There is a Tunnel of Love that is known only to the residents (and friends) of my hometown. It has a long history, but my life only intersected with this minor landmark for a short period of time. I can only present and reflect a snapshot in the epic movie of life that is Owego, New York.
Travelers that pass through this town probably won’t find it. In years gone by, passengers boarded the trains–such as the legendary Phoebe Snow–most likely glimpsed the Tunnel when the train stood at the station, awaiting the signal to continue on to Chicago and points west. Yes, they would look down from the window and see this strange passage-way that dipped under the tracks. Little did these people know what they were crossing over.
I know next to nothing about the history of the Tunnel. I suspect that it was built sometime during the heyday of passenger service when trains passing through Owego, from New York City were frequent. The structure allowed the townspeople–mostly kids, I would think–to safely cross under the busy rails on their way to the Boys Club or Evergreen Cemetery.
So, how does my slice of life in Owego overlap with the underpass?
One important fact that has to be considered is that my long-time girlfriend–childhood sweetheart–lived only a block away. I was never a member of the Boys Club, mostly because I could never play basketball, never understood basketball and when I was ever forced into being a part of a team, would not know what on earth to do with the ball. I knew it had to go into the hoop but getting it there, dribbling, was a skill I never mastered…like piloting a 747.
But the Boys Club did host dances, and dances were a way to hold my sweetie on any given Friday or Saturday night. But the railroad tracks separated the dance from her front door. How to walk her home?
That’s where me and the Tunnel of Love got to know each other. The passageway was lit, but only with a few dim lightbulbs. Do you think that I, a true red-blooded Owego teenager, would let the opportunity slip away?
I became a thief on those nights. I stole more than one kiss. And, of course she needed guidance through the semi-darkness, so I simply had to hold her hand on the way. At the other end, her home waited just around the next corner. On Autumn nights, the sidewalks would glisten with freshly fallen rain and the flagstone was slippery. There was my arm again. On crisp nights in October, we wold kick the piles of leaves as we walked to her porch. A good-night kiss came and went. I walked home, flushed with youth, love, vigor and…teenage passion.
I soon learned that the Tunnel was also a Hall of Fame of sorts. Couples would chalk their names on the walls. I wrote PE + MAW on more than one occasion. There were names and love messages that dated back a decade.
The Tunnel had a history…and I (we) were a part of that legendary passage.
Passage. There’s the metaphor I was looking for. The Tunnel was a passage-way out of our youth to adulthood. Soon, there were no more dances…no more hand-holding…and no more stolen kisses. We both parted for college in ’65 and our parting was to be permanent.
The Tunnel is still there. It was green on my last visit. I walked through with my twenty-something son. The love notes were gone, replaced by modern urban-like graffiti…none of it I could read.
The walls were damp from leaks. Pools of stagnant water filled the low areas.
But the Tunnel still had an echo. I yelled “HEY” for my son and we listened to the reverberation. Yes, it was still there.
The Tunnel of Love still has many echoes.