* * *
I dipped my tea bag several times into the empty cup, like an angler tempting fish with his bait. As I had agreed to, I would meet with this anonymous stranger who would be shown the tunnel under my guidance. I'll admit that I knew the rudimentary steps to get in, but what happened from thereon in was all adventure.
We slipped through a gap in the unforgiving steel of the barbed wire fence and came to an artificially lit part of the tunnel. Majestically, a bird swooped down as if to greet us. All of the doors providing access to the tunnel could only be opened from the inside, so we had to walk for a bit until we would reach the open space at 60th street. On the way, there were tags saying, "Big Brother is Watching" (most likely referencing the solitary camera that exists under the buildings) and a picture that I liked of a student getting a good mark.
This was my fourth and most comprehensive view of the tunnel. From the first time I stumbled by it in the park to my contemplation of doing a thorough exploration, one thing was for sure - this was a place that definitely needed to be hit up someday...and today was that day.
Our duo was a pair of minds, siblings in paranoia. I feared the trains which creep up silently while she feared running into the homeless. Every rumble I heard, I associated with a train, until I eventually became conditioned to pay the sounds very little mind. Every opening she found, she called out, "Hello?", just to ensure that we were not barging into someone's house. The tunnel has a few places where there is a ladder leading either to the park or is a one-way ticket to nowhere, like this opening that we stumbled upon.
Most of the areas of the tunnel had accumulated hastily scratched out graffiti over the years, but every once in a while we would come across a well-done mural. One mutual interest was that we wished to find the (in)famous murals of Freedom - the tagger whose moniker had been adopted as the tunnel's unofficial name.
After I did precision jumps from rail to rail and balanced on the tracks, we came across an open manhole. A stream of water vibrated through the hole. I asked for a headlamp and took a look inside. I climbed down the ladder's rungs and investigated the running water in the sewer/drain system. A good number of spots in this tunnel lead down into these waterways.
We passed by golden graffiti with the "Illuminati" pyramid which said, "Everybody got a story" and made our way to 70th street - a place where the tunnel lights end and the only illumination comes from the sun shining into the overhead grates. As we walked along a wall, she perceived something to be amiss. A large beam of light. A sudden rumbling. We ducked our heads, straddled the wall, covered our ears and waited for the locomotive to pass. Our first train.
"Wow, this a lot of litter!", I conveyed a bit loudly.
"Shh!", an unidentified voice replied, startling me.
"Sorry", I whispered in response.
Suspicion confirmed. There still were people living in parts of the tunnel.
We jogged onward, and I didn't know the way out from Harlem, so I was under the impression that our trip would go full circle. Fortunately, this was not the case (as my legs would have probably fallen off afterwards from that much walking). Halfway through the tunnel, we found some more tags, and I noticed a couple made by Trap. I've seen Trap's work around a lot, particularly near places with trains. These other ones were a bit more colorful.
|Would you like to be a fly on the wall?|
"I lost my phone. It must have fallen out of my jacket pocket when I ditched everything and ducked into the corner."
"Don't worry, this happens all the time. I just feel really bad that I lost your light."
"Let's go back and look for your phone."
"What's the point? Look, let's just forget about it and keep going."
"No, we have to go back and try to find it."
"Okay. Well... I was around here in the darker area to be well concealed."
"Oh, wow. Thank you. Thanks."
Freedom's murals were up ahead, but right as we were about to scrutinize them, train lights appeared from both sides and attempted to double team us. We both rushed back to our original hiding spots, where I took care not to lose my items again. One of the trains whooshed past. But the second train...where was it?
"Weren't there two train lights?"
"Yeah. Guess one of them was a ghost train."
'Faded glory', is a phrase that comes to mind when viewing Freedom's work. A gray wall covers his pieces such as the Coca-Cola and American Way pictures. In their place, a bomber wrote, "Fuck Amtrak." Indeed, I was disappointed seeing his art being reduced from this:
As I contemplated why Amtrak would blow out their funds ruining the once beautiful walls, my partner discerned two figures walking in the distance (Fortunately, our pair had symbiosis in which I supplied physicality while she contributed acute sensory perception).
"Fuck.", I swore. "Let's turn back." My mind was clouded with doubts, as I was nearly certain that this pair came to apprehend us. Non-reassuringly, a few signs threatened that those caught here would be detained. I also thought that a train had spotted me and the conductor radioed in the other (ghost) train to have men look for us. I suggested running while she wanted to talk her way out of it. However, if these were officials, they wouldn't be messing around. I suggested tensely, "If we go to the other tracks, we can avoid confrontation." She was as stagnant as the tunnel's air, and kept suggesting that we wait. I implored that we should leave because I didn't want to get arrested. But, defeated, I waited. We waited.
The figures grew larger until they greeted us, terming us as, "fellow dwellers". Relieved, I told them that I thought they worked for Amtrak. They responded, "Yo, we was thinkin' the same thing about you!". We asked them if they knew a way out, and chatted about the details of the tunnel. The last words of advice they gave were, "Watch out for trains!"
The light at the end of the tunnel. Sweet, honey colored light shone at the tunnel's end. Our final destination was so close, almost palpable. We saw a tagger run across the tracks and greeted him. In mid-chat, a fifth train came rolling by. He stayed by his wall while we skipped from the tracks back to a hiding place in the tunnel. This area had more visitors than I thought. We bade farewell to the kid and hopped the fence, eventually coming out.
After being in dark quarters where many things may have hindered your life, the rest of the city seemed beautiful and was definitely a thing to be appreciated. It was like waking from a coma and seeing the world renewed (or rebooted as LTV Squad might say).
I woke up safe and warm in my little bed the next morning. Was it all a dream? The last thing I could recollect was me being told to, "buy a bubble tea and take the J train." And I would. But for now, I let the sunshine embrace my body as I lay down...down...down.
* * *
(As is now precedent, here is a teaser photo from my urbex files):
Until next time, everybody!