Friday, March 9, 2012

I Love Danger

No, I don’t.
In fact, I hate danger but since I spent a good part of my life in dangerous situations, apparently I am some twisted thrill seeker with a problem he’s not addressing.
Today’s exciting adventure takes us to the Grand Concourse section of the Bronx during the late sixties. For those unfamiliar with the area it’s the main local thoroughfare next to Yankee stadium. What most people don’t know, (Even people who lived there for the majority of their lives) is there is an abandoned subway tunnel running beneath it, adjacent to the Metro-North train yards. (It’s been quite a while so I’m going to need a little leeway regarding exact details) I was in my senior year in high school and my buddy Pete, who lived in the area, told our group about it and would we want to go check it out?  
So let’s review.
I’m being asked to explore an abandoned subway tunnel that leads to gawdknowswhere, in the Bronx no less, with a group whose self-defense skills fell short of the girls in The Babysitters’ Club.
“Hell yeah!” bellowed Kenny, our group’s resident psycho. “I’m in,” said Ronnie, who planned to be a cop and felt he needed to experience dangerous situations. “I’ll go if we get beer first,” said Jimmy, who was, as far as I was concerned, the only clear thinking member of our group. Which left me, the remaining member of our little quintet, to be the voice of reason.
“Okay, I’m in,” I said.
Damn peer pressure!
So after school we each bought a 32 ounce bottle of Shaefer beer using our fake IDs (the legal drinking age in those days was eighteen) and headed off on our perilous adventure. The first part was sneaking into the Metro North Railway yards.  Which we did by waiting for one of the trains to pass then scurried toward the tunnel entrance as the train blocked us from view.
There was a thick board covering the entrance but the hinge was broken so we were able to pry the board open enough to slip inside.
It was dark as hell. We turned on our flashlights and saw why train people carry lanterns. It’s because flashlights don’t do diddily when it comes to lighting up the inside of a subway tunnel. So, finding ourselves in a dark, dangerous place with insufficient light we did the only reasonable thing we could do.
That’s right, we uncapped our beers, chugged them and pressed forward.
I remember telling myself that for an ‘Abandoned Subway Tunnel’ this damn thing stretched on pretty damn far. I can’t remember how much time we spent walking along those tracks but when we finally reached the subway station platform, we climbed up on it and took a leak against the wall. (Beer goes through 17 year olds pretty quick.)
As we returned to the platform edge, sat down and finished our beers, I remembered thinking that what I was doing was pretty cool.
And it was. The dangerous part would come about a half hour later while I was shit-faced and stupid.
Once we got back to the tunnel opening, Pete mentioned that instead of waiting for a train to come to block our exit, we should instead hop the wooden fence in front of the staircase entrance that led up to the condemned crosswalk that spanned over the Metro-North train tracks.
That was by far the most idiotic and dangerous idea I had ever heard. So, of course, that’s what we did.
When we got to the top I saw why the overhead crosswalk had been condemned. There were numerous slats missing, the ones that remained were in disrepair and others still had been replaced with debris like pipes, rods, a suitcase lid etc.
Kenny, (resident psycho, remember?) struts right out over it, followed by Ronnie, still needing to test his courage. Then me, who was drunk enough not to realize just how dangerous it was.
As I’m making my way across, a train-whistle screams and a train appears from around the bend. As it races toward us, the overhead crosswalk platform begins shaking and a couple of the makeshift planks start falling onto the train tracks below. I look behind me and see the nearest plank is too far to make without a running start and the remaining slats ahead are either spreading apart or dropping away.
I look to my friends and their eyes are like golf balls and their faces pale as death.
With the crosswalk falling apart and with no other choice, I sprinted across to the other side.  
To this day I have no idea how I made it. Was I lucky enough that wherever my foot landed there was something there to hold it up? Was the Universe watching at that very moment and decided, “Ahhh, not yet, jackass, not yet?” Or is it that a 17 year old, when scared out of his wits, has dexterity and balance far beyond those of mortal men?
Don’t know and didn’t have time to ponder as the train yard police were charging after us.
P.S. We got away.

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