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'I Can At Least Flip Out In Here': People Pound Their Pandemic Frustrations In Worcester Smash Room06:52
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(Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
(Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

There's a small business inside a big warehouse in an industrial area of Worcester.

Walk inside, and you'll see scrawls in neon magic marker all over the walls — rants against cancer, against Donald Trump, against COVID.

And you'll hear the sounds of pent-up pandemic frustration being let out.

This is a place where you go to break things. Where you're supposed to bash and crush and pummel. It's called Smash It 2.

Customer Danielle Blanchard has brought a bag full of stuff to smash to smithereens.

"Ex-boyfriend photos — like, why do I even still have these?" Blanchard says. "An empty bottle of gin ... I have a sleep apnea mask [and] this stupid thing that my dentist put in my mouth."

Smash It 2 co-owner Darcy Cook gives Danielle Blanchard instructions on how to smash things without hurting herself. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Smash It 2 co-owner Darcy Cook gives Danielle Blanchard instructions on how to smash things without hurting herself. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Smash It 2's co-owner, Darcy Cook, suggests Blanchard take a sledgehammer to all of it. She suits up Blanchard in goggles, thick protective gloves and a helmet with face shield, then takes her to a smash room. It's about 20-feet-long and 9-feet-wide, and it's clearly been banged up before -- by customers who've paid anywhere from $25 to $250 for a session.

Cook goes over the rules. Everything has to be thrown or hit in one direction toward the far wall. Blanchard is not to hold a bottle by the neck to smash it on something — that could lead to an injury, even with the gloves. She's only allowed to hit or throw it.

There are two beaten-up but sturdy tables that look like big wooden spools. Blanchard can put things on top of them to smash. One table already has a printer sitting on it. Sledgehammers and aluminum baseball bats hang on the wall — the tools of destruction.

Blanchard wastes no time. She grabs a bat and starts pounding on the printer.

A liquor bottle takes a direct hit as Danielle Blanchard smashes her way through her appointment. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
A liquor bottle takes a direct hit as Danielle Blanchard smashes her way through her appointment. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

A plexiglass window sits high on a shelf. It's spray-painted with an expletive and the term COVID-19. A rock tune is playing on a mobile speaker in the background, from the playlist Blanchard created specifically for her smash session. She picks up baseballs Cook gave her and hurls them at the plexiglass. After about a dozen tries: success. The plexiglass splinters into hundreds of pieces.

Blanchard is out of breath. She laughs. "I got it!" she says, adding that she "needs" to break more things. The 39-year-old stay-at-home mom has a lot weighing on her.

"Getting rid of my diabetes pain, getting rid of my COVID pain ... the pandemic — it's been, like, a whole year. I'm, like, done. I have two little kids. ... And I've got to be the good mom that doesn't flip out," Blanchard says, growing more emotional.

"So I can at least flip out in [the smash room]," she adds. "Then hopefully I can go back home and be the good mom who reads the bedtime stories and makes dinner and doesn't get upset about little things."

Through the window of the smash room, Danielle Blanchard holds up her the next item to be smashed -- an empty insulin bottle. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Through the window of the smash room, Danielle Blanchard holds up her the next item to be smashed -- an empty insulin bottle. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Cook brings Blanchard a supply of vases, bottles and plates. We step out of the room to avoid the flying glass and plastic. Cathartic shrapnel.

Sounds of pounding, screaming and things shattering echo through the place all day. Cook says she doesn't tire of the noise; it's all part of her customers' stories.

"We have health care workers come in here all the time who just need a life time out — not even just the hospital ones, but the counselors, [sobriety house workers]," Blanchard says. "I mean, it's a ripple effect."

There are parents with teenagers, sick of remote learning. Couples even come for date nights.

In the black light of a smash room, Kira Helper and Dmitri Burtis strike a pose before embarking on a smashing session. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
In the black light of a smash room, Kira Helper and Dmitri Burtis strike a pose before embarking on a smashing session. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Kira Helper and Dmitri Burtis, both of Boston, came to Smash It 2 to celebrate seven years together.

"And we're doing the seven deadly sins to celebrate," Helper says. "So this is our first activity, and it's rage."

Helper and Burtis bash items including a flat screen TV and a small chest of drawers. It's a welcome break from being holed up at home.

"It's nice to just be out and, like, see humans and break stuff," Helper says.

Burtis adds that they were both steadily working musicians before the pandemic.

"And so we basically lost, like, all of our livelihood overnight," he says. "I think letting some of that out — not being able to do what I love — came out a little bit [in the smash room], for sure."

Dmitri Burtis shows some baseball form with a hit on a coffee maker. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Dmitri Burtis shows some baseball form with a hit on a coffee maker. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

The business opened in July. Cook says she and her brother, Joseph Ceccarelli, risked opening it in the pandemic because they wanted to get involved in the community and felt like they could use a "time out" in a smash room themselves.

Starting a more low-key business to help people relieve stress — say, a spa or meditation room — was not in the cards.

"My personality is not a quiet one. So I'm louder than loud. And I've done yoga. I love massage. My kids meditate. But at the end of the day, it just doesn't do it for me," Cook says. "We actually have Smash It yoga here. It's loud. It's obnoxious. It's over the top. You still get a good workout, but ... we break stuff at the same time that we are, you know, in community with other women."

As for where they get all of that stuff customers are breaking, Cook says people donate things — such as old computers, TVs, microwaves, lamp and toilets. The smash room also works with local junk clean-out businesses to collect items and recyclers to take away the remnants.

And there are lots of remnants. Still, a group of local high school students Cook and her brother employ have gotten the sweep-ups of the smash rooms down to a fast science.

Smash It 2 co-owner Darcy Cook starts to clean up after a smash session. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Smash It 2 co-owner Darcy Cook starts to clean up after a smash session. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

"We love taking the aftermath pictures, because the before picture and aftermath just makes people laugh out loud. Like that's what that used to be?" Cook says. "That means the person had a good time when we can't figure out what it was."

Danielle Blanchard says in all of the unrecognizable shards she left on the floor, she accomplished something.

"The pandemic is like, 'You can't. You can't. You can't. You can't,' " she says. "And the smashing was like, 'Yeah, you can! Do it! Do it again! Like, do it harder! ... That felt really good."

On the way out of the place, Blanchard grabs a fluorescent pen to leave her mark on the wall. And perhaps feeling the afterglow of all that smashing, she writes something positive:

"Happy, Healthy Danielle was here."

Customers of Smash It 2 leave emotional scrawls on the walls outside the smash rooms. (Robin Lubbock)
Customers of Smash It 2 leave emotional scrawls on the walls outside the smash rooms. (Robin Lubbock)

This segment aired on March 4, 2021.

Lynn Jolicoeur Twitter Producer/Reporter
Lynn Jolicoeur is the field producer for WBUR's All Things Considered. She also reports for the station's various local news broadcasts.

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Lisa Mullins Twitter Host, All Things Considered
Lisa Mullins is the voice of WBUR’s All Things Considered. She anchors the program, conducts interviews and reports from the field.

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