One of the greatest aspects of travel is that you can't help but become hyper-aware of what surrounds you. New customs, languages, signs and people all force you to look at the world--and your hometown--with a fresh perspective. Which is why it's even more exciting when an experience allows you to look at your hometown as a new destination all together.
My sister invited me. She has been dating her boyfriend for five years, and every anniversary they celebrate with something more and more creative. This year, she wanted to bring him to The Freedom Tunnel, located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and closed to the general public. Of course as soon as I heard about it I wanted to go, so we decided to test it out ourselves (that way their anniversary wouldn't be spent trapped underground if something went wrong).
Amtrak trains still run through these tracks, which are a little too quiet as they hurdle toward you from the darkness. Thankfully, either side of the tracks have sufficient room to stay clear out of the way...depending on what part of the tunnel you are at. Online articles from previous explorers mentioned occasional trains still running through, but when three went by right away my sister kicked a rock with her shoe and muttered, "occasional my ass."
The tunnel used to be a haven for homeless people, but has now transformed into a place for graffiti artists who, without time restraints, can really make beautiful work. There are some really amazing images on the walls, from beautifully detailed portraits to large, colorful names.
As you travel south towards (under) Riverside Park, the graffiti becomes more intense, as if acknowledging how far the viewer has come. Midway through the tunnel, a staircase contained in concrete led to a locked door. It let natural light in, but we still needed a flashlight once we were brave enough to peek our head in. It contained a warped metal garbage can sitting in a foot of still, brown water. On one wall were various skulls and eyes in black and white. On the other, the grim reaper. We decided to keep walking.
Two more trains later we emerged back into the sun. It was difficult figuring out how to escape the metal gates, since we weren't entirely supposed to be there, but once we did my sister and I took a deep breath together. Our pulses slowed back down. Fear of being arrested dissappated. The city had changed for us, even if just a little. We could picture more of it, add more history, and add more color to our version of New York City.