paper mill

I went on a field trip to a paper mill on Friday. I woke up at 6:15 a.m. and went out to some mall in Virginia and got on a giant bus, the kind of bus desperate people take to Atlantic City. We left the Springfield Mall Target at 8 a.m. and someone threw donuts and bagels at us. I pleasantly declined. They switched on Mr. Deeds and we watched country roads roll by. The south really does look different. I started to get nervous at certain points as we moved further and further from the top. I started wondering where they were taking us, where might we end up, what kind of field trip was this anyway? Panic set in slightly. I don’t like to be at the mercy of a big bus on a Friday headed south. We ended up in Franklyn, just 10 miles above the North Carolina border. I was 15 when Ieft North Carolina. Fifteen. My memories of that place float between a childhood happiness and several, uncomfortable adolescent years. Being that far south felt like being underwater for too long. Sometimes I shudder, actually shudder, at the thought

“What if I had stayed there?” [yikes]

And here I was, inches away from seeing my past, miles from the North Carolina border and things began to get louder.
The paper mill was far from warm. In every way. It was like being trapped inside a massive machine. A machine the size of a football field. It was wet and smelly. It was loud. Every sense was now insulted. There was so much paper. It was hoisted up on massive toilet-like rolls, lifted by human-powered cranes, indoors. Everything was giant. The plant, the paper, the men, the machines and the waste. I am sure to think three times before wasting any paper. This was too much. Just too much. They make their own electricity. They make it from toxic, paper waste.
We walked around for about an hour and a half. We asked questions and saw it all happen. Safety signs lined the walls reminding people about lost limbs and bloody stumps. An ambulance stand outside made removing maimed men easy. We walked in small, yellow-lined walkways. We wore hard hats and earplugs. We were fed something that took on a strange resemblance to green beans, chicken (I declined) and some potato salad.
The working men were so kind. They enjoyed the change from metal to flesh. They enjoyed my questions and my photographs. I snapped away.
We left the ground at 2:30 and the bus people fed us beer and potato chips. I got home at 7:00 p.m., took a deep breath and ordered pizza. It came in a box and a flyer was taped to the outside. The delivery guy tried to hand me another flyer. I pleasantly declined.
Pictures in a few.


  1. Man, you must of been starving by 7, since you were doing so much pleasantly declining of food. ;) Paper mills stink, too, don’t they? I only know this, ‘cause I used to live near Green Bay, WI, home of giant paper mills and packing plants. I bet you made the worker’s day by taking pictures of where they spend so much time. Reminds me of the book “Rivethead.”


  2. I thought about that book the entire time I was there.

    They seemd happy. Then I was told to stop. No one said it wasn’t cool till later. So I did manage to get a few. :]


  3. Hey michele!

    My sister always tells me nasty stories about paper mills she has to visit sometimes for work and how one time she went she had to stay overnight there—this seemed to genuinely traumatise her. She said she seriously considered smearing deodorant inside her nostrils like people working in a morgue.


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