Freedom Tunnel

March 1st, 2012 by

Freedom Tunnel. The name is immediately recognizable to anyone with even a baseline knowledge of NYC's exploring and graffiti culture. Many have visited this tunnel. Some have painted here, while others lived it in. Many have casually passed through, and some have tried to exploit it for selfish PR. Few are those that truly formed a relationship with this forsaken place, and the stories of those who have all vary wildly, while maintaining a generally dark thread.

Mine is no different. I first stumbled upon this tunnel in 1990. I was immediately drawn in. Over the years just about every possible flavor of life event has taken place here. I've wandered this tunnel alone and in groups. I've been paid to lead clandestine tours through it. I've painted this tunnel and observed others as they put up masterfully illegal artistic productions. I've taken everyone down here - from significant others to a japanese news crew. I ran into cops here, who became much more friendly when the girl I was with pulled out her badge. Girl cops are fucking nuts. I've talked to many of the homeless that used to live down here, except that guy who would ride through on his bike and say nothing. And that dead guy. Oh and the guy with the knife, who quickly realized there was nothing to be gained from trying to be a threat - though he didn't have much to loose either.

I've seen the homeless shanty town. I was there when they evicted the homeless, again and again. I was there when they sent in the heavy machinery to destroy the concrete bunkers and old control tower. I was there when Trump's high rises began to rise just to the south of the tunnel, and his security goons hilariously tried to stop me from entering or taking photos. I threatened to arrest one of them. It was pretty funny.

When Amtrak tried to secure the tunnel, I thwarted their efforts. When they sealed it up again, I made my own entrance.

I've spent hours at a time in this place. To see it after dark is a trip into the darkest recesses of not only NYC, but your own twisted mind. Alone in the dark, there is no one to hear your screams - or so you'd think. Down here, back then, the walls had eyes and the mole people could practically see in the dark.

I've been down here during the best of times and the worst of times. When my man Byle wanted to bring 30 college students from the infamous west side dorm into the tunnel in the middle of the night for a 'party', I happily lead the way. The dorm, by the way, was just a bunch of rooms rented in one of NYC's last SROs. The people in that building were perhaps just as desperate as the residents of the tunnel at the time. I've drank, partyed and painted here. I've lived here, for in this abyss you feel alive.

I've been down here on the darkest of days. There was a day a few years back that for awhile I thought of as the worst day of my life. Unemployed, with one OCD girl wanting to control my every action and another stalking me, spreading lies about me to anyone stupid enough to listen. It was to a point where I wanted to see her car on my block so I could walk up to it and shoot her in the fucking head for still trying to ruin my life - months after I stopped speaking to her. The restraining order and contacts at the DA's office might have even kept me out of jail. Who knows. Part of me wishes I got to find out. The other part just doesn't give a fuck.

It all seemed like one huge trap with no way out. The economy just fell in the toilet in the toilet so work prospects were not going to be easy and these neurotic women were aces at disruption and drama.

I made my way to the tunnel to be alone. Away from the all the insanity and instability surrounding me. I tried to make sense of it all - talking aloud at nothing but the walls, filled with anger hate and disappointment. I considered the merits of a quick unhonorable death. But in those dark hours I came to see it all with the new clarity. Yes, bad decisions had lead me to that day, and into a dark tunnel alone. Yes, those choices were all mine. But yes, also were the decisions being made - right then and there - to cast away all the toxic clutter clouding my judgement. To throw out all of these people and their dramas. Change the phone number, stop taking to any potential lying sack of shit enablers out there. Fuck, change whole address and move so no one could fucking find me. To make an honest go at my career finally. I sat at the top of a wall for what must have been hours sorting through the mental debris of a life gone off the rails. As the hours passed so too did the feeling of wanting to be done with this shit life once and for all. The trains went by, but none of them had my name on them. I knew I had a viable plan, and that this was indeed the bottom. The darkest of places I could ever end up. Perhaps that would scare many people - but to me it was comfortable. Familiar. Perhaps too familiar.

What seemed like a dead end just hours ago became of world of true possibility. It was a clean slate.

The scant few people that had some idea how close to the edge I was on that day, who called or wrote or whatever - are some of the only people I actually trust anymore.

The years that have followed have been the best of my rather miserable life. I walked out of the tunnel that day a free man. My second lease on life began that day. I know it sounds ridiculously cliche, but it's true. I'm healthier, earning a load more money, and in love with the soulmate I never would have found if I never touched bottom and stared at the darkness that day.

For me and many others, This is the essence of freedom tunnel. A place to escape to, and a place to hopefully emerge from. For some it took years, perhaps decades. Others never emerged and all. Some went to jail, others moved on, cleaned up. The homeless are gone now. The money Amtrak recently threw away painting some of the walls destroying some priceless art was a waste. All it did was create a new canvas that is already being painted with fresh graffiti from a newer generation of writers. The tourists still pass through, the bombers still tag up, and the photo geeks still get in. No amount of fencing can contain this place, for this is no ordinary tunnel.

This is Freedom Tunnel.

4 responses to “Freedom Tunnel”

  1. The Batmouse says:

    I see what you mean about in the Freedom tunnel you feel free. I was down there and boy it was great. Me and my squad went. Problem is, I’m actually an artist. I love art, it’s the only way I can express myself freely and put in messages that only I can understand. But I’m a minor. So when I went to an art store to buy me some spray paint, I was crushed when they told me you have to be 18 or older. I tried to put up a sort of argument, but they wouldn’t sell it. Do you know a place where I can get spray paint? It kills me that I can’t make a mark of my own on the tunnel.

  2. Control says:

    I think online is probably your best bet, though you’ll need to swipe someone’s credit card ๐Ÿ™ If you can find a small hardware store they might not be such a pain in the ass. The few times I’ve needed paint I bought from big chain home improvement stores and they always ask for ID.

    The other option of course is just looting it from said chain stores.

  3. Ant says:

    You can always ask for someone who is of age and tell them to buy you cans, or anyone in the family whobis of age and you trust with purchasing Cans. Can’t be all that hard, I’ve done so for my cousin who himself is an artist. Good luck on getting them cans.

  4. DweaM says:

    I remember going there all the time when I was a kid in from the early 80’s. There were a lot of cool pieces there over the years. There was a time, it was truly like a museum. I remember there being a gate under the walkways from the park towards the water and another right off the ramp on the highway. Nice memories!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • About The Author

    Bad Guy Joe

    Bad Guy Joe
    Bad Guy Joe knows more about the NYC underground than anyone else on or below the surface of this planet. He has spent nearly 30 years sneaking into NYC's more forbidden locations. When not underground, he's probably bitching about politicians or building something digital. 
  • Recent Comments

  • Check out our Twitter feed

  • Social

  • Instagram Feed

    Something is wrong.
    Instagram token error.
  • Featured Press