A Tunnel of Love

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.


Alternate Endings II

Sometimes life is like a box of chocolates,

You just never know what you’re gonna get.

–Forrest Gump

ACT 1–Mary arrived in Chicago and settled in with her sister, Gladys.  Gladys had never married but she was often in the company of a girlfriend, Monica.  Very few men were present in the world of Gladys.  This began to trouble Mary.  Things like this just didn’t happen in small towns.

Small towns.  Mary’s thoughts often returned to the gentle landscape of the village by the river where she had lived her life so far.  The buildings along North Michigan Avenue became monolithic monsters to Mary.  There were too many people…and these people didn’t really know each other very well.  Gladys had many acquaintances, but no real friends, with the exception of Monica.

Mary thought about Ron.  She wondered how he had been getting on without her.  For a time, Mary thought about filing for divorce but now she was having second thoughts.

After six months of trying to find a quiet place in Chicago that resembled her hometown, Mary made the decision to go home.  Not only did she miss her friends and the simple shops along River Street, she also missed Ron.  What had she been thinking?  Why did she leave behind the young man who loved her since childhood?

Mary bought a one-way ticket for home.  Gladys was too busy chatting with Monica at the Union Station cafe to pay much notice to Mary.

They parted.  Mary’s sister would always be her sister, not her best friend.

Her best friend, she now understood, was Ron.

Ron stood on the platform of the Erie-Lackawanna station, clutching a recent telegram.  He looked to the west and heard a distant train whistle.


ACT 2–Gary ate sand that June morning on the beach of Normandy.  He never thought of his own safety when he did what he thought should be done.  He never thought of his home or mother.  He didn’t have time to think about anything except to gain ground and help his comrades.

Tiny grains of sand were still lodged under his fingernails when they lowered his casket into the hallowed ground of Arlington National Cemetery.

His mother clutched a medal.  It wasn’t a Purple Heart, it was Distinquished Service Cross.


ACT 3–Mavis sat in the waiting room of St. Basil’s Hospital.  She could hear the beeping of the respirator.

Three months later, Mavis and the love of her life, strolled along a snowy avenue in a small New England Town.  She paused to drop an envelope into the post box.  It contained a check made out to Kerry’s Funeral Home.  The next morning, fresh flowers would be placed on her husband’s grave.


Alternate Endings 1

Sometimes film directors will shoot several endings to a movie.  I’ve heard that Michael Curtiz had another conclusion set to go for Casablanca.  In this version, Ilsa does not get on the plane with Victor Laszlo.  One wonders.

Yes, one wonders.  Are sad endings better than happy endings?  Personally, I feel strongly that the Janus face of drama does indeed have two faces: Tragedy and Comedy.  After all, in all good comedy, there is a strong core of the tragic.  Chaplin can bring a tear to your eye.  Laurel and Hardy are every men, destined to make mistakes and go through life bumbling…like the rest of us.  I could go on.

I will go on.  Here are three very short tales (Part I).  I’ll do the set up…you construct your own endings.  In Part II, I will share my own alternate endings.

ACT 1–Mary stood with Ron on the platform of the west-bound tracks of the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad.  Her ticket stub had 4:20 pm stamped on it.  There was only one ticket and it was only one-way.  Mary did not plan on coming back to this town, not anytime soon…not anytime ever.

Mary and Ron were married five years and twenty-nine days ago.  They were crazy in love back then.  There wasn’t a hillside or shady riverbank location that was unknown to them.  They knew all the places to neck, kiss and make love.  That ‘making love’ is what started the great love they thought they had to diminish.  Mary never wanted a family.  She wanted Ron all to herself and the thought of sharing his affection with a child struck fear in her heart.  Ron waited outside the hospital room while Mary delivered the baby she didn’t want.

The infant could sense the lack of love from his mother.  This intense need on little Billy’s part was never met.  So, out of loneliness and a chill of the little heart, little Billy simply found another way to get love.  He let himself die to be with the Lord’s mother.

Ron could do nothing to stop this.  Billy’s loss was the beginning of an emotional barrier he built between Mary and himself.  Their marriage grew cold and soon Mary was talking of going to Chicago to live with her sister.  Who knows, she told Ron, maybe things will change with me.  Right now, though, I want to be apart from you and this horrid little town.

So they stood on the platform, waiting.  Ron was heartsick.  He loved Mary,  Indeed, she was the only thing he really did love.

He heard the whistle from the train approaching the station.  He looked at Mary, her eyes were dry and determined.  Ron wept openly and without shame.

Mary boarded the train carrying all she cared to keep in a small cardboard suitcase.  She turned to look at the wet eyes of Ron and as the train jerked forward, she blew him a half-hearted kiss.

Ron watched the train as it rounded a distant curve and was out of sight.

He found his car keys despite his tears.


ACT 2–Gary Stebbins had been drafted.  He had been to basic training at Fort Bragg and was completing a weekend leave before being shipped to England.  It was 1944.

His mother, Mae, simply could not let go of her son.  She always felt she had an ability to sense the future…and at this moment, the future was a place without her only boy.  They stood in Penn Station waiting for the train to return him to Fort Bragg.  She was the only person seeing Gary off to war.  His fiancée was bed-ridden with the flu back home in Kingston.  The father, Harry, had been killed in a freak accident at a saw mill three years ago.

Three months later, Mae found herself standing in Penn Station again.  She wore a blue dress and didn’t bother to use make-up to hide the red eyes and pale cheeks.

Soon Gary appeared in the doorway of the arrivals area.  He was all smiles and proudly held his Purple Heart up to his chest.

That night, they dined at Delmonico’s.

Penn Station 1955

ACT 3–Mavis waited outside the ER at St. Basil’s Hospital.  Her husband of thirty-two years, Dave, was undergoing emergency by-pass surgery.

He had been a long-time smoker and failed to get the exercise the doctors had told him about a year ago.

Just then, the doors swung open and the orderlies pushed him past her.  All she saw was the sheets and part of his head with plastic tubes going into his nose.  She followed behind as they took him to ICU.  Nobody spoke to her.  Mavis was treated like a bystander.  After everyone left, she looked through the plexiglass window at her husband.  She could hear the beeping of the Machine.

She sat down and grabbed a copy of Good Housekeeping.  An hour later, the beeping stopped.  A nurse came out and told her the sad news.  Like a robot, Mavis walked to the chapel and lit a candle.