to make a tv show that’s on the level of World Class and better than Crockett or AWA.
  • Continental (Alabama) did a bench press contest between Lord Humongous (not Sid, but Gary Nation) and Doug Furnas. They fudged the weights here, as Humongous did 645 lbs and then Furnas did it twice (his best in competition has been 600) before Humongous pushed the bar down on Furnas and “injured his ribs.”
  • Apparently the Observer was mentioned positively in the Detroit News by Justice B. Hill in the January 17 issue.
  • Since Dave started writing this issue, he’s been flooded with fans writing about the Bunkhouse finals. The reaction he’s gotten has largely been negative, with those there live being extra negative about it. Crockett really needs to reserve three hours for the next time they do ppv - going too short pisses the fans off, and ppv viewers expected the show to last past 9 pm. Another difference between WWF and NWA is that WWF always gets their hottest acts on the mic at some point during ppvs and big live specials (twice in the case of Hogan and DiBiase at Royal Rumble), while at Starrcade they didn’t have Flair, Dusty, or Cornette talk once. Instead Jim Garvin gave the worst promo of his career, Michael Hayes was quiet for the first time ever, and they shoved Steve Williams and Nikita Koloff on the mic for some reason. At the Bunkhouse Finals they had no interviews, and getting mic time for Flair or Dusty or Luger while they set up the cage would have been a big help. More of Dave wondering when Crockett will realize they’ve killed the credibility of their world champion and thus killed the drawing power of the belt.
  • Michael Hayes has apparently quit Crockett and everyone expects him to go back to World Class. And if Steve Williams doesn’t come back, they’ll probably just forget about the UWF Title entirely rather than doing a unification match.
  • A couple letters this week requesting that Dave keep up the coverage of wrestling in Japan. Another couple letters praising how good Stampede has been lately. Canada and Japan, bringing us the best in wrestling.
  • Another letter writer asks Dave to realize how offensive it is to refer to a wrestling match as “a total abortion” and to consider that he’s probably offended many female readers of the newsletter. Dave apologizes and says he’ll stop using the term, before doing a “well, actually” bit. It’s a kind of weird response. Judge it for yourselves.
I apologize for that one and will quit using the term. Actually the term abortion for a bad match is a business term just like jobber, mark, babyface and the rest. But there are a few business terms (mainly for ethnic wrestlers and ethnic fans) which are in bad taste that I don’t use, so I’ll add that one to the list.
  • Tickets for Wrestlemania IV go on sale January 30. The best 2000 seats in the Convention Center are being reserved as freebies for casino high rollers. And as a heads up, this is the location it does take place at. They called it Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino during the show, but it’s the same building. More on that as we get to Wrestlemania.
  • If Dave can find the space next week, he’s going to talk about whether or not “30 minute matches which ‘tell a story’” work for today’s fans. He really enjoyed the Windham/Blanchard match on tv but there was no crowd reaction, so he’s beginning to wonder if this is even a style that resonates anymore.
  • Everyone’s asking Dave for predictions about Hogan vs. Andre. So here’s his prediction (and he is way off on many parts of this):
DiBiase will interfere and Andre will pin Hogan on 2/5, however Jack Tunney will prove he can’t be bought and hold the title up so Ted doesn’t get the title, and order a rematch in a cage at WM4 so Ted can’t interfere (and also so Andre can lose without doing a job). Hulk will win on a fluke, and they’ll run Hulk vs. Andre over the summer in your local cities after Hulk gets back from playing Hulk Hogan in the movies.
  • ”There was a clip in Detroit about Hogan, saying that ‘he’s nice[r] than Kirk Gibson, but not by much.’” Gibson’s reputation is of being a total asshole to fans, especially kids.
  • Crockett is billing FlaiAnderson vs. LugeWindham on Feb. 6 as the first time Flair goes against Lex anywhere. It’s forgivable to forget Lex’s Florida days, but they’ve got FlaiBlanchard vs. LugeRhodes booked for February 2.
  • Apparently Road Warrior Hawk’s neo-nazi line is just a quote from The Breakfast Club. Okay. So I guess the first letter writer was mishearing him and he’s saying “Neo-maxi-zoom dweebie”? TVtropes gives us this, from the October 3, 1987 episode of NWA World Championship Wrestling: HAWK: "WELL, Tony Schiavone, There Are Two Kinds Of People, as far as me and Animal are concerned. Clamheads and Neo-Maxi Zoom Dweebies." (the Road Warriors consider themselves the latter). And corroborating with the WWE Network, yeah, the line comes through pretty clear. Network 4 minutes in, and yeah, he’s not calling himself a neo-nazi. Definitely an error by that letter writer, and what a weird line for Hawk of all people to utter.
THURSDAY: WWF’s Big Four are born; The Main Event; Rock & Roll Express, Michael Hayes, and Steve Williams update; Tenryu wins all the awards in Japan; and more
submitted by SaintRidley to SquaredCircle [link] [comments]

History of Clifton Hill Part 5 (Final): What Could Have Been, and What Can Still Be

Thank you to everyone who has followed this series or voted for it's creation. I'm glad you've enjoyed it and I'm always happy to spread the important history of the amusement industry, especially pertaining to the place that inspired me to go into the industry. For parts 1-4 scroll back in this sub or click my profile.
In 1989, Welland Securities, who owned the entire south-west side of the Hill, would develop the final portion of unused land on Clifton Hill. They would become HOCO (Harry Oakes Company) and gain ownership of almost all the attractions on land they leased out. This included Movieland, The Space Spiral Tower and the Cliffside Motel. The only attractions that would continue being leased were Ripley's and Circus World, meaning HOCO not only owned all the land on the South-West side of the hill, they now ran everything between Circus World and Ripley's, as well as the Fudge Factory (in its original spot) and an ice cream stand immediately down the hill from Circus World. They planned to keep everything that was on the hill but build on it.
Movieland was remodeled and the outside was given a more noticeable Egyptian theme to match the lobby. This meant large lion statues and Costello's talking pharaoh. The lobby was remodeled as well. Rather than a cameraman and a director filming Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra, they would now be filming Costello's Indiana Jones figure, who lowered up and down on a rope above a fogging pit with a cobra rising out of it. Many of the early talkie-era stars in the hall immediately after the entrance (along with Elizabeth Taylor) were moved to 2 large display cases in the middle of the attraction with multiple figures, instead of each one having their own scene. In their original spot just inside the entrance an intentionally scary scene was created to match the popular Indiana Jones series. Many of the figures Costello had added since he became the museum's artist were slightly frightening, like a lunging alligator or a startling Joker scene with a machine gun sound effect. The museum had been expanded at the end, and a large horror section had been added, with many figures like the mummy being from the same mold as the House of Frankenstein/Castle Dracula mummys. Unlike when it would move to it's current location in 2005, the old location's chicken exit was placed before the horror section rather than the haunted house portion. In fact, there was no haunted house section, many of the figures that would end up in the haunted house section of the new location were simply scattered throughout the museum. Many of the figures in the horror section of the original museum were actually less scary and less animated than the Jurassic park scene or the alligator encountered earlier in the museum. To prevent unsuspecting parents who had no clue what kind of attraction this was dragging their children in and expecting static figures of washed-up movie stars, getting the living daylights scared out of them, then end ending up filing complaints with HOCO's customer service department, an intentionally scary scene was put at the beginning. This let people know what they were walking in to, an experience rather than a museum. Costello designed figures behind plexiglass such as a man upside down in a cocoon thrashing around, a skull that popped up from the floorboards in a scene full of snakes, a man on a bed of spikes that fell towards you, and a scene with spiders on fishing line "jumping" all over a rotting corpse.
The Cliffside Motel was amalgamated into a wing of the Quality Inn, and the driveway into it off the hill was removed as it was no longer necessary because it could be accessed from the Quality Inn parking lot. In the driveway's place was now a large empty space between Circus World and Movieland, with the Space Spiral Tower (with a relatively small footprint) stuck in the middle. HOCO called upon attraction design and layout firm White Hutchison Leisure Learning Group (WHLLG) to design an attraction around the Space Spiral that would use the final undeveloped land on Clifton Hill. And so WHLLG designed Dazzleland Family Fun Centre. Dazzleland was a courtyard of buildings arranged in roughly the same layout as the Great Canadian Midway (for reasons we'll get to later) that sits on the land now. The buildings around the outside of the courtyard were long and narrow, picture a courtyard of carnival game trailers but permanent, appealing buildings. These buildings included a Skee-ball building, a sports game building (basketball games, football toss etc.), a racing game building, a pinball building, a funnel cake shop, and the prize counter. In the back corner, roughly where the XD Theatre now is in the midway, was a larger building: an arcade housing video games and more pinball machines. In the middle of the courtyard was a small carousel, and a small building housing games that dispensed their own prizes (claw machines, prize egg games, etc.) and coin-op kiddie rides.
The Space Spiral was incorporated into Dazzleland, still being accessible directly off the hill. As mentioned in part 3, the tower was exactly where the Fudge Factory now is, as the circular store was once the loading area for the tower. At this time the snack bars beside the tower right on the hill were constructed: a pretzel/hotdog stand and an ice cream stand, both of which are still there. The Wendy's was built on top of Circus World, replacing the mini golf that had formerly been on the attraction's roof. Across the entrance to Dazzleland's courtyard from Wendy's was a Domino's Pizza, roughly where the photo booth just to your right is when entering the Great Canadian Midway now. Between the Space Spiral and the Dominos was a fortune teller machine built right into the wall: "Ask the Brain". The brain still lives on inside Movieland, except now he wants a loonie instead of a quarter. Just up the hill from the Space Spiral, on top of the hot dog and ice cream stand, a small sports bar was built. Very little is known about this sports bar, but obvious remnants of it still exists. The area of Boston Pizza closest to the hill (the back corner near the kitchen, the bar area, and the raised dining area) was the originally the sports bar. It featured a small coin-op bowling lane, arcade games, and food. The stairs in the Midway up to Boston Pizza beside Ghostblasters is the original stairs up from Dazzleland to the sports bar. Additionally, the Boston Pizza entrance closer to the hill (not the one with the big bowling pin, other one) was the main entrance to the sports bar. Little is known about the bar, including it's name. It may not have had one, simply being part of the Dazzleland complex. Many of the areas in Dazzleland didn't have a name, simply having signs heralding "Arcade", "Sports Games", "Skeeball" rather than naming the areas like the "Game Factory", "Sports Zone" or "Strike! Rock 'n Bowl" like in the Midway. For this reason, the bar may have been nameless, simply being part of the Dazzleland complex, but it's unlikely a dining establishment geared at adult nightlife wouldn't have a name.
Because the mini golf on Circus World's roof had been operated by the Cliffside Motel operators, HOCO acquired all the assets from it when they stopped leasing the land out. When the aforementioned Wendy's was built, the mini golf was moved just up the hill from the sports bar. It's entrance was right on the hill, but the course wrapped around the sports bar and ran back behind Dazzleland, between the back of Dazzleland and the parking lot of the Quality Inn. It would now be dinosaur themed and heavily landscaped. WHLLG designed the course and HOCO contracted Costello to build all the fiberglass dinosaurs. It's unknown what it's original name was, but in the early 90s, with the smash hit of Jurassic Park, it was renamed Dinosaur Park and given a similar logo. Up until the 2018 remodel, Boston Pizza had a patio. This patio was the exact location of the entrance to the mini golf, and the reason the restaurant's building curved in such a bizarre way surrounding the patio was originally to accommodate the course. Underneath the sports bar and mini golf and was an underground building accessible from a back corner of Dazzleland's courtyard. This area housed all of Dazzleland's miscellaneous ticket redemption games and 2 shooting galleries. The low-ceiling area of the Midway called the "Game Factory" is this original building. The Bonanaza Company shooting gallery is still there albeit heavily remodeled, but Blasteroids, an early project by arcade game company Lazer-Tron, was removed in 2016. Interestingly, the chase lights along the back wall of the Game Factory are Dazzleland holdovers. Between the shooting gallery and where what's left of the racing games now are is a bank of maintenance doors. If you get lucky and see them open, you'll see a stairs that was originally an entrance to Dazzleland from further up the street, beside Dinosaur Park. This now lets out somewhere in Boston Pizza's arcade (although I haven't been able to figure out where) and is used by staff to get from "a" to "b" faster.
Dazzleland has been the hardest to dig up information on in my research on Clifton Hill. Although I now know what was in each of the buildings around the outside of this "courtyard", I haven't been able to find which one was where. The only things I've confirmed is where the video game building was, what was in the building in the middle, and confirmed that the Game Factory was originally part of Dazzleland. The rest is beyond me and my memories of it have long faded. If anyone worked here or visited it frequently and has any answers, they would be greatly appreciated. Additionally there was a small pool near the front with a Costello dragon figure in it that spit water out it's mouth. I've heard conflicting reports that this was just a fountain, and others saying it was a small bumper boat or RC boat attraction, but my guess is it was just a fountain as it seems like a pretty small pool. The same year, fiberglass dragon waterslides were added to the Quality Inn pool. Although bearing striking resemblance to Costello's dinosaurs and Dazzleland dragon, at least one more of each of the dragon slides exist, all the way down in Texas. It was originally thought this Texas waterpark bought them off HOCO when Quality Inn closed, but one of the Quality Inn dragons appeared on an episode of shipping wars going to Kansas and the other was recently found abandoned on a private residential property in Niagara, proving they are in fact not the ones at the Texas waterpark. This is evidence they may have been mass produced.
By the time Dazzleland opened in 1989, it was the 8th arcade on the hill (after Circus World, Q-Balls Billiards Pub in Quality Inn, the arcade in Ripley's, the arcade in the Foxhead, the arcade in Castle Dracula, Funland in the basement of the House of Frankenstein, and an arcade that had recently opened in the Pilgrim Motel in their gift shop.) These were just the large-scale, dedicated arcades right on the hill. Many others could be found nearby in Maple Leaf Village, the Skylon, the Seagram, Pyramid Place and the Imperial Hotel as well as many mini golf courses and family fun centres along Lundy's Ln. and the QEW. Also, virtually every gift shop on Clifton Hill and Victoria Ave. had a game or 2.
The mix of arcades, haunted houses, fast food, nightlife and stores selling t-shirts and posters had started a well-known rock culture in Niagara Falls among Southern Ontario youth. The epicenter of this was "Rock World", a rock-themed gift shop that had opened in 1983 on Centre St. (the street Clifton Hill becomes just above Victoria Ave.) They would later add a second story and build Rock Legends Wax Museum above it, with all the figures sculpted by the store's owner Pasquale Rammuno. In 1996, Maple Leaf Village was replaced by Casino Niagara, and many of the attractions found new homes on Victoria Ave., including Screamers and Nightmares. The Elvis Museum, Antique Auto Museum, 50s diner nightclub, and arcade all moved to Pyramid Place adjacent to the IMAX pyramid. Screamers prospered on Victoria Ave., and 2 "sequel attractions" were built in the early 2000s: Creatures of the Night on Victoria Ave. and Horror Manothe Zombie Zoo Nightclub on Centre St. Another attraction, Alien Encounter, would open at the corner of Victoria Ave. and Clifton Hill beside the Criminals Hall of Fame. This slightly thematically darker "north of the hill" area with the Screamers chain, the Criminals Hall of Fame, Rock Legends, Nightmares and Alien Encounter became a "main strip" all in it's own.
As mentioned before, since the cabin courts were all town down in the early 50s, nothing had been torn down on Clifton Hill. The only exception was the Houdini Hall of Fame that burnt to ash in 1996. Some of Houdini's Last Words were claiming that anything revealing his secrets would perish in flame, and even though the fire completely leveled the museum, the plywood and fiberglass paneled House of Frankenstein only separated from it by a 2-foot wide alley was completely untouched, leading a lot of Houdini's fans to believe he was conducting some kind of post-mortem practical joke. The metal objects like handcuffs and the water tank could be saved, and were bought by David Copperfield. Ripley's Moving Theatre was built in it's place. Over the 30 years from Tussaud's opening in 1959 to Dazzleland in 1989, Clifton Hill had expanded and filled up the land. However that didn't mean it was time to tear things down. Things were simply moved around or remodeled to keep them fresh, not out of an unwillingness to change, but because these things had become ingrained in the landscape. Examples of this were Tussaud's moving to its current home in the old building of a restaurant that had since moved on Victoria Ave., rather than the attraction shutting down, or the Adventure Dome Theatre oepneing in part of the Honeymoon City's gift shop. In Tussaud's old place was built the MGM walkthrough/store, Pink Panther ride and 4D Ride in 2002. The beer garden beside it was replaced with the WWE building and the Piledriver ride, but the beer area was moved to between the 2 attractions. In 2004 the Foxhead's arcade was expanded and re-themed into the Marvel Superheros Adventure City.
Another great example of re-freshing an existing attraction was Dazzleland. A simple realization was made, more games = more money and higher guest enjoyment. The outdoor courtyard style with it's room for walkways between the buildings was re-designed, and HOCO again called upon WHLLG. WHLLG designed not only a remodel of Dazzleland, but an incredible 5-step plan that would have made Clifton Hill financially on par with a major theme park. Steps 1-3 came to fruition. Step 1 was remodeling Dazzleland into the Great Canadian Midway in 2002. The level, concrete foundation Dazzleland was built on was kept as the foundation of the Midway, hence why it has the same layout. The former video game building at the back became the FX Ride Theatre (now XD Theatre/Wild West Coaster) in the Midway. The funnel cake shop was kept where it was in Dazzleland except now it was in the Midway, between the FX Ride and the Prize Counter. The area housing Dazzleland's ticket redemption games became the Game Factory. The middle building housing the claw games and kiddie rides was demolished, as it was no longer needed because the Midway was fully indoors and there was now a massive space to put games. The sports bar was expanded and became Boston Pizza, so Dinosaur Park was moved to in front of the Comfort Inn. Under the expanded Boston Pizza, Sally Corp. was hired to build the interactive Ghostblasters dark ride. All of Dazzleland's old games made the transition into the Midway, however very few are still around.
With the Midway making serious buck, HOCO went ahead with phase 2 of WHLLG's plan. Movieland was moved to Circus World's former location in 2005, and Circus World's owners moved the attraction to what was then the popular Victoria Ave. area. In Movieland's old home, Cosmic Golf, a blacklight golf was temporarily set up. 2 years later in 2007, the golf moved to it's permanent home in the basement becoming Galaxy Golf and the gift shop that had been formerly in the basement was moved upstairs. Movieland retained all the figures and sets they had at the time of the move, moving them all into the new space. All the scary elements were put in the new "House of Horrors", a small optional haunted house at the end of the attraction.
Phase 3 involved beginning to demolish the only thing that WHLLG's 5 phase plan would have torn down: Quality Inn. In it's place an amusement park would have been built, anchored by Canada's largest ferris wheel. The wheel would be phase 3 and the amusement park phase 4. Though both WHLLG and HOCO recognized the historical value of the hotel, it had reasons to go. The hotel may have been full of your usual hazardous mid-century building materials (however Comfort Inn built by the same firm the same year was found to have no hazardous materials when it was torn down in 2015, so who knows) but the main issue was elevators and the amount of space it took up. Comfort Inn only had 2 wings, one on each side of the lobby, and only 2 elevators would have needed to be installed. This wasn't legally necessary, as no law states that buildings of age absolutely have to be 100% accessible, it was more something HOCO wanted to do. Quality Inn had multiple wings that weren't accessible from one another, so an elevator would need to be installed in each wing. In addition to the elevator issue, Comfort Inn was chosen as the hotel to keep because the building was integrated with Kelsey's, Rumors Nightclub, Ripley's, and Dinosaur Park, all of which wouldn't have been touched in WHLLG's 5 phase plan. Finally, Comfort Inn's land wasn't big enough for an amusement park whereas Quality Inn's was. 2 things would justify the demolition of Quality Inn. One, it's sister hotel, Comfort Inn, would have been kept. The other reason justifying the demolition would be phase 5: a skyscraper hotel and indoooutdoor waterpark in the field between Clifton Hill and the Skylon Tower. The dragon figures from Quality Inn's pool were kept in HOCO's storage for a time for this waterpark. The final vision can be seen here.
Phase 3 would go ahead in 2006, with the lobby, Golden Griddle and Q-Balls Billiard pub of Quality Inn being torn down and the Skywheel built in it's place. For the last year Quality Inn was open, you would need to register at Comfort Inn's lobby. The same year, the Space Spiral was torn down, as 2 observation attractions wouldn't be needed on the hill. However, a new spiral tower would have been constructed during phase 4 in the theme park. The reason the tower would be demolished rather than moved was because a tower manufactured by the same company in Wildwood, NJ, had begun to sway a few years earlier, resulting in it needing to be removed entirely for safety reasons. Phase 4 was set to go ahead in 2010, so in 2009 the remainder of Quality Inn was demolished. It seemed as though everything would fall into place, and with the exception of Quality Inn making it's sacrifice, everything on Clifton Hill that had been there for 20-60 years would be there forever, just greatly expanded on.
Unfortunately, this came at a turning point for Clifton Hill, when the recession was in full swing and tourism had declined since 9/11. Changing technology and interests, but no real nostalgia trend yet, created a perfect storm, and the idea was scrapped. Especially now that there would be no amusement park, a lot of area attractions closed. HOCO now needed to find a new design company to completely re-design the project. The problem was, Quality Inn was already torn down to make way for the amusement park. HOCO reluctantly found a new design company who had no projects under their belt yet, IDS. HOCO was hopeful the Canadian company could help give them a similar vision to their previous 5 stage plan, that would help them re-use many of the already implemented stages and despite scrapping the amusement park, would simply scale down and redesign the hotel. This was done in hopes that the city would be much more likely to approve just another high rise hotel than an amusement park as well. IDS' new plan was much different than what HOCO was looking for. It featured tearing down Ripley's, Comfort Inn, Kelsey's, and Rumours Nightclub and building a Titanic Museum shaped like the boat. It also featured building a large mall within the hotel rather than a waterpark and relocating and expanding Dinosaur Park into Dinosaur Adventure Golf on Quality Inn's old land. While HOCO thankfully chose not to go ahead with the mall and Titanic Museum, they would build Dinosaur Adventure Golf and work with IDS to make a more feasible plan that better suited Clifton Hill.
The new plan featured Dinosaur Adventure Golf and Strike! Rock 'n Bowl as phase 1. It also included removing a lot of the thematic brand identity elements WHLLG had implemented to coincide with their final amusement park vision and replacing Galaxy Golf with Wizard's Golf as phase 2. Phase 3 would feature tearing down Comfort Inn (that never got it's elevators due to it no longer being planned to be kept), building Niagara Speedway in it's place, and removing Rumors Nightclub to accommodate the new Kelsey's bathrooms and Zombie Attack. Phase 4 would feature remodelling Wendy's, Boston Pizza and Kelsey's. Phase 5 would feature a mall (no hotel) in the field between Dinosaur Adventure Golf and the Skylon, but this final phase will likely never come to fruition.
Multiple attractions have closed since the late 2000's, such as the entire Screamers chain, Circus World, The Criminals Hall of Fame, Funland Arcade and Alien Encounter. The Hilltop Motel became the current home of the Upside Down House, and the Pilgrim Motel became Captain Jack's. Ironically, the only part of the building that's not part of the entertainment centre is a Mini Mart at the back that was the original arcade in the Pilgrim. Virtually everything in the Falls. Ave. complex other than Rainforest Cafe and the 4D theatre is gone. Marvel Superheroes Adventure City lost its license after Disney bought Marvel, and it simply became Adventure City. The Hulk Mini Golf became jungle themed, Spider-Man references were (poorly) removed from the dark ride, and X-men referenced were (also poorly) removed from the bumper cars. References to Marvel can still be found in the arcade, such as Spider-Man's face on a tree that was only covered up a few years ago. The WWE Store, after being abandoned since 2012, was turned into the Niagara Brewery Beer Store in 2016, fitting considering the land's history as a beer garden. Planet Hollywood on Falls Ave. closed around 2014, and is still abandoned. The MGM walkthrough was abandoned for over 10 years before becoming a barbecue restaurant in 2019.
The changes in the Falls Ave. complex are an example of good change, replacing abandoned attractions with ones that if anything are closer to what used to be there, such as Adventure City becoming an unthemed arcade again or the Beer Store being where the Beer Garden once was. Another example of this good change would be the long abandoned (and burnt) Adventure Dome that had briefly held a Lego attraction being turned into the Amazing Big Top Mirror and Lazer Maze in 2017. However a perfect example of negative change is the Rock Legends Wax Museum being forced out of business because a YouTube video of the museum was flagged for copyrighted music by YouTube's algorithms. This lead Sony Music to investigate the museum and shut it down last year if it wouldn't pay ridiculous licensing fees, which it couldn't afford.
Another example is IDS' redevelopment plan. HOCO is now locked in a contract with them, even though they obviously have very different ideas on the direction of Clifton Hill. Phase 1 was implemented in 2011, with Boston Pizza expanding their arcade to include Strike! Rock 'n Bowl and Dinosaur Park moving to where Quality Inn was and being renamed Dinosaur Adventure Golf. All of Costello's original dinosaurs (with the exception of the original Pterodactyl) would "migrate" to the new location where they would be joined by dozens of new mass-produced dinosaurs. Interestingly, foundations were built back in 2011 for the original 2 Brontosaurs to appear as if they were coming out of the ponds, but they wouldn't show up until 2019 when they were brought back out of storage to be installed, only to lay on the ground for a few months before going back into storage. Although it didn't use new hand-made figures, this attraction was a change that fits the spirit of Clifton Hill and was a good replacement for the empty plot of land that had once housed Quality Inn, even if an amusement park would have been better. The same cannot be said about the rest of IDS' plan. Many thematic elements installed throughout the hill by WHLLG (especially in Movieland and the Midway) were removed in phase 2 in 2013 simply to fit with IDS's image better, costing HOCO a lot of money. Phase 3 went ahead in 2015, and the 60 year old Comfort Inn was demolished, along with the old HOCO offices in it that if you remember from part 1, was the original nearly 200 year old stable building for the Zimmerman estate. Niagara Speedway was built in it's place, and if you look at the prices to drive it, then watch how many people do, you realize just how much they're making off it. Rumors Nightclub, originally the Queen's Door Nightclub in 1956, was gutted and turned into Zombie Attack and the new Kelsey's bathrooms, as the old ones had been in the Comfort Inn building. Phase 4 in 2018 extensively remodeled Wendy's as well as Boston Pizza, removing the patio.
Ghostblasters is now the final untouched WHLLG era attraction on the land. This is made even more troubling by the fact the signs for it were just removed and replaced with temporary ones, as I said in the post that started the entire discussion on whether or not I should do this series. If the attraction does go, we can only hope that a new interactive dark ride utilizing artistry, dimensional scenes and props much like Ghostblasters does is built, however that likely won't be the case. Triotech is the lead designer of ride through shooting games, that feature a dark ride car that travels through a hallway with screens on each side of it rather than real props. Triotech has dealt with HOCO before, building both the Wild West Coaster and Zombie Attack, so all signs point to one of these attractions replacing Ghostblasters if it closes.
There is still hope that Clifton Hill can retain it's spirit, but it stands at a crossroads. The House of Frankenstein for example, while retaining many original scenes, has had many removed and replaced with nothing, and many areas of the museum taken out entirely. Castle Dracula on the other hand hasn't updated a thing, but hasn't cared for the original scenes either, leaving them to fall into disrepair and only having 7 or 8 of the original 70 still lit, and none of them still functional. There are 2 directions Clifton Hill can go. With many attractions like the ones on HOCO's side being demolished to make way for whatever is trendy and lucrative, and many hanging on by a thread like Castle Dracula or Ghostblasters, the Hill is in real danger of becoming an endlessly overturning and developing area. However, with money recently being poured back into attractions like the Haunted House, Ripley's, and Guinness and attractions being redeveloped like the Falls Ave. complex or the Big Top Mirror maze, there is hope. If people, including the companies that own them, can recognise the historical value of attractions like Castle Dracula, The House of Frankenstien, Movieland, Tussaud's, etc., this can be promoted and the recent nostalgia boom can create large profits if this is played up. Additionally, future developments can still be more in the vein of what WHLLG envisioned for Clifton Hill, or what the Burlands recently did with the well done Big Top Mirror Maze. This is both profitable and economically sensible, as repeat customers that make memories and come to the area for generations with occasional new updates/re-themings (like what Clifton Hill did from the 50s-2010s), is far more profitable than a constantly turning over wave of new developments that cost millions to build that changes with each generation.
Thank you to everyone who has followed this series. Sorry for the length of this, but I promised this would be the last installment, so it has to be longer. If you have any information pertaining to Dazzleland or anything you know that I didn't cover in this series, let me know. Additionally, if you would like me to dig up photos on anything that I mentioned in the series, let me know, as unless it's the Dazzleland dragon, I probably have a photo of it. I will likely post many of them here anyway in time. Thanks again.
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OBLIGATORY FILLER MATERIAL – Just take a hard left at Daeseong-dong…7

Continuing
Well, when the props fouled the third time, I suggested we call it a day, as we’d already made some 32 sea-kilometers. We were out on the fringes of the worst of the kelp forest beds, and after a good night’s sleep, we’d be ready to deploy bright and early and get some seismic data acquired and recorded.
But, first, there was the first night aboard ship. In a rusty old tin-can with few creature comforts, as the annual winter monsoon winds wane and the seas actually begin to settle slightly.
I took that as both good omens. The bitching and kvetching I head from the locals about the ‘abominable weather they had to endure’, even from the Coast Guard types, really struck me as uproariously funny.
I just chalked it up to being sequestered from the rest of the world for so long. Put these characters in the path of a Midwestern tornado, East Indian summer monsoon, or Siberian blizzard, and they’d shit themselves blind. I didn’t really think too much of it, although it became somewhat of a game when the imperialistic foreigners tried to one-up each other with horror stories from excursions past.
“No shit”, Dax said, “We were snowed in for a full fortnight.”
“No!” several of us recoiled in mock horror.
“Oh, yah, hey.” Dax continued, “It’s just great when blizzards snap the power lines, and all the toilets freeze. The house cat didn't die until we burned up all our wood. Considering we ate her raw, she tasted pretty good…”
Several of our handlers, a few in the Coast Guard and most of the Korean scientists reacted rather badly to Dax’s story; especially when it had been gorily translated.
Seeing this, Dax stood up, got the soju bottle, and asked if anyone needed a top-up. I asked while puffing away on a large Jamaican cigar if anyone needed a smoke.
At this point, Dax was winning. He had seven of the assembled crowd run to the rail to relieve themselves of our canned Chinese dinner.
Not ever one to shrink from a challenge, I related my second-hand story of my Brother-in-law, who was in the US Coast Guard for years and years. I waited for the green crowd to re-join us and regain what remained of their composure. I figured the quasi-military national Coast Guarders here would appreciate the tale.
Mine wasn’t a gory or shocking tale, just one of the incredible water conditions off the coast of California.
I waited until everyone was settled, drink in hand, and smokin’ ‘em if you got ‘em.
“Well”, I said, “It was on board a ship much like the one we’re currently on,” I said as a rascal wave broke over the railing in counterpoint. “About the same size as this vessel, but with smaller wheels. You know these Coast Guard shallow-water boys”, I chuckled. Always meaning to jab one group or another in the place where I know it stings.
Yeah, I’m a real bastard that way sometimes.
The Korean Coast Guarders sneered hardly at me; but not too hard. They liked my cigars, cigarettes, and open disbursement policy too much.
“Yeah, anyways”, I continued, “He was offshore California in one of the US Coast Guard cutters. It was a boat about 26 meters or so in length. They were out doing search and rescue after a mega-nasty storm blew in from the west and scuttled a sailing regatta race.”
I was drawing them in with my ‘just so’ story, nice and easy, until…
“Yeah, there were several capsized monohulls, catamarans and trimarans. Damn, these things were fucking yachts. Owned by rich idiots that almost knew how to sail but didn’t know enough to get out of the way of a fucking severe storm…”
I really had their attention with ‘soaking the rich’.
“Well, the waves grew and grew, but my Brother-in-laws's boat was built to handle severe weather. These patrol and rescue boat has the capability to roll over 360 degrees and self-right within 30 seconds. Like right now, you’d never even notice this degree rock and roll”, I said as I demonstrated with my cigar, tracing out tighter and tighter rolls, and higher degrees of rocking and rolling.
“They were approaching a capsized trimaran, but the waves kept growing and growing…” I said, leading by example and having them watch me with unblinking attention.
“The waves grew and grew, and normally you’d take these head-on. But that was impossible, because when afternoon came it was slashin' rain, in the face of a hurricane west wind. The boat rolled to the left, heeled, almost keeled, a then rolled the other way just as quickly.” I noted.
They followed me as I timed it with the heavings of our own boat, to the left…to the right…
“Then, just as they were about to reach upon the trimaran, a rogue wave! Out of nowhere”, I said, rocking and rolling along with our own little boat, “BAM! Hit amidships! It didn’t roll once, it rolled twice!” I made great and magniloquent gestures of a tiny boat being savaged by a monstrous rogue sea wave.
I stood up, blew a great blue cloud of smoke towards the poop deck, and said, loudly, “Rolled over once. A full 360! Then rolled right over again. A full 720 degrees!” as I demonstrated what happened with my cigar and drink.
The eyes following me rolled and rolled as well. Some straight back into the owner’s head and some to the left, some to the right…it was like ‘Loose Slots’ night in Vegas, they were rolling and rolling.
And then racing for the rails. Topside to deliver the remains of their hearty canned dinners.
“Beat you, Dax!” I smiled as I sat back down, “I got nine with that at one. And two of them were Coasties!”
“Did that really happen?” Ivan asked.
“According to my Brother-in-law. But he’s an engineer if you know what I mean…” I smiled.
We concluded story night as we had drifted free of the kelp forest and the Captain of the boat decided he’d risk an anchorage for the night. The weather was ameliorating, the seas calming themselves down, and the wind dropping a couple of notches on the Beaufort Scale.
“Well, gents”, I said, “I need some air. The aroma down here of Chinese Aplo™ for dinner, those who didn’t make it to the rails, and the solitary head for the entire crew has lost its charm. If you’ll excuse me”, I said as I grabbed a bottle of ersatz vodka, and several cans of Taedonggang beer, “I’ll be on the aft deck; in my comfy chair and contemplating the wonder of it all.”
With that, I ventured up the stairs and out onto the aft deck.
Dax naturally followed and he found his own not-bolted-down deck chair. We had a constant flow of visitors, foreign and nationals alike. It was shaping up to be a fine night for being out under the stars, there was no light pollution at all. We sat in our chairs, drank our drinks, smoked our smokes, and argued the finer points of astronomy as seen from this part of the world.
I had several side chats with the scientists and academicians from the Korean side. They all had one thing on their minds. Well, one thing after cigars and cigarettes. They wanted Western scientific journals. They were actually trying to bribe me to get those copies, any age, any subject; of Science, AAPG Explorer, and SEPM Proceedings, anything of Western science as it is today. I said they were welcome to a couple of copies of Science and SPE journals I had brought with as an afterthought, for free. With 900 won to the dollar, they needed every won they could get. I wasn’t about to take anything for the free dissemination of knowledge.
However, if they saw it fit to buy me a drink or seven, I wouldn’t object.
In reality, I’d buy those as well.
We made secret pacts to meet at the hotel-casino the night before we left, whenever the fuck that would be. We had a lot of work before us as it stands. It won’t be for a few weeks, I reminded them.
They had no problem. If I could ask the other in the team if they’d do likewise, the appreciation would be palpable.
Great. Now I have to go get my field notebooks and make some more new entries.
Dax cratered around 0100. I elected to stay the night and sleep under the stars as the boat slowly rocked one way and rolled the other. It was quiet, dark as a tomb, and brilliantly lit up by the stellar backbone of the night once the clouds fumbled out. Tomorrow looked as if it were to be bright and sunny if the gentle westerlies had anything to say about the next day’s conditions.
The next day dawned early, bright, and ridiculously sunny as it usually does when the monsoons have departed and it had stopped raining.
“OK.”, I thought, “Time for a hearty breakfast. For someone else. I wonder what’s available here.”
I ventured down to the cold galley and there were several boxes of dry Chinese breakfast cereal, “Shredded Tweet” and the like, some sort of obviously aged bakery, and a case of Taedonggang beer.
“Hmmm”, I mused out loud, “Beer and rice crispies. Breakfast of champions.”
Dax walks in, rubbing his eyes. He sees me drowning my rice cereal in foamy ersatz milk.
“Reminds me of field camp!” I smiled as I chowed on the morning’s offerings.
After our ‘hearty’ breakfast, all the scientific parties gathered in the main stateroom. It was cramped, but the walls were magnetic and we could hang maps, well, charts actually since we’re well offshore now, and plots the day’s course.
Out in the Yellow Sea, we were supposedly over a subsurface, and by dint of being offshore, submarine, dome. Salt dome? Unlikely. Probably more of a shale dome, which isn’t a bad thing when hunting for oil and gas.
Looking at the charts, I ask the locals what our current position was relative to the domal uplift.
After several long moments of silence, I asked again.
“Umm, guys”, I said, “If you’re not going to be forthcoming with something as simple as positional data, then turn this boat 1800’s and take us back to shore. I am fed up, as are my team, with this tight-holing of the simplest of data when you are the knotheads that asked us here for help. We get paid either way, and I for one wouldn’t mind being paid triple to sit in the hotel’s basement and drink”
After telling the translator to translate that last part literally, I sat back, pulled out a really nasty cigar, and went through all the threatening moves of firing it up in the enclosed cabin.
“You will have to excuse us”, came the reply from one of the elders, “We are not used to dealing with oegugseon [foreigners].”
“Are you used to following orders?” I asked brusquely.
“Of course!” came the near-unanimous reply.
“Great. Then consider this an order: You will relay the appropriate information when asked by any Westerner on this cruise. Consider it as coming from the Supreme Leader of this expedition.” I noted.
Using the term ‘Supreme Leader’ was both a bow to their current bad-hair-cut in charge and my desire to let them know I was serious as a kick to the scrotum about the whole fucking deal.
There were a couple of gasps and some consternatious talk, but eventually, one brave soul got up, walked over to the chart, and pointed to our relative location.
“There”, I added, “That wasn’t so hard, was it? Didn’t hurt in the least, did it?”
There were a few chuckles amongst our national colleagues, so I figured that was at least a little progress.
“OK, then”, I continued, “Volna? Ack? You’re up to bat.”
I turned the proceedings over to the geophysicists. They would devise the configuration of the towed array, our speed, direction, charge size, which was based on depth, and all the other geophysical flips and twists one has to do in order to acquire the best data.
This shit doesn’t come cheap. The Mesozoic-Paleozoic marine residual basin in the South Yellow Sea where these domes live is a potentially significant deep potential hydrocarbon reservoir. However, the imaging of the deep prospecting target is quite challenging due to the specific seismic-geological conditions. In the Central and Wunansha Uplifts, the penetration of the seismic wavefield is limited by the shallow high-velocity layers (HVLs) and the weak reflections in the deep carbonate rocks. With the conventional marine seismic acquisition technique, the deep weak reflection is difficult to image and identify. We confirm through numerical simulation that the combination of multi-level impulse source (i.e., explosive) array and extended cable used in the seismic acquisition is crucial for improving the imaging quality.
With that, we’re going to be recording a minimum of four stacks, with a receiver interval of 25 meters. The array will have a shot interval of 50 meters, with a 25 meter near offset, and a 2500 meter far offset. We will attempt to record 180 channels, off-end, with a sampling period of 0.5 seconds, and a record length of 5 seconds. We’ll sail the same course 4 times to verify previous records and attempt to add ‘fold’, i.e., extra data from the same point, to the overall records.
That’s the plan, at least.
Loads of preparation, logistics, and execution.
After a half an hour or so, both Volna and Ack are finished with the national scientists.
They set down their notebooks, pens, notes, and pointers; walk out of the meeting room and directly over to the galley.
“Hungry, fellas?” I inquire.
“Rock?”, Ack asks, “You have explosives here, right? Sink us. Just fucking sink us right now.” As he pours himself and Volna a stiff shot of real vodka.
“Uh, oh. Problems in Dreamland?” I ask, utilizing the derogatory name for the geophysical domain of exploration data.
“Un-be-fucking-believable.”, Volna adds.
“Your colloquial American is coming along well, Volna.” I snickered a bit.
“I learn from you”, he spat, “Cannot believe this. They don’t record while underway. They tow single array and stop. Then drop dynamite over side. They record. Then they do it again. Claim this gives them good fold. This is bullshit. You said devise program. HA! Take us to shore and let me teach them the fucking basics of geophysical acquisition. Then in a few years, we come back and do it right.”
“Oh, fuck”, I reply, wincing, “That bad?”
“Oh, no”, Ack continues, “It’s worse.” As he down 100 milliliters of booze in one draught and pours another for Volna and is own self, “No on-board demultiplexing. No on-board pre-processing. No-onboard QA/QC. No on-board anything. It’s fucking hopeless. Sink us, I’d rather take my chances with the sharks.”
“They can’t do all that stuff or they won’t do all that stuff,” I asked, expecting the worst.
“Oh, it might be possible, with this museum-grade crap they call a computer they have on-board. It’s just time-consuming, tricky, and will need constant attention. But with this raft of sad-sacks, flub-a-dubs and third rate hobbyists?” Ack and Volna agree as one.
“Consider it job security”, I replied, “How about this? One test loop and we use that data to do what’s necessary; just once. Then we can say we’ve shown them the way. After that, I’ll leave it up to the National scientists.”
“Good thing we have 2 full days, Rock”, Volna said, “Because we do a single AC (acquisition) run, it’ll take the rest of the time to show these buggers how it’s done.”
“Ack? You agree?” I asked.
Ack agreed, in spades.
“OK, gentlemen”, I said, “Let’s make it so. About time, too. I haven’t blown anything up in a couple of weeks. I’m getting antsy. Let’s go tell them the good news.”
“NO! WE REFUSE!” was the cheery response from the nationals when Ack, Volna, and I laid out the rather lengthy program for the next couple of days.
“OK. Someone tell the Captain to head for home. We’re done here.” I calmly told our handlers and the translators.
Panic in Pyongyang.
Immediately, there is this hue and cry about how this was not supposed to be how this trip was going to work. This was to be an acquisition trip only. This was to be a one-off to show Best Korea geophysical prowess. This was supposed to be data gathering trip on the Western scientists…
Oops.
That last one was a bit of a mistake.
I turn to one of the translators and ask them to re-translate that last part, just in case I was hearing imaginary things.
“Oh, yes”, he replied, “He said they were here to gather data on the Western Scientists as well as offshore data.”
“Is that a fact?” I reacted. “Please tell them I need to see all my team members on the fantail immediately if you would. Sorry, translators and nationals not included in this little meeting.”
We reconvene on the fantail a few minutes later. I walk in on this little conclave with cigar and drink in hand.
“OK, gents”, I say, puffing a huge blue cloud, swigging a tot, “Here’s what I think we, as responsible international scientists, should do in this regrettable situation. We were asked to come here, with provisions that we would not be under cynosure, observation, or surveillance. Given ‘Open and Free Access’, no questions asked. We were to be treated as “esteemed guests”. This is obviously a load of dingo’s kidneys. I think we need to get as creative as possible and do whatever we can to provide as much deliberate misinformation to these characters to annoy, amaze, or disgust them as much as possible. Comments?”
There’s a general buzz, but no real dissention. After a few moment's discussion, Dax suggests we get a load of XXXXL condoms, and leave them around packaged as “Texas Medium”.
“That’s the spirit”, I reply. “Anyone one else up for a little Psychological Operations on our not-so-clever-nor-truthful hosts?”
We all agree that we will, in our own little way, start a campaign of deliberate misinformation, misdirection, and general petty bullshit nastiness for our hosts to discover and by which be dismayed.
Everyone’s in agreement. This trip has been a rotund bale of jeers from the get-go.
Promises made, promises broken. Itineraries approved then inexplicably disapproved. We make requests, they accede; and then nothing ever happens. It’s most frustrating.
We’re tolerating a lot of horse, bull, cow, and assorted other farmyard excrements; all in the name of international harmony and scientific goodwill. This has been an outgoing one-way street for too long. We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.
“Hellfire and Dalmatians!” I growl, growing angrier every minute I think about the subject, “We need to take the high, low, and middle ground on this offensive. Nothing too overt or obvious; however we need to jank these bastards good. But they can’t realize they’re being janked…!”
Ack cuts in.
“The esteemed Dr. Rock is right. Psychotic...but absolutely right. We got to take these bastards. We could fight them with conventional weapons. That could take years...cost millions of lives. In this case... I think we have to go all out. I think this situation absolutely requires...a really futile and stupid gesture... be done on somebody's part.”
There’s a general buzz among the assembled.
“And we're just the guys to do it.”
Shouts and catcalls of deep agreement.
“Operation ‘Confound-a-Korean’” is now enacted.
“About fucking time!”
“Let’s do it!”
“Dissen gonna be bery messy! Me no watchin!”
“OK, I think, “Who’s the prequel-series wiseass?”
“OK, gentlemen”, I continue, “We continue with our scientific duties. No fucking around there. But, when it comes to…interpretation…opinion…or personal viewpoint; let’s go full impede. Dazzle them with brilliance or baffle them with bullshit.”
We all agree and after a couple of quick rounds of old thought provoker, we realize this trip has just taken a hard left into Wackyland. We will have to let our comrades onshore know of this, but that can wait until we return. Right now, we all have jobs to do. Real jobs, serious jobs, covert and sneaky jobs…
So, it’s back to the recording shack as we lay out the plans for the next couple of days.
Volna begins: “OK, listen up you primitive screwheads. We’re going to assemble and layout a recording array that’s called a Meisenheimer Triplet. You do know what a simple Meisenheimer Triplet is, don’t you?”
There’s a slight murmur from our national friends, but in the end, they all plead ignorance.
“Right. Thought so. A Meisenheimer Triplet is a central towed array flanked by two shorter, subparallel flanking sub-frammitz arrays. We will assemble this array on-board, even though it’s probably going to take every ounce of silver solder and electrician’s tape you’ve got. The amount of data received is orders of magnitude greater than any single Sheriff-sonde array, like the ones you been using.”
Suddenly, there are nods and murmurs of agreement.
“Right”, Volna smiles sinisterly to me, “With that, we’ll need to devise an explosive package, well, actually, a series of explosive packages based on the harmonia of the pre-bottom fore-sets, water depth, tow vehicle velocity, water column density, and decomposition coefficients of the said water column. Oh, yeah. Fish too.”
Volna is really getting into the spirit of the affair.
“Who is your explosives engineer?” Ack asks, “He’s going to have to do some serious number-crunching with all the pre-blast data we’ll need to supply. “
One quick translation and there’s nothing but long faces and querulous looks from our national crowd.
“We have no explosives engineer”, the head Best Korean geophysicist laments. “Explosives are very, very heavily regulated by the government. That’s why we have several Government Observers on board. They handle the explosives.”
“Oh?” Ack remarks, “Are they fully up to speed on the Barnard-Reichmann equations for hydro-displacement of serial charges? Which subset of the marine rarefication coefficients do they employ?”
“Ummm, don’t know.” was the answer.
“Don’t know? Well”, Volna continues, “Then, they must be pretty good with the Langefors-Kihlström formulae, right?”
“No. Not as such.” Came the response.
“I see”, Ack sighs, “Well, then, I guess they must utilize the Il’yushin algorithms then. OK, it’s a bit old school, but they should still work.”
“Ah. Well. No.” was the rejoinder they offered.
“Well, then what the fuck do they use?” Volna explodes, “A modified Ambraseys-Hendorn model? Ghosh-Damen 1? Ghosh-Damen 2? Indian Fargin Standard? Prejaculated Rai-Singh protocols, fer’ chrissake? Which?”
Nothing but shaking heads and wringing hands.
“They take a case of dynamite, wire it up, and throw it overboard with a long fuse.” Was the eventual answer. “That’s why we stop to record.”
Long, exasperated sigh later, “Jesus Q. Tapdancing Christ on a crème cracker. No wonder you never get anything done.” Volna continues, “You characters are in luck. You just happen to be so lucky to have an internationally-renowned Master Blaster right here on board ship today.”
Volna turns the crowd over to me, “Doctor? Do your damnedest. And good luck.”
“Thanks, Volna”, I say, cigar in one hand, stalwart drink in the other, “OK, guys. Here’s the deal. When it comes to explosives and explosive design, I’m the hookin’ bull. No one has authority over me. Not the Captain. Not the boson’s mate. Not the Captain’s Consort even. Nor the guys in the cheap shiny suits. What I say, goes. No exceptions. No hesitation. We green or are we going back to shore?”
Cholog?” they ask.
“Yes. ‘Cholog’. Green. Are we understanding one another? Are we all in agreement? Are you fuckin’ diggin’ me, Beaumont?
There’s some quick back and forth in Korean, a lot of seeming bad noise. Even the shiny suit squad and Coasties join in the fun.
“Grudgingly, we agree. Green as you say, Doctor Rock. You are the one in charge.” Came the head national’s reply.
“Splendid. I’m in charge of the charges.” I chuckle, puffing an enormous cloud of expensive Oscuro smoke, “Volna, Ack; please get me the required parameters. I’ll be in the ordnance locker to see what we’re working with here. C’mon fellas, chop-chop!”
Volna and Ack take their select set of geophysical wishers and wannabes while I get the rest of the locals, the shiny suit squad in reserve, but in tow.
I head off to the ordinance locker.
Dax runs behind “Hey! Wait for me.”
“We have to”, I snigger a reply, “We’re going to need a drinks runner.”
“Marvelous…” was the one-word response.
We get to the locked ordinance locker. It’s one of the few original structures remaining on the ship. The boat was torn down almost to the waterline and re-built for seismic acquisition, but they had enough brains to realize that the source of the seismic signals was usually explosive in nature. Dinoseis and Mini-Sossie were closed books to them.
Therefore, the locker remained intact, however grudgingly.
“Whew! And what a locker.” I whewed. “And what a lock. OK, who’s got the keys?”
There are general hemming and hawing and no one seems to know where the keys for the ordinance locker are kept.
“Well, gents”, I say, pointedly, “I would suggest that one or more of you toddle off and fucking find the goddamn keys or this will turn out to be a very short and unproductive trip, indeed.”
A while later, a bit longer than I personally care for, the boat’s Captain wanders up, all a-scowl and generally pissed-off looking.
“Who here needs the key to the explosives locker?” He asks in his Captainly, no-nonsense manner.
There’s more muttering and murmuring, but eventually, all fingers point toward me.
The Captain looks at me.
“Hello.”
He’s giving me the once over with a LASER stink eye. I don’t know which irritated him the most; the lit cigar, the drink, the Stetson, Hawaiian shirt, cargo shorts, Scottish knee socks or field boots.
“And who the hell are you”? He asks, oh, so wrongly, through an interpreter.
I stand up, fully puffed to full mammalian threat posture and say in a loud steady voice;
“I’m THE Doctor Rocknocker, the MOTHERFUCKING PRO FROM DOVER!, that’s who.”
Since I had a good 6 inches and way too many kilos on him; my loud, American and very un-oriental answer took him completely by surprise.
His eyes got as big as dinner plates and he shakily held out the ring of keys for the explosives locker.
“Why thank you very much”, I said, bowing in his direction ever so slightly. Wasn’t his fault he wasn’t totally clued in on all the recent goings-on aboard his vessel.
I toss the keys to Dax, “Here, earn your keep.” I snickered.
Dax deftly fields the keys, chuckles back, and begins the game of ‘which key for which lock’?
I thank the Captain and explain that I’m the de facto leader of this special education class, and make some pointed, mild epitaphs about landlubbers, national scientists, and the cargo of the totally clueless on board.
He sees I’m not a total boor and relaxes some. We haven’t really had a real introduction, so I grab a translator and engage the Captain in a short, though insightful conversation.
Cigars were exchanged. Handshakes were as well.
Seems he’s just as aggravated by these know-it-alls who really know-fuck-all. We see eye to eye and part friends once Dax finally figures out the combination to the weapons locker.
“Holy fuck!” I exclaim, “Now that’s a door.” I say looking at the slowly-opening covering of the weapon’s portico. Fully five solid inches of solid steel. Triple reinforced hinges. Deadman's latches. Bringles-jams and solid, non-decabulated cast-steel cross-members.
Just the thing to contain an errant blast and send all that excess energy skyward instead of into the bowels of the boat.
OK, bonus points for that design feature.
I look inside, but it’s dark and fragrant as the inside of an irritated oyster in the bottom of the Tonga-Kermadec Trench.
Dax fumbles around and finds the light switch.

FLIP

“Hmmm.” I hmmed. “Well, we’re all set for dynamite, I see.”
Case after case after case of leaking, cheap-ass Chinese knock-off sort-of Du Pont-style 50% dynamite. Box after box of Pseudo-Dyno-Nobel blasting caps. Delaminating, unwinding spools after spool of “PrimUcord”. Sticky “Korea” brand silk-woven coated Demolition Wire.
“Gads.” I sigh. “What a nightmare. Either this stuff goes off when you give it a dirty look or it doesn’t go off at all.”
Dax looks to me, “So, the trip’s a bust. Is that what you’re saying?”
“If we don’t find something that’ll work, probably,” I reply. “This shit’s worthless.”
We continue to search after I shoo everyone but Dax out of the locker. It’s damp and musty in here, smelling disconcertingly of kerosene, gherkins, and old sardines. That’s one sure sign of dynamite going bad. I warn Dax to be extra careful, that this stuff hasn’t had the best of handling. We could be in for an unexpected surprise.
So, we redouble our efforts and are much more circumspect.
Knock-off this and fake-ass that.
All Chinese in origin. It might have worked one day; but after sitting in here, unattended, unturned, and uncared for? I’m ready to both literally and figuratively pull the plug on this whole fiasco.
Dax is all smiles.
“Doctor?” Dax asks, “What is it that would make you happy?”
“A nice fishing boat, a huge never-emptying bank account, endless cigars, and a comfy chair back in the north of Baja Canada in a tavern on a good fishing lake,” I replied.
“Well”, Dax smiles, “I can’t do that, but how about this?” as he opens a cleverly hidden door.
I look in, let my eyes adjust to the low-light scenario to see no lakes, no huge bank accounts, nor fishing boats; but what I do see makes me smile wide.
It’s a sub-locker full of familiar Made-in-the-USA, True Blue, American-manufacture cyclo-trimethylene-tri-nitramine, or Good Ol’ C-4 explosive. Block after lovely hexahedral block of the stuff.
“Dax”, I say, “Take a gold star out of petty cash. You’ve just saved the mission.”
“I’ll settle for a tall vodka and one of your cigars”, Dax smiles.
“Later”, I say, “We now have a little job which to attend.”
With C-4, designing the impulse charges is seriously a walk in the park. They’re already waterproof, so all I need is water depth and the number of seconds to which they want to record data. I can bundle a series of blocks of the stuff, charge them with a couple-three or four, just in case, blasting caps, and connect them with stout lengths of demolition wire. These will be dragged, with a ‘Herring Dodger’, to control depth, behind the boat as we are underway.
It’s a novel idea, I know. One that’s only been in use in the west for about 60 years.
We’ll drag a daisy chain of C-4 packets. One after another, individual charges in the packets will detonate milliseconds apart. I can bundle the packets so that we can run a charge string of up to 12 discrete packets which will attenuate the amplification of the arrhythmic flux, I tell one of my Korean onlookers.
With this set-up, we can record data for literally sea-miles.
First, we will moosh the C-4 into a flattened, semi-hydrodynamically stable pancake or airfoil, OK, hydrofoil, shape; wire three or five of them together, charge them, then repeat.
Depending on what parameters Volna and Ack supply, the chain will just be a number of similar packets, trailing one after the other, detonating from back to front; down below the hydrophones, but well above the seafloor.
We know that the hydrophones will be at or very near the surface, but we need to know, explicitly, the basal bathymetry of the area we're about to shoot. Wouldn’t do anyone any good if we drove over a seafloor hump and dragged the C-4 over it to have it detonate prematurely.
Or not at all.
So, we need to plot our course and sail it today while we get the hydrophone arrays built and we image the seafloor where we’re going to do some blasting. After that, it’ll probably be an all-nighter to create the blasting strings so we can spend the next day recording, and then head for home as we’re nearly out of victuals and potables.
At least, that’s the plan.
I convene a quick meeting and we plot a course on the latest charts. 30 kilometers of recording.
Shit, that’s going to be a lot of explosives. Doable, but a pain.
Remembering the quality of the recording equipment, I suggest we do a test run in the morning of just 5 kilometers. If that works, and we can up it in increments.
Dax, Sagong the head Korean geophysicist, and I go to visit the Captain.
We visit the Captain and lay out our plans. He has no objections, as were in Best Korean waters and there are no obstacles out here like sunken wrecks, kelp forests, American aircraft carriers, or other impediments.
With that, we tell him to align the ship and let us know when he can begin doing the recon sortie.
He says that he can do that immediately, and before we're out of the pilothouse, we’re recording bathymetric, i.e., depth, data. The technology’s not much different, nor advanced, than a standard Lake Winnebago fish finder, so that’s one disaster sorted.
We are sailing along in a series of parallel straight lines, which when the data are played back and deconvoluted, will give us a good idea of the bathymetry which we’ve been motoring over. It’ll basically give us both a depth map and a surface, ok, bottom, map of the seafloor above which we’re sailing. A little basic submarine hyperbolic quantum trigonometry and well, we have the data we need to plug into the various equations to see what we’ll require when we want to record seismic data to 5000 milliseconds.
With that, there’s not much else to do until we have the survey map. I dragoon Dax and Cliff into helping me inventory the explosives bunker.
“The hell with the dynamite, PrimUcord, and other Oriental-Knockoff Horseshit”, I instruct my helpers, “Let’s just count up the C-4, and see what our tally is. Oh, yeah, give me a tally of the blasting caps. Gotta use those ratty bastards, they’re the only actuators here I sort of, kind of, trust.”
With Dax, myself, and Cliff, we’re done in less than an hour. I decide that I’ll be the keeper of the keys and take them back to the Captain my own self. Rules of engagements, chain of command and all that hogwash.
I hand the keys over to the Captain and instruct the co-pilot to make an entry in the logbook that I returned the key to the Captain, this date, this time.
“By the book. It’s not just a good idea, it’s the law.” I muse.
To be continued
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OBLIGATORY FILLER MATERIAL – Just take a hard left at Daeseong-dong…5

Continuing
“Hey, Viv!”, I say, as we’re all being shuttled onto the bus which will take us to our hotel, “Toss me one of those miniatures, if you please. Yeah. Of course, Vodka’ll do. It’s bloody dusty round these parts.”
Viv chuckles and asks if anyone else wants anything. He’s a consummate scrounger and somehow sweet-talked a demure and pulchritudinous female Air China cabin attendant out of her phone number, Email address, and a case of 100 airline liquor miniatures.
That he looks like a marginally graying version of Robert Mitchum in his heyday and speaks fluent Dutch, French, and Italian might explain his success. I mean, a guy with four ex-wives can’t be all wrong, right?
He’s a definite outlier in this crowd. We could be characterized as a batch of aging natural geoscientists who collectively, sans Viv, add up to an approximate eight on the “Looker” scale. Besides the years, the mileage, the climatic, and industrial ravages, it’s a good thing we all have expansive personalities, as most of us are dreadful enough to make a buzzard barf.
But, save for Viv, no one presently here is on the make. Oh, sure; we’ll all sweet talk some fair nubile into a free drink or a double when we really ordered a regular drink, but we’re all married, most terminally, that is, over 35 years and counting. The odd thing is that save and except for Viv, none of us married folk had ever been divorced.
That is strange, considering that the global divorce rate hovers around 50%, and we are often called to be apart from kith and kin for prolonged periods. However, we are always faithful and committed to our marital units and those vows we spoke all those many long decades ago.
But, hey, we’re all seriously male and not anywhere near dead; and there’s no penalty for just looking, right?
Continuing.
We’re all loaded on a pre-war, not certain which war, by the way, bus which stank of fish, kimchee, and diesel fuel. We really don’t care even a tiny, iotic amount. It’s free transport, we’re tired of traveling, and not keen on walking any further than we absolutely have to.
Viv has been passing out boozy little liquor miniatures, and I’ve been handing out cigars since I bought a metric shitload back in Dubai Duty-Free and somehow got them all through customs.
We didn’t light up, as there was neither a driver nor handler present. So, we figured we’d all just wait on the cigars, and concentrate on having a little ground-level “Welcome to Best Korea” party until the powers that be got their collective shit together and provided drivers, herders, and handlers.
We sat there for 15 long minutes. Being the international ambassadors of amity and insobriety, we started making noises like “Hey! Where’s our fucking driver?” and “I am Doctor Academician! Of All State Russian Geological Survey! How dare you make me wait?
Suddenly, a couple of characters in ill-fitting gray suits and fake Rays Bans are outside the bus having a collective meltdown. Somehow, someone fucked up and put us on a ‘regular’ bus and not the ‘VIP’ bus. In other words, we got to see what the locals really got to ride around Pyongyang on instead of our supposed to be impressed by the bus that wasn’t there; but was now just arriving.
A spanking new purple-and-chrome Mercedes long-haul bus shows up. It even has our group name emblazoned above the placard that normally tells where the bus is headed or who it is for: “’국제 석유 지질 과학 연합’ [Gugje Seog-yu Jijil Gwahag Yeonhab] or ‘International Union of Petroleum Geological Sciences’”.
We are brusquely ordered off our present bus and into the opulent, obviously bespoke, bright yellow faux-leather interior Mercedes-Benz Tourismo RH M. It’s so new and so obviously a ploy to get us to think that all things here are so new and opulent, it even smells of that new car, ah, bus, aroma.
“Well, we’ll take care of that soon enough”, I muse, as the bus is equipped with ashtrays and we’re going on the scenic route to our hotel, which is only 25 or so kilometers from the airport. However, it was announced that it’ll take us about 2 hours to get to our hotel since we need to see the city in its best light and get a feeling for the town if we should ever find ourselves lost and alone.
We all know what’s going on. They’re getting our rooms ‘ready’ for our arrival and need some extra time to make sure everything’s all wired in and transmitting properly.
“Guys”, I muse to our new handlers, “I’ve been to the Soviet Union, pre-wall fall. I stayed in places where I was definitely among the first westerners ever to grace their porticos. We’re a busload of natural scientists, of eight different nationalities, covering the economic spectrum from staunch capitalism to sociable socialism to hard-core communism. You even think for a second we’re going to spill any beans about anything you’d find interesting or useful? Think again.”
In fact, it would become a running joke between us all to see what sort of fake bombshells we could drop into the normal conversation what would give the listener’s the greatest case of the jibblies.
But for now, our bags were all loaded into the cargo compartment of this very, very nice, I must admit, mode of conveyance. Our handlers: ‘Yuk’, ‘No’, ‘Man’, and ‘Kong’, are all seated upfront and please with their latest tally of bodies. We have a couple of shady fellow travelers with the knock-off Ray-Bans and shiny gray suits that just appeared out of the woodwork in the back, seated by the loo, watching over all of us, and we’re going on a fucking city tour, whether we like it or not.
We’re all present and accounted for. Let’s keep our camera in our bags for the time being as the drinking and smoking lights had just been lit as the bus fired up its new German-engineered and machined precision diesel engine.
The bus rumbled to life and after a moment or two of checking that all dials, gauges, and indicators were where they were supposed to be; without so much as a cursory glance, we pulled out into traffic.
Except there was none.
Not another bus, pushbike, tap-tap, scooter, car, truck, hover-board, or motorcycle in sight.
Nothing.
Seems we were a big deal. They shut down the main drag so we wouldn’t be encumbered by such proletariat things like traffic jams or people-things cluttering the roadway, clambering for a look at the Western scientific cadre.
So, away we whizzed, sans traffic and into the very belly of the beast, and onward; eventually, towards our hotel.
Our handlers were very kind to point out passing scenes of interest.
“Look, look! There’s the Potong River. Notice all the lovely birds, ‘eh what? See the Norwegian Blue? Beautiful plumage!”
“See here, look. Here’s the Taedong River. Many forms of fish in the river. Maybe we’ll see some fishermen. If you like, we can stop, and ask them about today’s catch.”
We all declined, as we were certain that the fish the ‘random fisherman’ we’d talk to was flown in fresh from elsewhere earlier in the day.
Besides, we were comfortable. We had our drinks, our cigars, and we were leaving the driving to someone else.
After being driven around the city and seeing all the wonderful monuments, like the faux Arch of Triumph, which looks exactly unlike its namesake Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile in Paris.
The Arch of Reunification, a monument to the goal of a reunified Korea, which, by necessity, is unfinished. Then there’s the Tomb of King Tongmyŏng, where people are lining up, just dying’ to get in.
Finally, we all called for our hotel, the Yanggakdo, after yet another mausoleum, the Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun.
Arches or tombs. Such a stunning array of monuments and places of less than moderate interest.
We were interested in Mirae Scientists street (Future Scientists street). It is a street in a newly developed area in Pyongyang to house scientific institutions of the Kim Chaek University of Technology and its employees. But we were told that it was too late, there was not much there to see, we needed to express written permission to visit, and we’d be going there tomorrow or next week.
We wheel into the parking lot of the Yanggakdo Hotel and are immediately unimpressed by the pseudo-Baroque concrete fiasco that appears to stand, wobbly, before us. It’s a page right out of the Soviet Construction-For-The-Masses Handbook. A cold, gray concrete edifice with multitudes of seemingly little, tiny windows. A perfect metaphor for our travels thus far; look at the expansiveness of Best Korean wonders, through this pinhole.
However, we judged too soon. We were told to go inside and check-in, whilst our luggage would be de-bussed for us and handled by the expertly efficient hotel staff. The lobby was opulent, tastefully laid out in earth tones of facades of veneers of marble, granite, some garnet-mica schist, if my hand lens doesn’t lie, some Prepaleozoic anatectic migmatite, displaying intricate and intense plication, xenoliths, and graphic delineation of minerals by segregation through melting points. There was a gigantic well-appointed and well kept up aquarium, complete with snuffling sharks and nuclear-submarine sized groupers.
Very handsome indeed. Impressions increasing slightly.
Then we see that there’s a bloody casino on the bottom floor of the hotel, several bars interspersed throughout the hotel, and karaoke, of which I’m not terribly fond, but some of my European counterparts almost swooned at the prospect. There are a large pool and weight rooms/gymnasia, saunas and places to relax outside of one’s room, but still under the watchful eye of the thousands of ill-concealed video cameras at every turn.
“Covert surveillance” may be a thing in Best Korea, but it’s a practice still leaves a lot to be desired. The Eastern Siberian Russians back before the wall fell were more covert with their obvious button audio microphones woven into the fabric covering the headboard of your Intourist bed than the Best Koreans here. Their cameras were ‘disguised’ as flower arrangements, overhead lights, and speakers inexplicably placed into things like standing ashtrays, refuse bins, and randomly placed holes in the wall.
The floors were all covered with exquisite what looked to be hand-woven rugs of most vibrant crimson and gold; the usual Communistic colors. Always with some sort of floral pattern or pattern that’s supposed to be reflective of nature, as I was told. Evidently, for workers to remember what nature was as they don’t get out much with 14 to 16 hours workdays here in the Worker’s Paradise.
Enough of the travelogue; we all wander up to the front desk, and each with their own passport in hand, request our reserved rooms. We supposed that we would all have rooms on different floors as the reservations were made, expired, re-made, juggled, rebooked, allowed to expire, re-jiggered, and finally formalized a scant week before we left the UK.
Nope. No such luck. We were all on the 39th floor. The place boasts 47 floors, of which, the top floor is a revolving restaurant. Evidently, food tastes better when you’re rotating.
However, it won’t spin unless you first buy a drink.
We had that thing whirling like a NASA centrifuge after its discovery the second night.
Yeah, all 12 of us are bivouacked on the 39th floor. A floor with approximately 30 rooms.
I guess we could have played “Room Roulette” and see who got which room and who’s luggage. Or we could switch every day or two to drive our handlers nuts. Or, we could just take our assigned rooms, which were conveniently located one empty room apart.
Meaning, no one had adjoining rooms. Why? Fuck if I know. We didn’t spend much time in our rooms, and that time was either sleeping or showering. We’d all meet at the bar, casino, restaurant, karaoke, bowling alley (all three lanes) or actual meeting rooms every once in a while when we thought we should get together and compare notes. It was the most inexplicable situation.
Plus, we spent an inordinate amount of time waiting on the fucking elevators to take us to our room. These elevators, and if you think you’re going to get a batch of aging senior scientists to schlep it up 39 floor’s worth of stairs, think again; are the slowest elevators in the civilized world. And that was the consensus of scientists representing not only Europe and North America, but Russia as well. 15-25 minutes added to each journey, up or down; stopping on every floor, except 5, on the way down..
Jesus Q. Fuck, dudes. If you can’t construct a bleedin’ elevator that works better than those at the Sozvezdie Medveditsy Guest House in Lesosibirsk, Eastern Siberia; then I suggest you seriously rethink your plans for world domination and new world order.
Grako and Erwin once, while waiting for the fucking elevator, figured out that we were earning some US$25 each just to wait for the lift to arrive and take us to our rooms. Every day. Sometimes several times per day.
With that, we all agreed to toss our “waiting time” funds into a kitty and on our last day of captivity here, blow it all in the hotel casino. Whatever became of that would be donated to the Koreans we thought most deserving of our largesse.
Would it be our handlers? How about the Korean Scientists we’d be meeting? The affable and most accommodating concierge? Or that plucky little Korean charwoman who was always on our floor and kept everything spotless, right down to our freshly laundered and pressed field clothes and newly polished field boots; done without our requesting or knowledge?
Only time would tell.
It could be a fortune or it could be bupkiss. Just like our expectations of the Heavenly Kingdom where we were currently sequestered.
As it was, with our official protestations, they kept only photocopies of our passports as we roundly refused and threatened a full-scale karaoke battle right here in the lobby if they didn’t relinquish our passports immediately. I had broken out my nastiest cigar and was primed to offend.
With that, we all had our keys and trooped over to the elevators for our first, of many, inexplicable waits. We made many uncharitable and potentially nasty remarks about the Anti-Western posters that made up some of the wall décor. Once we finally made it to our floor, we all fanned out to find our rooms. Viv found his first and was quite pleased to report to the rest of us that there was a “Welcome” basket in his room.
We all hoped that we would be receiving one a well.
I was in room 3914; which I considered a close call, but later only wondered as there was no 3913. Upon entering, I saw it was 1980s Hotel 6 opulent, but with an excellent over-city view. True it was late, dark, and the city was only somewhat lit up; I was looking forward to the view of the town in full daylight.
The room had a ‘king’ bed; that is if the king in question was Tutankhamen, the stubby, Egyptian boy king. The bed had no mattress pad and no box spring but it was hard enough for my liking. Many of my compatriots didn’t agree and complained bitterly. They eventually received thin mattress pads for all their kvetching.
There was an ancient Japanese color television, which only had 2 English language channels - Al Jazeera and the BBC, which was on a dated news loop. Watching the local channel is amusing though; the ads for ‘personal enhancements’ were hilarious, even without understanding a word of the language.
There were a couple of chairs and a low table, built-in dresser drawers for our clothes, a rusty and probably unusable room safe with corroded batteries, a small table built out of the wall that would serve as my travel office, and would-you-believe, a rotary telephone; how’s that for nostalgia?
There was an old-model radio built into the nightstand next to the bed. I was very surprised to find it not only received AM, FM but shortwave as well. I had brought along a pair of Bose headphones and during some rainy down days, spent many fun-filled, and I mean that sincerely, hours DXing from the comfort of my ‘enormous’ king bed.
Beyond that, the room was very nondescript. Like any other of the millions of rooms in hotels around the world that unlike here, aren’t claiming a 5-star rating. I mean, it was clean, if not a little long in the tooth. But didn’t smell too terrible, even after I took care of that with my Camacho offerings. It was utilitarian, everything worked, even the water pressure, which surprisingly could strip off layers of one’s skin if you weren’t careful.
The bathroom, though no Jacuzzi, had a large enough bathtub for the occasional soaking period. Western accouterments in the bathroom were also welcome additions. My knees can’t handle the traditional squat-holes any longer.
There were an electric teapot and several brands of tea, but no coffee. A quick “Gee! I sure wish I had some coffee!” to the four walls and damned if 30 minutes later, a porter didn’t arrive to replenish my tea and courtesy in-room coffee…
There was a small Japanese brand in-room refrigerator which I thought might house a mini-bar. Oh, no! It was actually a complimentary larder stocked with all sorts of Best Korean goodies. Multiple cans of Taedonggang beer. Several bottles of Pyongyang Soju, in various flavors ranging anywhere from 16.8 to 53 percent alcohol by volume. My fridge was skewed towards the right-hand side of the bell curve; the more heavy-duty boozy side.
Evidently, my reputation had preceded me again.
There was a selection of German-style wheat beers from the Taedonggang Brewery and the more familiar ales, steam beers, and lagers. There were some imported beers like Heineken, Bavaria, Pils, a couple of Japanese brands: Asahi and Kirin, and something called ‘Hello Beer’ from Singapore.
There were also ‘sampler’ bottles of Apricot Pit wine, and a couple of high-alcohol fruity liquors made from constituents such as apple or pear, and mushrooms. There were also special medicinal liquors like ‘Rason’s Seal Penis Liquor’.
That is going home with me unopened.
There were a couple of bottles of local sake, called Chonju. Finally, there was a couple ‘samplers’ of homemade alcohol known as Makkoli. Plus there was something called ‘Corn Grotto’, which for the life of me, looks and tastes much like a very passable Kentucky Sippin’ Bourbon.
I put our concierge on instant danger money the very next day. He’s yet to source me more than a fifth of the stuff so far.
I found that there is a popular drink here which mirrors the Yorsch of Mother Russia. Beer and soju can be mixed to create *somaek’; a foamy, frothy, funky drink of many flavors, depending on the soju chosen.
Is ethnoimbibology at thing? The science of how different cultures drink and the effects of drinking culture on different societies. If not, now I have another Ph.D. to pursue after I endow a chair at some likely Asian university.
Anyways, in everyone’s room was a “welcome” basket, just chock full of Best Korean goodies. Postcards, stamps, ads for coin sets, stamp proofs and other goodies that could be purchased at the hotel. There was a field notebook, which I thought was a very nice addition, newspapers, cookies, crackers, biscuits, candies, fruit drinks, and some fresh fruit; although tamarind chewies and durian chips aren’t on my list of personal favorites.
There were a couple of tour books, just chock full of staged photos. These were very nice as well, as so far, we haven’t had much time for shopping outside of government stores or smaller family-run shops in town or out in the boonies.
A few of us were hungry and decided to see what the hotel had to offer room service-wise.
Bupkiss.
But, they did have a selection of restaurants. There is a Chinese restaurant, a European restaurant, and a Korean restaurant on site but they all serve the same food...a Best Korean attempt at western food. And it was weird being the only ones in the restaurant even though it was fully staffed.
We grazed lightly and decided to do some late-night perambulations around our hotel. Our handlers admonished us to stay within the confines of the hotel, or see them if it was absolutely necessary to go walkabout. In the hotel, we were on our own.
We found that there were tunnels in the hotel’s basement. The basement tunnels were a real bonus. There’s a bar with pool tables, a karaoke room, bowling, and a massage parlor, where I was beaten and pummeled into submission by tiny, diminutive, little Korean lassies fully 1/5th my size.
It was wonderful.
There was a hairdresser’s, who were completely befuddled by my shoulder-length silver-gray locks and full gray Grizzly Adams beard. They did provide a lovely shampoo/cranial massage though for the equivalent of US$2.
There were a couple of shops selling Chinese goods rather than local stuff, which was sort of disappointing, a cold noodle bar, and another casino. No shops selling Korean Communist propaganda posters, as I wanted to augment my Soviet-era collection. Perhaps I’ll find something in-country later on.
We were shocked to find that the casino had WiFi that was uncensored and we were able to access; after a fee of liquor miniatures and a cigar or two. We were supposed to have access to the global internet, not local intranet, from the universities that we would be visiting. However, all of that was under the heavily squinting eyes of handlers and guys in shiny suits wearing fake Ray-Bans.
I still had my secret satellite internet lash-up available, but that was iffy, a pain in the ass to set up, and ridiculously expensive. However, it did work on the 39th floor and the times I used it instead of wandering down to the tunnels, no one appeared to be the wiser. Thus far.
So typically, we’d just head to the basement casino with our laptops, iPads, and phones. Bam! Robert’s your Sister’s Husband, we could connect more-or-less free with the outside world; hence how you are reading this now.
Herro! “Yes, I’d sure like another beer. This time a porter, if you please.”
The more they overthink the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain. Or the more they put into locks, the easier they are to pick.
Besides, we were told we’d have access to unfettered and free internet. OK, so we just found it for ourselves. Whaddya expect? We’re scientists, motherfucker, back off.
Ahem.
Back to reality.
The breakfast buffet the next morning had a wide choice of Asian and Western food, although the choices seemed to be the same every day. The main event was to beat the Chinese tourists to the egg station every morning. Breakfast always included fried eggs, a limited selection of pork, kippered fish, potatoes, rice, fruit, and a very Titanium-dioxide-white white bread
After a while, I took to going to the small market behind the lobby, buying some imported Chinese or Japanese nibbly bits and heading to the tunnels for a few breakfast beers before the long hard day’s work. It took almost a week, but I gained the trust of some of the workers in the tunnels and they showed me the on-site microbrewery at the hotel. It produced very passable, and very, very cheap beers of several varieties.
Liquid bread. Beer. Is there nothing it can’t do?
After breakfast our first day at the hotel, we were told to meet in the Conference Room “Il-sung” as we were going to have a ‘Welcome foreign imperialist scientists’ introduction and indoctrination.
Besides our handlers and the shiny-suit squad, there were several Korean folks we didn’t recognize. These were students, scientists, and scholars from the Kim Chaek University of Technology, Kim Il-sung University, the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology; all hailing from Pyongyang, and the University of Geology from North Hwanghae Province.
“Oh, marvelous”, Erlen remarked, “It’s going to be a bloody Chautauqua. We’ll be here all day.”
“Well”, I replied, “It could be worse. We could be on a bus headed off on another unscheduled road trip.”
As we found our seats, our Korean counterparts were busily setting up portable screens, like the ones your grandfather had for showing his 2.1 Googleplex worth of travel slides every Christmas or Thanksgiving get-together. They had a couple of ancient Chinese brand laptops that could have doubled for body armor, they were so thick and heavy.
While they fiddled with running cords for the overhead projectors and 16mm film projector; yes, it was going to be movie time as well, the hotel’s restaurant folks wheeled in carts laden with scones, cupcakes, and other sweet sorts of bakery. Another cart was wheeled in with pump-pots of hot water, tea, and coffee. Usual scientific meeting fare.
There was one final cart that made the day bearable. It held a pony keg of hotel micro-brewed beer on ice, with several dozen frosty mugs available for all who wanted to partake.
There were instantly 12 mugs that were spoken for.
I grabbed a cold beer and wandered around the conference room, sipping beer, chewing on an unlit cigar, and just trying to be pleasant to our hosts and their scientific guests. I was surprised when one North Korean professor, who spoke amazingly British-tinged English, offered me a light for my cigar.
“Is smoking allowed here?” I asked.
“Allowed?” he laughed heartily, “My good man, it’s practically a prerequisite.”
“Here then”, I said, offering him a nice, unctuous Camacho, “Try one of mine.”
Dr. P'ung Kwang-Seon of the North Korean University of Geology became my instant and lifelong friend at that moment.
We had a very nice chat, much to the chagrin of the gray suit cadre, who could hear what we were talking about, but probably didn’t understand anything beyond every 8th word.
After a while, we were asked to take our seats, after refreshing our drinks, and introduced to the group of Korean geoscientists we’d be interacting with during our stay here in Best Korea.
I tried to record every name, but between the students, other scholars, and professors from the various universities, I decided I’d ask for a list of participants once the day had worn on. After all, they had all our names, references, and resumes if the thick folio they kept referring to was any indication.
There were a couple of hours of introductions, as every one of the Korean geoscientists there introduced themselves, mostly through translators, told of their personal area of specialty, and their latest work.
Most were what would be considered geoscientists, but oddly enough, not one that you would consider a petroleum geoscientist, however tangentially.
There were geomorphologists, structural geologists, petrologists, mineralogists, marine geologists, engineering geologists, and seismologists. However, there were no stratigraphers, sedimentologists, paleontologists, or geochemists. We were all geoscientists, but apart from the obvious Korean:English disparity, it was as if we spoke different scientific languages as well.
That would be our first hurdle to overcome.
They had no oil industry here; none whatsoever, therefore why one would bother with the geosciences that fed directly into petroleum? That, in and of itself, would make it difficult to explore for oil in the country. Couple that with the fact that they’re so insular, think their version of ‘science’ is the best, at least that’s the official line, and think all other’s ‘science’ is capitalistic, substandard, and inferior doesn’t bode well for your country discovering anything either oily or gassy.
We were having another conclave around the beer keg, ack, err…a ‘coffee break’ and I mentioned this fact to my scientific colleagues.
“Guys”, I need input here, “We’re going to get precisely nowhere if they won’t even acknowledge that they have major problems from the start.”
Ivan replies, “Very true. I’ve seen this before back home. You get a group so entrenched in their own little corner of science, they can’t even accept or acknowledge that others exist. Not only exist but actually know more about a certain problem than do you.”
Dax joins the fray, “Sure, that’s very true, but who’s going to tell them this unfortunate fact? They could take that as a personal, national, and global insult. Imagine you’re at an international conference and a bunch of foreigners walk in just to tell you you’ve been doing it all wrong for the last 75 years.”
I add, “Remember, though. These characters are scientists as well. I think it’ll be a good measure of seeing what sort of science and scientist we’re dealing with here. If they are truly researchers, they’ll listen to and evaluate what we say as for veracity and accuracy. If they’re just a bunch of Commie goons; no offense, Comrade Academician Ivan, they’ll get all pissed off, kick us out, and we get to go home and enjoy our triple Force Majeure pay.”
Ivan walks over and deliberately steps on the toes of my newly polished field boots.
“In Soviet Russia, field boots walk on YOU.” He laughs in his heavily inflected, and scary, Soviet-era speech…
“Yes, I agree”, Joon adds, “But who is going to address this issue with our hosts? Perhaps one of our Russian comrades, as they are, or were, more politically aligned with our Korean friends and perhaps best understand the issue?”
Ack speaks up, grinning maniacally, “No, I disagree. We should have the one person here who so encapsulates the ideologies and political leanings that they love to hate here so much. You know; the quiet, diminutive, and soft-spoken North American…”
Dax recoils, “Oh, no! I’m not going out in front of this mob of ornery Orientals…”
I smile wanly and tell Dax to cool out.
“Relax, Dax. They’re talking about me.”
“Oh, yes”, a collective group of voices replies, “Yes. Let out fearless Team Leader break the bad news to our Eastern Colleagues. That way we can gauge their reactions to being bounced around scientifically by a member of the Evil Capitalist Cartel.”
“OK”, I reply, “I’ll do it. But be forewarned, my fine feathered fiends. I get stuck on a topic that’s not precisely my bailiwick, I’m going to throw your ass to the wolves. Remember, we’re all in this together.”
Whoops, and catcalls were reduced to mumbles and ‘Aw, fucks.’.
Chautauqua resumption was called and I asked for the floor.
It was a bit off the agenda, but since they’ve been chewing the air for the last several hours, they understood it would be appropriate for us to at least try and get a word in edgewise.
I downed my beer, and grabbed a fresh one as what I was going to say was going to be harsh, cut-and-dried, and rather pointed. But delivered in a pleasant manner.
I hoped.
This all had to be filtered through a series of translators, one for general conversational Korean and another for the more technical and scientific transliterations. I realized I was going to be up here for a while. So, I brought a cigar.
One way or another, I was going to deliver our pronouncements and hell, I may as well be comfortable while doing it.
.
“Greetings and felicitations, my Eastern Colleagues. Let me first say how nice it is to be here in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea as part of the ….”
I’m going to fast-forward through all the flowery bullshit and introductory happiness; I’ll going to just cut to the guts of the matter.
“…Now, you do know why there has been virtually no oil, gas nor any other hydrocarbon related deposit discovered here in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea?” I asked by way of a rhetorical question.
I sipped my beer and lit my cigar. In for a chon, in for a won.
I let the buzzing subside on the side of our eastern counterparts.
“Because, and please do not take this as insulting or derogatory, but as a statement of irrefutable fact, no one with the proper training nor experience has been looking. You’re historically guilty of applying the science incorrectly and letting dogma and politics guide your search, instead of the scientific method and the facts. Geology, like all natural science, is just as truth based on the facts for a capitalist as it is for a communist. Reality is not influenced by your beliefs, be they scientific or political, secular or spiritual, ‘trusted’ rather than ‘thought’; any more than by your wish that it wouldn’t rain today during a raging thunderstorm.”
Little Boy over Hiroshima was dropped with less effect.
Our Democratic People's Republic of Korea colleagues erupted into a chaotic mixture of stuttering, internecine yelling, accusations, and sputtering.
Calling for decorum, I figured that since I was this far gone, I may as well push the plunger all the way to the bottom.
“Gentlemen, I do not denigrate the science of geology as taught and practiced here in Best Korea.” I actually said that, sort of a slip of the tongue. Continuing, “However, one would not fish for Bluefin tuna from a rowboat in a pond with a fly rod. One does not hunt bear in the city with a slingshot. Just as one doesn’t search for oil and gas with mining engineers, geomorphologists, and seismologists.”
I let that sink in and after the translation, they calmed a bit and wanted to hear the rest of what I had to say. I could sense a couple was less than thrilled with what I had to say, but forging onward…
“One fishes for Bluefin tuna in the deep ocean with huge rods, reels and a specialist boat captained by someone with deep experience in hunting the elusive fish. One hunts bear in the proper environment, the taiga or forest, with the proper tools and guided by one with the education, learnedness, and experience to know how to make the hunt come out successful.”
Hit them with some analogies they can relate to and digest. Now, go for the carotid.
“Just like one does not hunt oil and gas without stratigraphers, sedimentologists, geophysicists, petrophysicists, and other oil and gas experts who have the education, experience, and knowledge to know where to look. Knowing which environment looks most conductive to hide your quarry, if you’ll pardon the pun, and how best to find them, the guys who know how to corral and de-risk them once you find them, and the engineers and technologists who know how to bring them to the surface so they can be utilized.”
They had stopped being irritated and were listening in rapt attention.
“My colleagues and I have spent the last few days going over, in detail the geology of your country. There is nothing we can see that would preclude the development, entrapment, and preservation of economic quantities of oil and gas. Ture, the geology is quite complex as is the structural history of the entire peninsula. That’s one other thing you will have to accept. Geology doesn’t give the tiniest shit about political boundaries. One must look at the big picture, and that doesn’t stop at some man-made borders. Ignore that fact at your peril, because if you continue to view the geology here as not existing across political boundaries, you are preadapting yourself for failure.”
Drs. Ivan, Volna, and Morse make certain that everyone sees the ex-Soviets agreeing with the bushy-bearded, cigar-chomping American capitalist.
“So,” I said, hoping to bring this little spit-balling session to a fortuitous close, “If we can have an agreement; scientific agreement, on these points, then I am certain we can find a way forward with not only this discussion but the program we can devise for the best Korean (notice phase shift?) geologists to take the project forward both scientifically soundly and economically successful.”
My North Korean counterpart gets up from his seat in the conference room, goes to the keg, taps a couple of beers and walks up to the podium where I was standing.
“Thank you, Dr. Rocknocker, for saying what needed to be said”, he spoke in perfect English as he handed me a beer.
I grinned and gratefully accepted the beer.
“Why, Dr. Chang Kwang-Su”, I said, as that was his name, “You old fraud. You do speak English; and very well, I must add.”
“Yes, almost all of us do”, he relayed, “But, as you said, we are most reserved. We were more or less under orders of the ‘most illustrious’, to play coy, and act as if we spoke no English.”
“I see.” I said, “I’ve worked in several FSU countries as well as Russia and saw that there as well. I guess old habits die hard.”
“That they do, Doctor.”, he replied, “But, we must now tell you the truth. We knew exactly what you said is true, and we agree. We are not as totally insulated from the outside world as some suspect.”
“Well, I was going on what your superiors related to us. Like the police that had all their toilets stolen, I had nothing else to go on.” I replied.
“Ah, ha! Quite!”, he chuckled, “We had long suspected that we were lacking in certain areas of scholarship. What you said cements that fact as it was an independent conclusion. We can now present that to our superiors with the caveat that unless we bolster work and training in these areas, the hunt of hydrocarbon resources here will be for naught.”
“I am relieved”, I said, truthfully. “I was slightly concerned that some might take umbrage to being told their science is not up to specifications. I tried to be the bearer of that bad news but deliver it gently. Here, I find you need that to use that as a truncheon to smack one’s boss upside the head and tell him that an upgrade is required. And fast.”
“Ah, so”, he replies, “We are in total agreement. Now that is out of the way, we would appreciate it if you’d help in designing a course of study for up and coming local geoscientists. Then, we can go forward with a great plan to search for oil and gas here in…Korea. Correct?”
“Absolutely”, I remarked, “You’ve got over 400 man-years of science and exploration expertise here in this room alone. Let’s shoot for the moon, so to speak. Let’s get you up to speed on scientific journals and articles that are available out there in all of academia and industry. Let’s get you communicating on a global basis. Let’s prove that you can talk science with global scientists and still not have it affect your political or nationalistic aspirations one little bit. Let’s see if we can drag you, figuratively speaking, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century.”
“Doctor”, Dr. Chang remarked, “You are the embodiment of what we were always told what Americans are. Brash, loud, confident, and evil. Except for evil, you are American as we were led to believe.”
“Hey, I take that as a compliment”, I exclaim. “You think that’s bad, I’ve got a bunch of earnest Europeans, raucous Russians, and a couple of cagey Canadians on my side as well. Before we’re finished here, we’ll have you ordering hachee, dining on Caldo Verde, snacking on salmiakki, drinking Russkaya vodka with Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, eating poutine, and rooting for the Packers.”
“Doctor, I don’t know what half of that means, but I hope it comes to pass. It sounds most fascinating.” Dr. Chang chuckles.
The rest of the day was spent with various groups crystallizing and breaking off from the main crowd; then reforming as different groups. This was good, as it showed an interest across not only national borders but across ideologies and scientific specialties.
Most everyone here spoke English with some degree of fluency, so the translators were called in only occasionally.
I made certain they were included in everything that transpired that day. I want everyone to feel ‘part of the team’. How better to show the classlessness of Western science to include everyone in on both sides of every discussion and activity?
To be continued…
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