The 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster last week reminded me of the family vacation Wood will never let me take. Some people want to go to the Caribbean or Hawaii or the French Riviera. Not me, I want to go to Kiev in the Ukraine so I can take the Chernobyl dead zone tour.

I'm not so interested in the nuclear facility as I am in Pripyat, the city built in 1970 for the workers at the nuclear plant. When the reactor exploded they gave the city's 49,000 residents ten minutes to gather their belongings and then whisked them out of town. Pripyat is filled with tall Soviet-style apartment buildings, tree-lined boulevards, swimming pools, and an abandoned amusement park. Everything that was there, all the detritus of its inhabitants, remains. Today you can take this tour and they hand you a geiger counter and take you around Pripyat's eerie stillness. The reactor exploded three days before May 1, a day of Soviet parades and celebrations. In the ministry building you can see radioactive signs and banners and floats for a parade that never happened, all kinds of soviet futurist-style propaganda posters of Lenin and Gorbechev and rest of them. Pripyat is the communist beast frozen in the thrall of death.

There are lots of amazing photographs available online here, here, and here. One of my favorite photography books is Robert Polidori's Zones of Exclusion, all photos taken in Pripyat (examples here). Something about these photographs speaks so profoundly about the future, about messing with atoms, about our own transience.

A few years ago, while Wood was in some meeting in Manhattan I took the F Train out to Coney Island in February and snuck into the fenced-off amusement park area, half hoping the Warriors would pop out from behind the Cyclone and threaten me with cudgels for invading their turf. Instead I just ran into a couple bored-looking Russian grandmothers pushing old-fashioned baby carriages (also creepy). I've been breaking into abandoned houses and buildings for years but for some reason amusement parks freak me out the most, even more than the creepy abandoned insane asylum we used to explore when I was a kid. And that place had a morgue. There must be some kind of Jungian symbolism or some annoying shit like that involved, of a childhood lost and creaking in the wind. Because such parks sit empty half the year, they reflect a kind of pagan longing for the summer, etc. etc etc. Probably it has way more to do with all those episodes of Scooby Doo I watched as a kid. All I know is when you're in an empty amusement park, those silent echoes of long-gone merriment and joy haunt you. For lack of better words, it's freaky.

So you can imagine how excited I was when I heard about Fairyland in Oakland, described to me as a "freaky" poorly-maintained early amusement park at Oakland's Lake Merritt that hasn't really changed since 1950 when Walt Disney famously visited it and was inspired to create Disneyland. I have been dying to take Juniper there, but they have been closed the last, oh, 15 weekends because of rain. But that's the best time to go, I tried to convince Wood, who doesn't let me break into places anymore. Yesterday, the sunniest day of the year so far, we went.

Amusement parks aren't freaky at all when there are 10,000 brats running around having a kick ass time. But we still had fun.