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Official Article

The Real Goonies


There are some people in your life that appear almost as if out of thin air, providing magical and memorable experiences before disappearing altogether and leaving a lasting impression. Yes, that sounds like the start of a paperback novel with Fabio on the cover. However, the story I'm going to tell today is not of romance, but pure adventure with a guy who lived for excitement worthy of The Goonies . Let me start with a little backstory.


I first met this "rogue adventurer" during the summer of my Freshman year of high school in '97 while I delivered a tour de force performance as Baloo, The Dancing Bear and Giant #2 in a mall-based children's theater production of The Brave Little Tailor.  Naturally, you're very impressed. During the first few rehearsals I noticed a short, quiet guy in the corner who bore a passing resemblance to Brian Littrell from the Backstreet Boys, with Acne. This mystery cast member hadn't been at the audition, but the director soon informed us that this shifty fellow, Mike, was to be The Brave Little Tailor


As rehearsals went on we began to notice that Mike mostly kept to himself, only coming alive when he was in character. By the end of the week, rumors were swirling between the cast, the craziest of which being, "I heard Mike has AIDS and his dying wish was to star in a play." As it turned out Mike was 21, still lived at home, drove a mini-van and got "fun money" working at an after school daycare during the week. Sure, all these signs may have been the description of a serial killer written up in the local newspaper after a murder spree, but instead were the mark of an eccentric who led me into the most thrilling, terrifying and hilarious moments of my young life. Today I will share with you, the beginning of a series of "Mikeventures" called...

Mikeventure: The Mysterious Case of the Haunted Marine Base

I should preface this story by saying that my parents were very trusting of me as a teenager, letting me stay out as late as I wanted, even on school nights. It may also seem strange that they would let me hang out with 21 year old dude they knew nothing about. Their lack of concern stemmed from the fact that I never really got into any trouble during my "hangouts". That is, until this night. 


Mike had shown me photographic evidence of adventures that he and his buddies had been on like sleeping overnight at Disneyland and midnight trips to Water Parks that were closed for the season. Cautious kid that I was, I desperately wanted some danger in my life and asked if I could come along some time. The first test was a Midnight screening of The Goonies at an old movie theater, followed by a late night trip to Del Taco to make sure I could stay up into the wee hours of the morning. Having passed that rite of initiation, I was given the go for tagging along on their next outing. Little did I know what that would entail.


The evening began unassumingly at 10 pm on a Friday night as I entered the bachelor pad of Mike's crew (why he didn't just move in with them I'll never know). This group of 20 something slacker misfits was made up of Chris, Tom, Clark and the "Data" of the crew whose name escapes me, so I'll call him Kumar. Together with Mike they were a group of "Urban Explorers" who documented their escapades on a website which is still around, but the old epic tales are nowhere to be found (probably for legal reasons).


Around 2 am this gang of adults stuck in adolescence, got tired of watching TV and playing video games so the action moved outside. Upon stepping out into the night, I caught sight of Chris playing chicken with an oncoming semi truck, on foot! Chris just ran screaming at the massive vehicle as the air horn blared, then made a last second 90 degree turn into the darkness. I was starting to realize that this night was going to be like no other.


Shortly after witnessing that insanity, I was told that we would be heading out on a "mission". I noticed the crew grabbing supplies like gloves, flashlights and video cameras as we piled into Mike's mini-van. Once on the road our destination was revealed. We would be infiltrating a marine base nearby, that had just closed down a few years prior. Our first stop was the abandoned military housing, where many of my elementary school classmates had once lived. The real meaning of the term "Urban Explorer" became clear to me, it was a nice word for Trespasser.


Once inside the grounds, it felt like we had entered an episode of The Twilight Zone. Darkened, hollow houses lined the streets with dried out weeds growing passed the broken windows and cracking wood panels. Walking through the abandoned houses was even creepier, the air felt stale and the emptiness seemed endless. Looking out through dusty sliding glass doors at the overgrown playground equipment caused my imagination to dream up ghost children giddily riding the see-saw, then stopping to look at me with deadpan faces to say, "You're not welcome here". After an hour of messing around, I figured we would be on our way home, but it turns out the night was still young.


"We gotta go the tower, man.", "Yeah, on the base.",  "There's no guards there, it's closed." With these discussions flowing back and forth, the decision was made to cross the street and enter the control tower on the abandoned air field. This just happened to also be the site where I was once accidentally left behind by a group of friends at an Air Show when I was 7, but I was about to learn about a different kind of fear.


Approaching the entrance of the darkened air field, the first obstacle we had to overcome was the massive barbed wire fence. "The professionals" saw their opening in a foot long separation between the hinged door and the chain link barrier, then with ninja like precision the group helped boost each other up through the tight opening. As I put my foot in Clark's hand to begin my climb, I knew this was the point of no return. Was this really what I wanted when I asked to come along? Danger, adventure, forbidden locations? Absolutely!


Once inside the compound we crept in the shadows created by the moonlight, I watched Mike as my guide for appropriate behavior. He seemed alert, but not on edge, so I tried to play it cool too. Our first stop was a large, square building that was obviously locked, but Chris pulled out some tools to gain us entry. What happened next was right out of a movie, as the door swung open and several bats actually flew out from the opening. BATS! "There's no way that just happened", said Kumar, while documenting the whole event through the night vision setting on his camcorder. As we quickly entered the "bat-cave", there was even more gothic horror imagery to be found.


The building must have been condemned at some point, because there were classrooms covered in thick cobwebs with yellow Caution Tape draped across the entrances. Walking further into the dim, moonlit structure we saw broken windows, disintegrating ceiling tiles fallen to the ground and broken furniture. It seriously felt like Dracula could pop out around the corner at any moment. Thoroughly creeped out, but eventually bored, we made our way towards our original goal, the control tower.


Arriving at the base of the structure, we again made short work of the lock and braced ourselves for a greeting from rattlesnakes or killer bees. Instead we found a narrow and rickety spiral staircase that we quickly ascended. The most surprising thing to find was a "haunted" bathroom with a decaying toilet just off from the main control room, which contained old consoles with tiny computer monitors and keyboards caked in dust.

 
While some of the crew was content to look out the large windows from the inside, the rest of us found a hatch which gave us access to the outer roof of the structure. Once on top, we enjoyed the view and did the only thing that comes natural to "men of mischief" at 4 am, we took a leak from the highest point. We proudly watched our cascading streams reach the ground below, then returned to the glass encasement, where "it" happened.


As our behavior would attest, we were fairly confident that there was no living soul on this base besides ourselves, until we noticed a light in the distance coming from a shack where we spotted movement. We realized then that we were not alone. As I said before, this whole "mission" was being documented on video, but our exploration was a covert one up to this point. Unfortunately at that exact moment, somebody taking "archival photos" forgot to turn off the flash on their camera and the entire glass tower was soon illuminated with flashes of bright light. We froze in disbelief and then reacted.


"Tom, you idiot! There's a guard down there or something. We're made!" Soon we were all scrambling for the stairwell and cursing our bad luck. The sound of rubber soled sneakers on metal echoed throughout the tower, until we reached the ground level and bolted for the nearest perimeter exit. Unfortunately, the way we entered was exactly the same spot where we now saw signs of life, so we made for the west gate, only to find a 20 foot high locked chain link door with no inviting opening. "We are screwed, there's somebody coming!"


In the distance we could see a car driving our way with no lights on, slowly stalking us through the night. It was here that panic set in for me personally as I realized, "Oh crap, we are trespassing on federal property. Bad enough if it was somebody's business, but this is the government, the MILITARY, they might put me in prison for life!" I didn't have much more time to think as Mike violently whispered, "Guys, we have to move!" What happened next is most the cinematic moment I have ever experienced in real life.


Mike ran ahead and waved us over to a series of small buildings which lined the runway, each about 30 feet apart. Arriving behind the first building we could peek out to see that the "enemy vehicle" had arrived at the gate we had just fled from and positioned the car in our direction. For what felt like an eternity, it just sat their in the still of night, taunting us. We realized we had to make our move and looked to the leader of our escape for guidance.


Mike silently motioned that we would have to move for the cover of the next building. Just as we all nodded in understanding, the car turned on it's headlights, bathing the other side of our hiding spot in ominous, yellow light. As we scurried from one building to the next, we thought luck was on our side, but we were wrong. Arriving at the 3rd building the car began to lurch forward and the chase was on!


We ran and ran and ran. Well, most of us. Clark was a smoker and not in best shape. While the rest of us sprinted, he lagged behind just briskly walking, "Clark, RUN!", I screamed. "I don't run!" was the terse response I received as he huffed and puffed. I remember thinking, "You don't run? Do you go to JAIL?" The other thing I recognized was that we were heading in the opposite direction of our only way out, Mike's mini-van, but the faceless MP (Military Police) car gave us no choice. Then, the game changed.


After what felt like 30 minutes running in a straight line, Mike made a sharp left up a tiny metal staircase that led to a platform with 5 foot gap between one side and the other. We all followed Mike in leaping the gap and making use of the descending staircase on the other end. I can only imagine that the gap was a drainage canal of some sort, but in that moment it was our ray of hope. Having left the pursuing mystery vehicle in the dust, we encountered our final obstacle.


There it stood, a 30 foot cinder block wall separating us from the road where our ticket to freedom was parked. I remember making my deal with God in this moment, "Please, if you get me home, I promise I'll never do anything this stupid again!" Jogging along the interior perimeter we discussed the hopelessness of trying to scale the wall, but then we saw our last hope. The wall ended at a drainage canal with a familiar chain link fence and barbed wire combo. By squeezing through another small opening we could make it to the open road, but the 20 foot drop into the concrete chasm below had me worried.


We agreed to help Mike and Chris drop through first so they could get the van ready to go, while the rest of more cautiously avoided the sharpened metal thorns. As I made the final climb I teetered a bit on the edge of the fence, imagining broken limbs that would come from a fall that far, but the adrenaline gave me enough strength to pull myself over and on to the civilian soil below. Having made our great escape, we sprinted across the street to hide behind some shrubbery and minutes later we saw Mike's green van coming our way. There was just one problem, he wasn't stopping.


Dramatically the van door slid open, Chris motioned for us to run along side the van, "Jump, you guys, jump!". Miraculously we all managed to leap inside, slam the door closed and sit in silence, as we contemplated what we just survived. The craziest part to me was how these guys took it all in stride, this was their hobby after all. Me on the other hand, I had never been so adrenalized or so frightened, I was completely spent. This was also the first time I had ever been up for a continuous 24 hour period, so I during the next day at work I passed out every time I sat down.

 

That night marks the most dangerous activity I have ever been a part of, but it's also the teenage trouble-making story I tell the most. Well, to everyone but my parents. Can you imagine how grounded I would have been? Sure, I did a little more midnight trespassing in the following years, but that's a story for another time.

So tell me, what kind of mischief did you get into that had the cops on your tail? Did you get caught? Did you learn your lesson?

Remember, you can catch me on Twitter @hojukoolander for more retro fun.
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Vaporman87 Posted on Jul 24, 2015 at 08:51 AM

LOL. Perhaps. Though I imagine it would only have served to decrease the amount of their adventures... not eliminate them altogether.

Hoju Koolander Posted on Jul 24, 2015 at 01:41 AM

"Adventures in Lady-Kissing", Vaporman? Maybe if this crew had more of those they wouldn't have felt the need to put themselves in such dangerous situations.

Vaporman87 Posted on Jul 23, 2015 at 05:06 PM

Awesome!!! I love this story. I can't imagine the fear... the juices flowing through you trying to get away. Especially knowing you were on government property. That's just crazy. Were you certain it was an MP vehicle?

I have nothing that comes close to that story to recall, but I did have some uncomfortable experiences either causing trouble or getting caught in places we shouldn't have been.

For instance, the most trouble I ever go into was when I agreed to help a neighbor soap the windows of another neighbor whom she did not like. We also put shaving cream on his mower. We somehow got caught too, and in a good deal of trouble.

My wife and I had the worst luck of all time when it came to finding spots to "make out". Once was in the parking lot of an abandoned K-Mart. To have a cop suddenly shine a flashlight on you and knock on your car window is startling to say the least. He wanted to make sure my wife wasn't in any duress, which I can understand.

Then there was the time in a local park that was closed after dark, but we went to anyway. After seeing a cop pull into the park to look around, we quickly hid under a picnic table (which, as you can imagine, didn't provide much cover). We just laid flat on the ground as the cop car shined it's flood light all around the area. Either the cop just laughed as he saw us and decided to leave us alone, or he just didn't see us somehow, because he left and we didn't have to face him.

There were a couple other incidents too. It was like our lips touching created some sort of alarm that went out to all police stations in the area. LOL

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