When we first found the underground
we were disappointed. It was the old man, Mr. G, from the coffee shop who had told us about where the new city met the old city in Pioneer Square
We expected something spectacular; what we found was a tourist trap. Chad said uhg, like a snarl, I-came-all-the-way-here-for-this-shit sigh of disappointment and we all felt the same. It was an information desk with some short choppy lady running the booth and teenagers leading you down stairs for a 30-minute tour.
Cally and Chad wanted to check out some of the shops. Ben and I gave up and went home. I wasn’t sorry.
Ben picked up a pamphlet from the tourist desk on our way out of the district to read on the walk home.
When he started reading about the history of the place my heart sped up. I couldn’t explain it. Damn it, mom
I murmured and Ben laughed and asked what I was mumbling about. Then I had to explain it, like how I always get these feelings when people talk about history that makes my heart skip a beat. And about how I always figured that it was because I was my mother’s daughter.
When it started getting too dark to see he folded the pamphlet up and tucked it in his back pocket. He put his hands in his pockets with his thumbs out like he always did. He didn’t get what I meant when I was talking about my stupid heart
until we were somewhere north on 10th Avenue. When he did he stopped dead in the sidewalk and pulled me back, screeching my tennis shoes like bad brakes on the concrete
He said, lets go back, and I said why. Because surely Cally and Chad had already caught a bus by now and are almost home unlike us because we decided to walk it. But he said it again and said because just maybe and stopped mid-sentence. So I reluctantly agreed and we turned around.
By the time we got back there it must have been nearly eleven and all the shops were closed, even Doc’s, some tourist sports bar, was closed. But the gate to the underground was unlocked so Ben said we should go in. I said, what if we get caught you daring boy
and he said, well what if we don’t. So we ran down stairs or more like slid down handrails and turned the corner.
From down underground we could see the stars
like we couldn’t from above. The street above blocked out all the street lights so it was just a straight shot of the sky from any opening above us. It was dark and our eyes took several minutes to adjust. When they did we started walking around.
In the 1890’s or so, this was ground level. Storefronts, which are now the basements of current shops, are down here. There are still a few signs that date back as original. Anyway, at sometime, this whole part of the city flooded. When the waters cleared, the city government promised to rebuild this area. But the citizens couldn’t wait so they went ahead and rebuilt their shops and homes. When the city’s construction crew came in, they decided to make the street level 9 feet higher, on stilts, so that if the area ever flooded again, nothing would be destroyed. When the road got built, the citizens pretty much gave the city a big fuck off by not moving up to the new level.
Ben pulled out a tiny flashlight that he kept attached to his key chain and pulled the pamphlet back out of his pocket and started reading again.
When the city realized that the citizens weren’t moving up to the street level, they mysteriously ran out of the money that they were supposed to have to build new sidewalks. They tore out the road at the ground level. When the district flooded again, the unpaved broken road beneath turned to mud; an impassible stretch of an asphalt and mud swamp. So the citizens were left climbing ladders to get up to the new street, crossing the street, then climbing nine feet back down on the other side. Ladies would have to carry groceries up and down. The men, who were mostly sailors or lumberjacks, were left carrying tools and supplies up and down. When they would head out to the bars and get drunk, they had to climb. Many fell. Many died.
When the city finally acknowledged that they needed to put the sidewalks in and the citizens gave up and moved up to the new level, three lonely staircases were built up to the new level and everything else was paved over.
Ben and I had walked all through nearly a mile of the underground
when we came to another staircase. Time to go back home he said, and he was right. But first he stopped me again and said, for a moment just look at the stars again
. And we stood there in almost complete darkness and looked up through a port light for a few minutes and stood there in silence.
We headed for home across dark streets
and I tripped over a sidewalk crack. Ben said, be careful and don’t fall down, they will have to make new sidewalks. And we laughed and laughed even though it wasn’t really that funny because we needed a brake from being quiet