HWY 1 – Ghosts on the highway
In the early 2000s, when Greece’s so-called “decade of modernization” officially came to an end, the country was left politically neutered, with corruption, nepotism, and patronage appointments in the public sector having replaced political discourse; socially and culturally lobotomized by overexposure to models fostered upon it by lifestyle rags and media moguls / big business contractors, and financially ruined, with astronomically high debts, the country’s productive base in complete disarray and the national economy drip-fed through all sorts of EU financial aid packages.
In this context, the 2004 Olympic Games seemed like a post-funeral party to celebrate the memory of a country heading with mathematical precision towards economic bankruptcy, with its citizenry caught in a bad trip of their own making, so buzzed out on hedonism and glamour, that they stubbornly refused to see the edge of the cliff beyond the gleaming star on the hood of their Mercedes-Benz.
The prerequisite infrastructure for the Olympics included highways and motorways for a better road transport system throughout the mainland.
Despite eating up huge amounts of money, these projects – just like the majority of the public works at that time – were shoddily done and presented unfinished to the public, for fear of embarrassment by a potentially disastrous delay. Ultimately, a decade and a half would pass before they were properly (??) completed.
Among the casualties of the project were a number of small businesses that catered to the needs of drivers and travelers along these highways. Whether due to changes in road mapping or because they couldn’t afford to pay the high rates charged by operating companies, they became inaccessible and were left to wither, eventually closing up shop.
These were mostly gas stations that had expanded their services to include automotive repair and maintenance (tire shops, garages, roadside assistance), food and drink establishments (restaurants, cafes), and motels offering hourly rates or short-term accommodation booking options.
Today the husks of these businesses lay abandoned and ravaged behind the safety barriers on the highway. In some cases their former use is still apparent, while others are so dilapidated as to be virtually unrecognizable. Some have been completely abandoned to their fate or to the mercy of looters, and a few have for-sale signs, in search of a dreamer who might wish to revive them. Hope dies last, as they say.
Still, even today the morphological variety of these buildings can be impressive, ranging from a hodgepodge of multiple additions or unapproved structural modifications to an original structure – always in accordance with the specifications of the oil companies that supplied each gas station – to a few expertly designed and constructed complexes that could be considered examples of modernist architecture.
The interior of these buildings tells another sad story. Anything useful or salable has been stripped off long ago, leaving the buildings exposed to weather conditions and the whims of the passers-by, who haven’t been especially kind to them: The remains of a fire someone lit to warm themselves, sports-related graffiti on the walls, broken furniture and plumbing fixtures, a disemboweled mattress, invoices scattered on the floors, the paraphernalia of a junkie who found refuge here.
In a different, parallel universe maybe some organization, or agency, or who knows what, would undertake the task of properly recording and studying these “ghosts” on HWY 1. If not for the sake of historical documentation, then at least because these walls witnessed a plethora of small, everyday moments in the lives of those of us who at one time or another took the upwardly mobile road, when the role of these gas stations was not merely to provide fuel and supplies to people and vehicles, but to serve as visual reference points, sometimes for decades – the landmarks of a peculiar Great Beyond.
English translation by Panos Tomaras