I’ve been in the steam tunnels twice.
The first time I was too anxious to get more than a few steps.
The second time, I made it all the way to the legendary corridor where students have left their mark for years. Finally, as a day old alum, I signed the wall.
Better late than never!
So says my contribution to the wall. It was a long time coming, after all. It was something I had been hoping to do for ages.
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I had first heard about the tunnels at the beginning of my sophomore year of college, during Community Advisor training (or, Resident Assistant for all y’all more familiar with the more common term…if you don’t even know what that means, just don’t worry about it; not that important for this story). Anywho, I was a brand new CA–quiet, introverted, but excited to challenge myself in this new job. I was meeting so many new people during training and they were all pretty cool.
One day at lunch, there was talk of going to Australia; this was my very first introduction to the tunnels.
And you might say I was a bit confused…
…because we were in the middle of CA training and Australia was a helluva expensive plane ticket plus a good lengthy flight away from us college students in Western Minnesota who were supposed to be training to be the leaders of the on-campus residence halls.
I quickly learned that Australia was a simple code name that a few students had given to the steam tunnels below campus that stretch across campus and have entry points on the basement floor of almost every building. Basically, it’s like a secret underground that isn’t really that secret because so many students know about it. Why a code name? Well, because students aren’t actually supposed to be down there. Since they’re under the campus, the phrase “down under” is quite appropriate for describing their location. Hence, the code name Australia.
Well, I didn’t pay much attention to this talk anyhow. I was a goody two-shoes and wasn’t one the break the rules. Turns out my quiet nature left me out of the group that went, too, since no one invited me. I was quiet and I was new. Together, that didn’t bode well for me in a group where a lot of people already knew each other.
I felt sort of (okay, really) left out for not being invited when I heard about the escapade. The next day, however, the the group that went got reprimanded during training, since word of their excursion got out. That left me feeling not so bad anymore (I was a goody two-shoes, remember).
Still, I wanted to go…
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Fast forward two years.
I’ve loosened up a bit and I’m a senior. I’m still a bit of a goody two-shoes, but not to the extent that I once was. I’m a bit more of a risk taker and I want to make the most of my senior year.
So, I’m determined to get into the tunnels. These mysterious and legendary tunnels below campus.
Perhaps I’m a bit disgruntled that I wasn’t invited sophomore year…even though I probably wouldn’t have gone anyways since I would have been too nervous. I’m also a bit annoyed that a group was organized junior year during training–this time, with permission from campus police–at a time when my hall staff was off campus for staff bonding. I rub that off, though, convincing myself that getting permission from the police takes half the fun out of going down there anyways. I mean, really, half the fun of going into the tunnels is knowing you’re not supposed to be there. Let’s be real, here.
Well, the end of the year is sneaking up on us college students and I still haven’t gone. This is a problem. Because it has to happen. I’m determined to make it happen.
Finals week rolls around. I don’t have any finals, just a couple papers due (what a way to end undergrad…with no finals. It was bliss, I tell ya). A couple of my friends and I decide to explore the campus…meaning, those parts of campus we technically aren’t supposed to go to as students, but that we find ways to anyhow because we’re a bit irresponsible and want to have some fun.
We find our way into the tunnels. Doesn’t matter how. That’s not important.
Anywho, we find our way into the tunnels and we’re there for about two minutes until I freak out because I’ve been feeling particularly anxious all night. Plus, word on the street is that campus police have been patrolling the tunnels a lot more of late. Well, I don’t want to get caught going to places I shouldn’t be in my last week of undergrad–especially as a student hall director–and the anxiety wasn’t helping, so I convinced my friends to leave (well, more like pulled their arms off running) and we continued on the next leg of our midnight excursion.
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It’s now five days later.
I’m graduated. I graduated yesterday.
I’m leaving campus tomorrow. And I’m a little upset that I didn’t just go for it the other night. Taking ten steps into the tunnels hardly counts as actually being in the tunnels, right?
So, with one of my good friends, I go for it. He’s already been in the tunnels more than once but, because I don’t want to go alone, he agrees to accompany me.
[insert sappy comment about how awesome my friends are]
It’s pouring rain so we’re a little worried the tunnels might be flooded. We had heard that had recently happened and, since the the sidewalk grates around campus have the tunnels directly beneath them, it was a possibility.
Luckily, that didn’t end up being too much of a problem.
So, with a tummy full of pizza and Guinness (a result of one last late night with friends at college), we headed down under.
It was unbelievably quiet and dark. I was a little nervous, but it was a good kind of nervous. The “I’m doing something I shouldn’t be and it feels awesome” nervous. Almost everyone was gone from campus by then, anyways, so Campus Police had definitely scaled back on their patrolling.
The tunnels were narrow and dark. I remember the first time I went down there–the time I chickened out–I was surprised at how dark it was. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been–they’re tunnels under ground after all, of course they’re going to be dark! It was pitch black, impossible to go through without a flashlight–or, in our case, a phone light. It was certainly an adjustment for the eyes. There was graffiti here and there, the walk ways were narrow. We had to be on our guard about this big huge radiator that scales the length of the tunnels, making sure not to touch it because of how hot it is (yeah, it’s really not safe to be down there…but sometimes one must be willing to take these sorts of risks to experience things, ay?) There were a few sketchy chairs that had probably made themselves comfortable in those random corners of the tunnels years ago.
It was such a fun adventure. It felt like a different universe. I remember thinking, I’ve been going to this school for four years and I had no idea of this world that has existed below ground….until tonight.
And finally, after probably fifteen minutes and a wrong turn, we reached the infamous corridor. I took some time to walk around and, with the help of a phone light, I viewed the many others who had signed the wall before me; I knew many of the names because my alma mater is so small it’s hard to not know people. Then, finally, I took the blue marker I brought with me and finally signed the wall.
It was a long time coming.
But I could finally cross visiting the tunnels off my college bucket list.
And damn, did it feel good.
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