If you’ve ever been curious as to what lies at PA - 61 (Destroyed) - yes, destroyed is actually part of the formal address) in Centralia, PA or if you’re interested in the prospects of graffiti art or ghost towns--look no further.

In 1962, a beast of a coal-mining fire ripped to shreds what was formerly known to be a tight-knit and positive community. Although there are conspiracies surrounding what could’ve led the blaze to become so out of hand, it is most popularly believed that the Centralia County Council set a landfill on fire intentionally, without the knowledge that it was above an open-pit mine. As of 2017, there were only five documented residents in the town, and the population will likely only continue to dwindle.

About three and a half hours away from New York, in Eastern PA, lies what is left of decaying Centralia. My fascination with the abandoned area began when some friends informed me that there was a stretch of graffiti art on the ground that lasted for miles, nestled beside cemeteries and an eerie woods. As a matter of fact, a visit to Graffiti Highway is listed by TripAdvisor as #1 of all TWO things to do in Centralia. Last year, I made the drive with a good friend and parked my car on a grassy bank below steep mountains lined by trees. The colorful highway is challenging to discover in the midst of all of the shrubbery - seriously, we got lost for over an hour, walking around the forest. Eventually we made it to a clearing where we were met with blue sky and a sandy, dirt road that turned into gravel, and the infamous subsidence cracks and spray-painted initials we’d been after. 

I had been sitting down to drink a beer in the face of a touristy-sunset on the isolated road when a man wearing an American flag bandana driving a pick-up truck (even though regular vehicles aren’t allowed) pulled up to us and announced that we “ain’t supposed to be drinking,” incase the, “sheriff come by.” While I wasn’t sure what authority he had to administer this advice--maybe he’d devoted his life to warning young alcoholics about the perils of cops in woodsy PA--we obliged and took off towards the closest town, a crooked haunt called Ashland. 

Ashland and Centralia practically melt into each other. Tired and thirsty, I parked on the road and we staggered towards the only open establishment we’d been able to find: a small, local bar. I remember being delighted that this spot allowed us to smoke cigarettes indoors in 2018 and offered live music, played by an old man with a flannel and a toothpick and an apparent love for sexist classic rock. It all felt very 90’s - the indoor smoking, the local stopping us to inform us what the rules were. After exiting the bar, I realized that my white Toyota was not in the spot which I knew I had left it. However, there was nowhere for my car to go. The roads were abandoned for blocks, I would’ve spotted it in an instant. Hastily, I returned to the bar and asked the staff if car theft was an issue. They shrugged and laughed big, hearty, BudWeiser laughs, almost like they were mocking me for being so naive to the potential dangers of such a small town. I knew that my car was missing, but it seemed far more logical to me that it would’ve been towed, rather than stolen. I had no idea what to do. 

There were truly no other businesses for miles - we were forced to walk through a brisk March evening. We shivered and stumbled for at least six miles before calling an Uber to the nearest town, which was still abandoned and only offered a closed Dunkin Donuts and an encounter with the cops who were unsure why we were banging on the doors of the quiet coffee shop at three in the morning. 

The cops scared us, secured us entry into the Dunkin’ Donuts and gave us free cups of coffee before they scared us even more. It felt like we had entered an episode of Stranger Things. They told me that a car with the exact same make and model as mine had been crashed that night by some drunk drivers - a police report had been filed. They seemed skeptical, like I had crashed my car in some insane black out and simply wasn’t telling them the truth. I assured them that I hadn’t done that. They used their walkie-talkies to figure out the license plate of the car that had been in the crash, and sure enough, it didn’t match mine. We were clueless. 

We ended up being delivered to a hotel room twenty minutes away in the back of a cop car. The following morning, we returned to the Centralia/Ashland area to search junkyards on foot. With no success, we resorted to calling 9-1-1. But 9-1-1 was broken in this area, evidently, and it took two hours for a Centralia phone operator to call us back with the phone number for the region’s towing company. I called and left a message, only to be greeted two hours following that with an offer: Did I want to be picked up and taken to the top of a mountain where my car could potentially be in temporary residence? Fucking sure. 

A burly man in a leather jacket with a slicked black ponytail barged into the tiny sandwich joint. “You Meredith?” I nodded, and my travel companion and I were loaded into the back of an unfamiliar pick-up truck and escorted to one of the Pennsylvanian mountains that overlooked the tiny town. It was beautiful, although I’m not sure if being overwhelmed by relief outweighed my ability to appreciate the scenery of tiny houses and cemeteries and woods lying beneath us. At last, three hundred dollars later, (I  had to call my parents to send me money, embarrassingly, and hit the ATM) my car and I were reunited. The heavens opened up and mocked me, insisting that I refrain from being such a goddamn idiot next time. Centralia is a good time--if you are prepared for an overwhelming abyss of locals who refuse to leave despite the perils of residency in an abandoned minetown--and the strange encounters will haunt you forever.

VHS tapes. There’s a teetering stack of them in every person’s basement, attic or garage. Once a staple of the year’s past, now relics. We traded in the tapes for DVD’s and cable wires, then swapped those out for Roku remotes and laptops. Now, we might even be eclipsing a new change in entertainment with Disney announcing that they are going to start a streaming service this coming November, joining the ranks of NBC, Hulu, Apple, Netflix and even Youtube. Not only that, but Disney and Netflix are toying with the idea of releasing episodes weekly rather than the bulk of a season all at once—sound familiar? The concept rings with the familiarity of a Friday night when the new Disney Channel Original Movie premiered. It’s almost enough to dust off the cover of that abandoned tape of “She’s All That” you forgot about. For some people, myself included, it is.

I love VHS, grew up on them even, and have been collecting them for around a year now. Scouring thrift stores for dirt cheap copies of early Tarantino, crappy ‘90s rom-coms and sequels to mainstream horror movies that I don’t own the original of is how I like to spend my Saturday afternoons. A co-worker from several jobs ago gave me her old VCR a few months back, so during this past summer I finally spent time going through my tapes. It was like riding a wave of nostalgia and I felt like I discovered a juicy secret that nobody else could have.

There’s a sense of a different time, an almost wholesome feeling, that I get whenever I put on the tape of the day (recently, these have been late 90’s slasher movies). For the longest time, movies were made because a group of people, sometimes just one, said that they were going to make what they wanted—VHS reflects that drive. Going through each individual title when out hunting makes me feel like I have an explicit and final say in what I watch, at least in comparison to the sprawling selections offered on whatever streaming site is in the highest demand. Why pay 12 dollars a month for what seems to be a never-ending hole of content that I’m only going to consume a handful of, when I could pay 75 cents for a movie that I can at least admire and not worry about disappearing? 

If VHS does have a comeback, it wouldn’t be the first time something old becomes something new. Vinyl is doing just fine after having a several decade long slump. Sold in every Urban Outfitters and countless Barnes and Noble stores, records are living proof that there is life after death. CD’s are beginning to creep back into existence, and cassette tapes have a thriving culture on online marketplaces. 

It’s quite possible that we’re watching the beginning of the end—the end of an era if you will. It’s not impossible for the tides to change, it has before and it will again. And just like the water in an ocean of trends, it will retreat and it will come back. So, as we sit back and watch the waves begin to roll away, be sure to keep it kind and rewind.


Image by Chloe Wei

Hidden within the ice, a place that is usually meant for fun experiences like first dates and holiday celebrations is a dark, tormenting secret. You don't realize it as you put your skates on, or when you’re watching the enticing Winter Olympics from your living room, admiring the uniquely stunning, twinkling outfits of these legends, that there is an underrated struggle looming over the rink. 

The Winter Olympics present positive and inspiring qualities of being a professional, hard-core athlete: Passion, dedication, and perseverance. But, they’ve also shown some of the deadly issues athletes battle. Primarily, disordered eating. 

Two female figure skating competitors, Russian Yulia Lipnitskaya and American Gracie Gold, had to sit out this year’s Olympics due to eating disorders. Food disorders are really hard to catch early because it isn’t apparent until after several months that a person has this mental illness. The side effects are progressive, not immediate. Ice skating is a very competitive, demanding, and time-consuming sport that requires enormous amounts of dedication, commitment, and hard work if someone has chosen to cultivate this into a career and profession. It is elegant and very much orientated around the visual image, it’s about technique and performance. Of course, that means the figure skater not only has to nail down his/her routine but also has to dress appropriately, usually matching the music that has been chosen, have the ideal amount of makeup shimmering from their faces, and of course, they must have the body and physique in order to execute the tricks as flawlessly as possible. One of the biggest problems with this issue blossoming from such a gorgeous sport is the lack of body diversity, how the “porcelain doll” look is mainly displayed on the screen.  Children, especially aspiring figure skates, only ever witness the archetype of a professional skater's physique skating across the rink. Consequently, they develop assumptions that they too have to force themselves to be as weightless, and leafy as possible. This is highly dangerous and detrimental to their physical, emotional and mental health. Unfortunately, these illnesses are developed at very young ages, usually fifth and sixth grade, when children experience the most changes in their bodies. According to The National Eating Disorder Information Center, researchers have found that female athletes competing in aesthetic sports such as figure skating are at the highest risk for developing eating disorders. Weight preoccupation, body dissatisfaction, and perfectionism are all risk factors for disordered eating. 

According to psychology, we do the things we love because of intrinsic motivation. It is our natural passion, desire, and devotion from within ourselves that causes us to take up hobbies we love. When children begin to ice skate and turn their passion into a profession, the ice skating rink becomes a stage, a competitive environment, and suddenly, their intrinsic motivation turns into extrinsic motivation. It’s not about the love of the sport anymore, it’s about winning, and gaining gigantic applause. 

Just like the dazzling winter, mental impediments are an inevitability we cannot avoid because we are human. But life is all about being there for one another so that when we do fall down we can pick each other up. All we can do is become more aware of the reality in which we live in, and learn to fight and prevail against these mental illnesses, and then afterward, once they become survivors, teach and prevent this from happening to the tiny skaters. That even though winter can be ruthless, and brutal, it can also be just as joyful as spring, and summer, stuffed with its own benefits and gorgeousness.

Winter won’t become a period of time we all dread, and are wishing we weren’t freezing, but instead be a type of wonderland, a world of powdery magic, we can all enjoy, safely.


Image by Danielle Wilson

Dragon Quest has never been a series of games I have particularly cared for. When the main hero from the Dragon Quest series was announced as a new fighter in the fighting game Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, a game I play religiously, I didn’t bat an eye. Dragon Quest as a series in America hasn’t been a commercial success. Dragon Quest was brought to American audiences under the localized title Dragon Warrior in 1989, a title which stayed until it was changed back to Dragon Quest in 2005. Dragon Quest in Japan rivals the popularity of heavyweight titles western audiences can recognize, like Pokemon and Super Mario. There has been a long running myth, confirmed to be true recently by a journalist at GameInformer, that Dragon Quest games are released specifically on weekends in Japan due to people calling out of work and ditching school to play the new entry in the series. 

The games are a massive hit in Japan, but in the United States have struggled to find footing, and bringing the main character from Dragon Quest to Super Smash Bros. represents a continued attempt to popularize the games for an American audience. 

Dragon Quest XI S: Definitive Edition for the Nintendo Switch is a Japanese Role Playing Game, or a “JRPG”. These games typically are notorious for being massive time sinks that delve into a deep plot, which is accurate framing for this game. The demo available for free is around ten hours of gameplay, which pulls you in through this tempting free taste. Ten hours for other games could be the entire length of the game. Just recently while catching up with my cousin Sean who had played the demo and ordered the game upon completion like I did, said “It was like handing somebody a fisfull of crack.” He was right. It all happened so fast, but now, I am a crack addict. 

The gameplay of Dragon Quest is what keeps you glued to it. The turn based battle system is simple enough for entry level players to enjoy, while equally deep enough for veteran players to never grow tired of. For most of the game, your party consists of a four character lineup that is a mix and match of damage dealers and healers that can keep your crew alive. There are a dynamic range of enemies that test your ability to learn how to fight against each of them. 

The story is a fairly simple one. The main character, who you freely name, is an adopted boy who doesn’t know much of his past, and is quickly swirled up being hunted by a royal knight who is convinced he is evil, referring to him as the “darkspawn.” The hero doesn’t speak, which is disappointing as he doesn’t have much of a personality as the story unfolds, merely reacting to events as they happen.  As the story develops, you come across eight characters who join you on your journey. As an open world game, it allows you to explore and venture off the beaten path, while always keeping your main quest objective clear with the games menu system, which has a clean user interface. The game embraces puns, as characters attacks are nicknamed “Sizz” and “Sizzle”, and the games mascot Slime character speaks like “Hey there, slime to meet you!” It would be more of an irritation in a game less charming than Dragon Quest, but as my love snowballed into a full on fandom, I embraced it. 

Dragon Quest’s artstyle is arguably the most enticing part of the game, with its environments and models sporting bold outlines and bright colors. Character designs and dynamic locations drive the desire to search every corner of the world, as the monsters you fight across the terrain of Erdrea are a pleasure to seek out and murder. These range from demonic lottery machines come to life trying to kill you, to the “Khalamari Kids” who resemble baby squids that are disgustingly adorable. The main characters of the game are lovable and don’t avoid tropes, but the dialog between the crew of characters you travel the world with enchants you into having a unique love for each of them. Sylvando, your Spanish accented circus performing partner condescends constantly, and is a hilarious delight. I got so caught up in adoring Dragon Quest that I may or may not have gone over budget to import from Japan a large Slime plush, the mascot of the Dragon Quest series, as well as stickers from various artists. Most Dragon Quest merchandise is not available in America, forcing fans like myself to have to pay a high price to import. I am poor now, but I was also poor before playing this game, so I think I will be OK.

 The game exudes a strange familiarity, something Sean had also experienced. This comes from the character designer of Dragon Quest, Akira Toriyama, also being the creator of Dragon Ball. Dragon Ball is one of the most popular anime series of all time, a show and a video game series we both loved as kids. Toryiama’s style bleeds across both series, any character from each series could cross over seamlessly into the other’s world. Dragon Ball is a huge hit with western audiences, and is one of the biggest media franchises to come from Japan to America. As the generation that grew up with Dragon Ball, we are predisposed to fall in love with anything Toriyama makes. One of my earliest memories as a kid is walking downstairs, the day before Halloween, dressed in my Dragon Ball Z Vegeta costume and my older sister laughing hysterically at me. I remember looking in the mirror and laughing at how ridiculous my big anime wig was, but I also thought it was extremely cool, even when it was not. 

Dragon Quest, for the most part, is still a diamond in the rough in America. Square Enix has done all they can to make the Nintendo Switch version of Dragon Quest XI stand out from other Switch titles. Dragon Quest XI originally released in 2017 in Japan, then America in 2018. The Switch version includes a fully orchestrated soundtrack, in game upgrades to make the experience smoother, and a full recreation of the game in 2D mode to resemble the games original look. The marketing budget was increased as well as back in September, when the game released, ads for the game were abundant. Even with all this, Dragon Quest XI S: Definitive Edition for the Nintendo Switch did not debut in the top 20 of video games sold in its release month of September 2019, and only barely cracked the top ten of Nintendo Switch titles sold for the month at number seven. 

Dragon Quest remains a fascinating case of franchises that are from our favorite creators that don’t land commercially. Now, I am a huge fan of the series, and plan on going back and playing older titles from the franchise that I missed out on. Maybe someday the games will become popular in America, and like any good consumer I will then abandon the series as anything that becomes too popular isn’t cool anymore. Until then, I will be Sizzle and Sizzling my ass to victory. 


Image by Danielle Wilson

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