When you’re eight, there are limits as to how far you’re allowed wander. In fact, “Don’t go past such-and-such street” was an annoyingly familiar refrain. And for the most part (except for that time I ran away), I observed it. Why? To avoid hearing the dreaded “WUYFCH!” (“Wait until your father comes home!”).
But Mommandad never said anything about travelling below the streets.
The most mysterious thing in The Field near my house was The Tunnel of Doom. It was, I learned years later, part of the massive L.A. County storm drain system that leads all the way to (as my buddy Rory called it) the Specific Ocean! Talk about things “never before witnessed by human eye!” But the entrance was covered by a steel gate. So the best we could do was shine our flashlights in and dream.
But then, miraculously, it happened. Some enterprising teenagers managed to pry up a corner of the gate–just enough for an eight-year-old to squeeze through.
And squeeze through we did!
After days of planning (we’d seen Journey to the Center of the Earth, so we knew what to bring), we had our first adventure in The Tunnel of Doom. We didn’t have to bend over much, but we did have to straddle the little creek that ebbed and flowed through it. Sometimes after a rainstorm it was so high we’d have to postpone our trip.
We saw very few stalactites or stalagmites, and virtually no dinosaurs. But we did see scampering rats, picked-clean bones, and various things dropped through gutter grates (“No, honey, not Daddy’s watch!”). It was a storm drain, not a sewage pipe, so fortunately we didn’t see “that kind of stuff.”
We’d time ourselves, sometimes travelling for hours. There were only a few outlets we could exit through, but all were miles away, opening up whole new urban vistas! Hence, The Tunnel of Doom soon became our Secret Subway! It remained that for several years—until some nosey grown-up said, “Wait, what the—?” and a bigger, heavier gate was installed.
Decades later, I taught at La Mirada’s Biola University, located near my old Secret Subway entrance. One day, I overheard two of my students talking about their latest “draining” expedition in The Tunnel of Doom. A rainstorm had struck while they were inside, and they’d nearly drowned!
So don’t try this at home, folks. Or if you do, join an “urban caving” club. Yes, apparently, there are quite a few eight-year-olds out there who never grew up. And, hey…
Why should they?