Lurking in the bowels of the earth, unbeknownst to the average Rochesterian, running through the former trough of the Erie Canal, are the remnants of a once proud and flourishing subway system. One warm March morning I ventured with a group of rag-tag industrial explorers, who are in no way affiliated with UR, into these tunnels. My experience was so unique that I feel the need to share it with others.You might ask what in the world influenced me to venture into the murky depths – hadn’t my mother told me that abandoned subways were better left for the mole people and various vagrants who call the undergrounds of cities their homes? No, exploring abandoned subway tunnels is in fact a wholesome activity that the whole family can enjoy! We saw evidence of this after we climbed into the downtown entrance to the tunnels, which is somewhere around South Street and directly underneath Dinosaur BBQ, which is actually an old station! We encountered some fellow spelunkers, aged 50 to five. Greetings were exchanged and one of the mothers in the group wished us a safe journey and told us that we had better be using some good lights.On the left of the cave-dwellers was what remained of a house, its original purpose is still unknown to me. With simple graffiti covering its weather-beaten walls and refuse littering the floor, this hovel wasn’t much to look at, so we kept on going to discover the treasures and marvels one would normally expect to find in a dilapidated urban cavern. The next room was darker and had a staircase which seemed to lead up to the surface. At the top of this staircase were some curtains and blankets. The inhabitants were gone for the day, probably out scrounging to make some cash. On the left were openings which peered over the rushing waters of the Genesee.Next to these openings were tenuous wooden walkways stretching over large pools of water which were fed by a constant flow from an industrial waterfall. Steam pipes and sodium lights added to the overall spooky ambiance of this section.A short foray on my own down a corridor whose floor was entirely covered with empty 40 oz. bottles ended abruptly when one of these steam pipes made a clanging sound, and incited me to turn heel and run the other way.I found the group in a room with huge ceilings and large archways that let in light from outside. This pathway underneath the Broad Street bridge was by far the brightest place I had seen yet. The walls were thoroughly covered in graffiti so good that it brought me back to my early childhood, growing up in New York City during the 80s, and to subway cars I had seen in the movie “Style Wars.” Poignant statements were intermixed among the beautiful full wall murals. People had ideologies such as “God is a cure for boredom,” “Your long face has been breaking hearts for miles” or, my personal favoritewall quote – “True meaning would be dying with you.”As I paused to admire the workmanship of one piece, a cadre of bicyclists wheeled past me. They had ridden down a staircase that started by the Blue Cross Arena in numbers exceeding two dozen. A cordial greeting was swapped between our groups and our fellow adventurers continued happily on their way.Drake Chapelminster, our underground survival expert, took this time to converse with some security guards present at the entrance the bikers had taken, speculating as to the contents of these tunnels.Next thing I know I am walking through the thickest darkness I had ever been in in my life. It was as if I was walking inside of my own mind, accompanied by 10 undergraduates, and my eyes were closed. Luckily, everyone in the group came equipped with flashlights and one or two of us had deadly assault weapons – I had a sandwich from the Pit and some beef jerky and another fellow had an air gun and two knives. There was a bag of clothing showing signs of recent deposition sitting next to an Ernie doll. A literal irony that seemed almost too good to be true, the City Newspaper’s March 3 issue, whose cover story was homelessness, was nestled among a pile of used jackets and empty soda bottles. I set the beef jerky that was sitting in my pack next to the newspapers as an amenity. I was in fact an unwarranted guest in another’s home.Three large tunnels had tracks running through them and the fourth was caved. These were your standard rails, with spikes pinning them down to the dirt and wooden planks in between. A little farther in we discover the most recently used section of the tunnel system, right underneath the Gannett Newspaper Building. This area had served as a loading dock as recently as 1996, a fact made clear by the large mechanical door contolledby a little red box named Micro Tools.The portals to these docks were all connected by a long passageway I accessed from a staircase. This entire section looked like it had been recently used. The few stray beer cans were evidence that this region had only been lightly frequented in the recent past, or that someone had cleaned it up over the years. There was writing on the wall that said “Fuck paintball” and sure enough we found rounds littering the entire region. “This would be an awesome place to play paintball,” Chapelminster commented.Lacking the conviction that shooting people with globules of paint at high velocities in pitch blackness is an enjoyable activity, I merely nodded and trudged on.”Hey everybody, turn off your lights!” Heather Bischoff said. While everyone else was allowing their eyes to adjust to the darkness of the room, I took it as an opportunity to test the strength of my new flashlight, and nearly blinded Heather in the process. After this incident, I elected to walk with my headlamp off and rely upon the Drake’s high-powered spotlight.I wouldn’t need to for long, though. The tunnel opened to the outside and part of the track went off to my left extending into the distance. Choy-Boyar informed me that this extension was a connection to the B & O and Pennsylvania Railroads.We took a brief respite and John McVay stopped launching glass at concrete for a moment to share part of his childhood with me. “My friends and I would go out to this place in the woods where there used to be an old garbage dump and there’d be all kinds of old bottles and strange things and we took great pleasure in breaking them.” He also made light of the fact that “anybody that came down here would be smart enough to wear shoes.” While the danger of cutting my foot on shards he had created was indeed lessened by the presence of Nikes on my feet, I felt that the absence of these bottles may one day rob future generations from learning what a St. Ide’s looked like.Next we entered a section where light came peeping through some openings at the top of the tunnels. I didn’t really need my headlamp but I kept the red LED on anyway just because it looked cool. Bischoff directed my attention to some graffiti writing that read “Red, white and brainwashed.” I thought this was funny because I’ve always associated the color blue with depression, not oppression.After a period of blandness and relative non-excitement, we came upon the holiest of holies – a pile of tires. Wasting no time to speculate as to the origin of these excess rubbers, the group began climbing them. Somebody came up with the brilliant idea of having a tire race. Jubilation ensued as contestants hurried to roll their respective tires up the hill. Bischoff counted to three and we let them fly. I ran with mine down the hill up until the point when someone yelled to me “Hey, watch out!” and I scampered to the side to avoid being flattened by the competitors. Rub-All McRadial, as I called my tire, performed brilliantly until it encountered an immoveable barrier – namely an oak tree. Chapelminster and Choy-Boyar began to launch their beast. It took the combined effort of four people, but once it was rolling it resembled the CAT demolition vehicle it had once been a part of, devastating every bit of nature in its path.So after the race it was back into the tunnels. Not much could have prepared me for what I saw next, except a course in chemistry or maybe geology. I s
wear
the wall was leaking poop. I know it was probably a steady stream of water causing oxidation, making it a reddish brown, but it looked like something much more disgusting. What trip to the underworld would be complete without a peek into the world below? A removed manhole cover gave Chapelminster the opportunity to hop in and take a look around. I hopped in next and all I could see was a long pipe that was filled almost to the top with gunk. I snapped a photo and then hopped out, smelling only slightly worse than I had before.Finally I could see the light at the end of the tunnel! A grassy meadow was just in view. “Goodbye sulfur and darkness, hello fresh air and sunlight,” I said as I climbed the hill to get a view of where I was. Directly above us was a road. In fact, the entire trip had been under parts of the city where I had often walked. How many times could one pass over something so interesting without never knowing it existed?Goldner can be reached atbgoldner@campustimes.org.



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