I want to kill bugs, sir!


The Old Mine
2001-05-12 11:29:56

Crazy But True
As far as I can tell, my salary is for useful programming, and the options are for total lines of code. Which given the current stock price, seems fair and just for everyone.
-- Joe


So, like, there's this Old Mine.

So, as anyone who went to the University of California at Berkeley knows, there is a big, old, mine in the north east corner of campus, right next to the Mining Building. I was thinking about this yesterday because I was talking about the steam tunnels under Berkeley, and how there's like this intrepid tradition of youthful people going into the steam tunnels and running around and exploring and stuff like that, and there's even a verb for it, "tunnelling," and like there's all these different tunnels and of course the most difficult and like level 7 five-star tunnel is the Old Mine next to the Mining Building.

Getting in to the Old Mine is like exceeding difficult, as it has a first big steel gate, like REALLY sturdy gate, with no visible means of opening it, on the gate, and then like 5 feet behind that is another steel gate, somewhat flimsier and of older vintage, but still formidable, but this one has like a lock and hinges -- I guess they learned their lesson on that gate -- and then maybe 20 feet into the mine, kind of dim, is a third gate, of near-medieval age, with I shit you not a great big padlock shaped like the kind of padlock people put on diaries for young girls. Not with a large heart shape, mind you, but big and with that keyhole shape on it, hanging at a jaunty angle from the third, antiquitous gate, which is painted black and rusty and really old.

The mine is right next to the Mining Building, which is old and Mary Poppinsish like most of the Really Old Buildings at Berkeley, with wrought-iron shit everywhere and steep roofs, and lies at the hillside side of the so-called Mining Circle, which is indeed a circle, although it's kind of hard to drive there. Mining is big in this part of campus. If you look at a map of the Berkeley campus, like if you're a tourist or some shit, or it's your first day of class, and there are those big maps all over that say "YOU ARE HERE" like in the mall, there's a dot on there for The Old Mine. I think it actually say "The Old Mine" or "Mine (closed)" or something like that.

The mine is actually worth seeing. If you look at the mine, it looks like a big hole in the side of the hill, with the aforementioned gates pretty much making it crystal clear that No Further Mine Investigation is necessary or advised. Oh, yeah, and there's a sign, that says like, "NO ENTRY TO THE MINE." Or something like that. "DESPITE WHAT YOU READ IN HARDY BOYS ADVENTURES, OLD MINES ARE DANGEROUS. GO AWAY."

But by kind of covering your eyes and pressing your face against the first big gate, you can gaze kind of far in, down this pretty boring, straight as hell, more or less sandstone hallway, with ancient-looking cloth-wrapped wires going down it where obviously there was once light bulbs, and with a weird incongruous Edward Gorey gate in it, and then further, and then TOTAL DARKNESS. You just can't see anything right after the big gate. It's crazy. It's plain, there's not much to it, it's a simple thing, but it's also very crazy.

Anyways, so there's this mine. And I was thinking about this mine, and I was thinking, why? Why is there a mine there? Why is it juxtaposed right next to The Mining Building, where the Department of Mining always has been and is today. OK, I think it's called "The Department of Mineral Sciences" or "The Department of Reverence for Mother Gaia" or "The Department of Digging Shit Out of the Earth" or something like that, today, but make no mistake: mining is where's it at in the Mining Building.

So, anyways, why a mine? I have to rule out the possibility that there was an Old Mine on the site of the campus before the campus was there, just happened to be a mine there. I mean, sure, it's possible, but could the Mining Building have just happened there, right next to it, by accident? Of course not. The odds are astronomical. And could campus planners have put the MINING BUILDING next to the ACCIDENTALLY THERE OLD MINE as some kind of delicious ironic twist, or just because they were right next to each other in the campus directory ("Mine, Old (closed)", "Mining, Building of"), or because of some kind of doctrine of sympathies or something? I dunno, I just can't see this happening.

Maybe it was there before, and they put the Mining Building right next to the Old Mine as kind of like an inspiration to the students in the Department of Mining. "When all this craziness gets you down, just look at the mine, and you'll remember what it's all about." Or maybe, since it's kind of imposing and drab, not really that inspiration, is was meant more as a cautionary note than as an inspiration. "We don't want you to get any wrong ideas about mining, fellows. It's not a glamorous field whatsoever. Despite the math and the engineering and the geology and such, mining is about making holes in the side of hills. Holes much like this one. Don't get all caught up in the grandeur of mining. Mining will only be a disappointment to you if you do. Keep a realistic view of mining."

So, OK, it's just not very probable that the mine was there before. Which would suggest that they PUT this mine there for some reason. But why? Putting aside the inspirational or cautionary tale motives, which would be even more ridiculous if they built it, like it'd be much cheaper to make a big-ass statue of a mine or miners, or even big burly semi-naked men with exquisitely shaped muscles doing some romantic neo-classical type of mining, then there's got to be some other reason. But what?

One possibility was that the mine was like some kind of lab for the mining students, like a learning thing. Like for Mining 101 you had to go into the mine for 2 hours a week and dig stuff up, and then write about what you dug up, and do graphs and stuff about your mining. "Lab 1: Using a Big Pick to Pull a Rock Off the Wall of a Mine." "Lab 2: Wearing a Hard Hat with a Light on The Front." "Lab 3: Making Big Supports Out of Railroad Ties."

Or maybe the teachers would take students down in the mine, and they had to do lectures there, with demonstrations. "This is how you pick some rocks apart. Keep your knees bent and swing the big pick like so. Be careful that no one is behind you, because these picks have big points on BOTH ENDS, and if someone is behind you when you're swinging it, you will put the point right through their hardhat into their skull, and it will spurt blood."

Another thing that might have been happening, maybe, is like maybe the mine wasn't for teaching and learning, but for doing research, since that is what professors of things do -- they do research on stuff. Assumably there are OTHER mines that they do research on, though, right? Mines that are far away, that are owned by big companies with men in suits with vests and pocketwatches and Chester Arthur sideburns, who pay to have special UC Berkeley professors come out and do research on their mines. But they kept like a small mine right close to the mining building, so if one of the Professors of Mining had this really hot idea for improving the mining process while he was grading papers with a big fountain pen, he could run right outside and into the mine and test it out before he forgot what it was.

The problem with either of these explanations is that it seems like it would be a coincidence of miraculous improbability that there would be a suitable mine, right next to the Mining Building, for all the stuff they had to teach and do research for. Like, a mine with rich veins of copper and iron and nickel and gold and silver and bauxite and diamonds and all the other stuff they have to learn how to mine for, and maybe some weak veins, too, so they could practice on mining those, and some weird geological formations that would make mining difficult, but they'd have to know how to deal with in The Real Mining World, and etc.

Not to mention that it is in the nature of mines that they run out of stuff. So like one class would get to practice on a weak but detectable vein of some copper mineral, and then NO ONE ELSE would ever get to practice on it again, and that would be it. Besides of course the obvious thing that also only one person gets to practice making the entry to a mine, and that's it. Seems like entries to mines are some of the most important parts, and you'd want people to know how to get it right or to advance the field of mine-entry-making science. But the hillside is not dotted with half-made entries to mines. There's just one entry to one mine.

Let me also add that a big part of mining is lighting comically large red sticks of dynamite, throwing them down a hole, covering your ears and then KABOOM! There's some more mine and rocks and stuff to fuck around with. Would they really be doing this on a campus, with 18-year-olds -- MERE CHILDREN -- walking around above? Or, even worse, with sticks of dynamite in their big dumb hands? "YOU throw it!" "No, YOU throw it!" "Wait, I threw it, and now it's rolling back to us!" "No!" KABOOM!

It should also be unnecessary to point out that the Hayward Fault runs like right through the area where the Mining Building is. Like, RIGHT THROUGH IT. I dunno if you can make an earthquake and collapses and tectonic shifts on continental plates with dynamite, but I sure as fuck am not going to try to find out.

Of course there's also the possibility that some Buckaroo Bonzai type undergraduate did a really just SPECTACULAR final project for his Mining degree, by making a mine RIGHT OUTSIDE the mining hall. "I made a volcano out of papier-mache' and baking soda. What did you do for your final project, old chap?" "I made a BIG MINE!" Like, initially it was a little bit frowned upon, and caused something of a stir, but when they saw his craftsmanship and the really fancy gate that he got made by another equally genius friend in the Department of Making Fancy Victorian-Style Gates With Big Padlocks, they had to give this maverick their grudging respect and admiration, and he went on to become a very famous mining theorist whose name is taught to schoolchildren around the globe.

Lastly, and kind of sinisterly, is the possibility that it was like a paying proposition for the University. People who've been to UC know that it's a public university, and it's always looking for ways to make a buck out of students and faculty. "Hell, we've got all those egghead mining guys up at the Mining Building, let's put em to work! Mining's a good business! We could use a piece of that action!" And so they made a mine and made all these underpaid graduate students go in and get all coal-blacky and stuff working for $1.25/hr. mining and digging and sweating and getting the bends and stuff. This is actually extremely plausible.

But what bothers me the most is: why is the mine closed? If there was a good reason to have a mine, why has that changed? Has mining, as a science, moved on from ACTUAL MINING to like theoretical meta-mining, a kind of post-modern analysis of MINES as TEXT or something? So they don't need to do research?

Or did the liability of sending pimply 19-year-olds into a big hole in the ground to play with dynamite eventually outweigh the didactic benefits? Was there some landmark in loco parentis lawsuit? Budget cuts? Is it possible that our Golden State is matriculating Bachelors of Mining who haven't actually ever done any mining? Isn't that worrisome? Aren't they going to hurt themselves when they get their first job, and are away from instructional supervision, and are expected to know how to mine like students from other universities in less litigious states, and then don't look behind them before they swing and put a big pick into the skull of one of their coworkers? Because nobody ever told them in real-life situations to look behind them?

Or maybe did the transportational revolution of the 20th century finally make it possible for them to set up some kind of shuttle service with air conditioned buses to mines that are far away, say maybe in the Sierras or in desert lands, to practice mining, rather than having to take an 8-day mule-train trip, like they originally had to do, making it a good idea to have a mine close by instead?

Did the mine run out of mineable stuff? Like, if they were doing it for the moolah, then that would make some sense. No use having a big mine there if there's nothing in it. For didactic stuff, too, I guess they would kind of get tired leading classes down into the mine and saying, "OK, now *if* there was a big vein of copper here like there used to be, then you would hit it like _this_ with a pick of some sort, which due to legal reasons I am not allowed to bring to class, sadly, but you can use your imagination."

But it's weird, all the same. It seems like it would be fun and useful to have a mine that's open to the student body for stuff, like maybe with educational dioramas in it of miners doing mining work, and canaries in cages, and even like little animated scenes of collapses in the tunnel and stuff. They could have a little train that goes through the mine, like at the zoo, the Zoo Train, except this would be the Mine Train, and it would even be styled like mine cars, except of course with seats and those retracting hydraulic seat-belt-restraint bars, and a helpful guide who tells you all about mining talking over a loudspeaker. Actually, it'd probably be a recorded voice, over really cheap speakers, because the UC always cuts costs on this kind of shit, and there'd be bad kids who would jump out of the train and play around on the dioramas and have to get chased by security guards.

You know, now that I think of it, why just have some boring educational ride. Fuck that! It should be a big roller coaster, like THE RUNAWAY MINE TRAIN, and it would go zooming through the mine at unpredictable speeds! And there would be dioramas and stuff, of course, but less for their didactic value and more to scare you or give you something to look at during the non-top-speed parts of the ride. And like maybe they'd have non-historically-accurate shit there, like big devils and flames instead of earnest miners. The fast-speed mine train would definitely cut down the bad-kids-jumping-out-of-the-cars factor, that's for sure!

I dunno, I'm just riffing here. It's not like anyone has approached me for what to do about the mine, at least not on the record in an official capacity. Hell, I'm just saying, is all.

Over.  End of Story.  Go home now.


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