©08 The Media Desk
Rockefeller Center, NY, NY
I lived in Rockefeller Center. Yes, THAT Rockefeller Center in New York City. But I didn't pay rent. And I was not homeless. No, I was not.
But now, after nearly thirty years there, I have moved out. So now I can tell my story.
On weekends during the holidays the best way for me to get home unnoticed was to go through Saint Patrick's Cathedral, then slip away from the crowds as a Mass starts and walk back by the rest rooms. Then into a janitor's closet that is usually locked, but that I have a key to thanks to a careless worker. Once inside the closet I locked the door behind me, then I had to undo my rigging of some old screws and move the piece of plywood that covered the plumbing to the mop sink. Then I would slip in between the cold water pipe and the wall, always being grateful that I wasn't any bigger than I was. Then I had to replace the plywood carefully and secured it with its two bent screws. Then I would climb down the old wooden ladder that is part of the interior framing of the building to an ancient service access. And yes it is ancient as I had found things down there from the 1860's. Then the trip down what I called my 'back hallway' was an almost painful crouched over double walk along an unused water pipe, for the three minutes it would take for me to get under Fifth Avenue and into Rockefeller Center.
Yes going through all of that was a pain, but it's worth it. There is so much security around the Center during the Christmas season, that I tried to avoid going out altogether on weekends. But there were times when I did need things, and I liked to check my mail once a week, and things like that, so I had to go out at least a few times during December other than when I worked during the week.
But for the most part I could get everything I needed without ever going outside the limestone building complex that I called home for decades.
I started here in the early seventies on a building services crew when I was in high school. You know, mopping floors and cleaning up the public spaces. As I was willing to work odd shifts and holidays because I needed the extra money I got to know a couple of the old timers who had been here when the place opened as Radio City during the Depression. Over the course of our working together Elmer and Ogden seemed to compete with each other trying to show me the most unusual feature or little known bit of information about the various buildings we worked in.
Elmer had been part of the crew that had helped build the original dozen buildings of the complex. He talked about working the 'high steel' on the RCA and AP buildings as they put the walls and floors on the metal skeletons. And it was through that knowledge that he and Ogden knew about certain quirks and oddities in some of the buildings that I was now using. His expertise was all above street level as he knew every door handle and window sill ranging from Atlas to the 'Top' of it all.
Ogden however knew the darker and more secret places below street level. He had personally seen to the installation and care of the original pipes that brought water and steam into the buildings and then carried it away. It was Ogden that showed me the various ways into the sub-basements and sub-sub-basements and other parts of the complex that weren't used by the regular maintenance crews.
Both of them had told me that the complex was built with the idea that certain important persons who had offices in the complex would be able to get out of the complex and through both the subway and a series of underground walkways to connect to the train tunnels feeding Grand Central Terminal in case New York itself was attacked by the rising power in Europe at the time the Center was being built. But then over the years since the war the tunnels were used for other purposes and a few were even filled in.
It was through the combining of their information that I came up with my plan when I got out of the service and found myself back in the city with three part time jobs and an apartment I described as the Five C's House. As in a: Crappy, Cold water, Cockroach-infested hole in Crime Central. For which I was paying well over half of my total income in rent. I was walking through Rockefeller Center one night when I saw one of the side passages that led to one of the accesses Ogden had showed me how to use. I walked down the passage and saw that the concealed door was still there. I waited until there was a break in the crowd, then I tried it and it opened. And that was when my fortunes changed.
One of the things I know that nobody else does any more is that while the information sheets about the complex are quite proud of the fact that there are four hundred and eighty eight elevators scattered between the nineteen official buildings that make up 'the Rock', they're not entirely accurate in their count. Well, they missed three, and two of them still worked! So I had two private elevators.
One of those elevators was cut off from the rest of the world and forgotten about when the US Rubber building on the Avenue of Americas was remodeled. (I know, it's not the US Rubber building any more, but the guys called everything by its original name and I still do it in their memory.) However, the elevator still works, and it still goes someplace, and if you know how to get to it through a service access below the public underground concourse through what is actually the original foundation for the RKO theater that used to be here, you can still use it to get to a set of narrow and oddly shaped areas on the tenth, eleventh and twelfth floors that I used as my 'winter quarters' as it was nicely heated. One of the rooms has a great view from its one window, but there is no air conditioning at all which makes it unbearable in the summer.
Which reminds me of something that continues to amaze me. I had very little 'turf' in the RCA building itself. Part of that is due to the fact that it is the 'premier location' at the complex, and thusly it is more closely maintained than the others, and part is because of the way it was built and has been cared for. Being mostly the tall thin tower, there simply isn't as much space to 'get lost' or be wasted.
But some of the other buildings aren't as closely managed as the tower itself.
And even now, with security as much a part of life in the city as traffic and bad weather, there are still parts of the huge complex that were all but ignored by everybody but me. And I have had to take some of my own precautions over the years to keep others out of my home.
Occasionally somebody else will find their way into the bowels of the complex, but they usually don't get any further than the lower level of the Sixth Avenue subway station below the public unified station. It may sound odd, but I do considerable maintenance and security work to keep the curious, and the homeless, out of the complex proper by maintaining security doors and gates and things like that. I even built a new wall across one part of an old tunnel that led to the steam tunnel that would eventually take somebody both past my room and under the cathedral from the lower platform.
Another advantage of my being there was that I helped keep the rat population down.
When I was working here in high school there was a 'vermin abatement program' that had us setting and checking traps in various locations several times a week. Sometime after I left it had stopped, but I found a lot of our old snap traps for rats in one of the storerooms, so I used food as bait and reset them in some of the same places we used to. In the first two weeks I would set a trap and walk away and hear it go off before I was around the corner. I kept score and moved traps that didn't catch their quota and slowly the number of rats declined.
And recounting my early days in residence has got me wondering if the MTA crews ever wondered where all the dead rats came from that seemed to appear in their trash cans in the middle of the night.
All these years later it is almost unusual for me to catch one in the Center tunnels although I still do pretty good out by the subway.
Except for during the first few weeks after the weather changes in the fall and the nights get colder. Then the rats and mice and raccoons all try to move to warmer digs. Them, I kill. Most of the house cats get tired of dodging me and most find somewhere else to live in short order. There's a couple of cats that have claimed some of the smaller pipes and tubes near the subway as their own and I let them be. Since that's where most of the rats come from, the cats make good security guards. For the most part, stray dogs don't seem to be a problem. I've had a couple of them move in with me, and except for old 'Foldger', which was the name on his collar, but there was no tag. Foldger was a purebred mutt and lived with me for about two years before he vanished again. Most dogs stay for a week or so, then find someplace with better food.
But I got ahead of myself.
It took me a month to move all my stuff from the old hellhole seventh floor walk up apartment, the elevator in the building only worked the day the city inspector came to visit, to the sub basement storage room behind the old steam main bypass junction I had come to call Ogden's room. Then I moved the few things I needed into the room I still think of as my primary residence directly under the French Building and just off the old tunnel that runs under the British Building and toward the Cathedral.
My main room was well concealed from even the maintenance crews that still came down here once in awhile and behind a locked grate that has a high voltage sign on it with a railroad logo beneath the words.
I settled in and found the silence and darkness almost too oppressive to endure. An extension cord and my reading lamp cured the darkness, then after some false starts I was able to get a radio station that I liked some fifty feet below Radio City and so I spent my first night in my new home.
A friend of mine from one of my jobs took over my old apartment, which he said was one step up from where he had been living, which I couldn't imagine until he said that it was a decommissioned bus that was parked in a partially abandoned garage on the East Side. He turned on the faucet on the sink and commented that at least this place had water.
He didn't ask so I didn't tell him where I had moved to. Something I kept up the whole time I lived at the Center.
Three weeks after I was out of my apartment I quit one of my part time jobs. I saw no need to tempt fate by delivering pizza after dark when I now lived in a place with several excellent restaurants and I knew where they put out their unused food for the cleaning crews to pick up every night.
It took some ingenuity on my part, but soon I had access to a refrigerated space by moving a section of insulation along the wall of the walk in freezer used by one of the concourse's restaurants. I could cook by putting one of my pans on one of the steam pipes, or on my electric hot plate or microwave that I could plug into one of the outlets in the service areas that was still live. So all in all, it worked out better than it had been in the apartment where if I turned on my microwave while somebody else was making toast or using a hair drier, we had to wait until the super was in to reset the fuse for our floor.
I watched the ball drop on the end of 1977 in Times Square, and then I walked back up to the Rock and let myself in through one of the few outside openings that I could get in after hours without drawing attention to myself and settled into my new home for 1978. And it felt absolutely right.
Of course over the years I've had to use some subterfuge or simply to be fast afoot to avoid detection. But I learned early on not to do anything to draw attention to the fact that I was there, and in some cases, to do things that made it seem like nobody was there. For instance, I took great pains to make it look like several of my access points and even two trap doors had not been opened in years. And once when a maintenance crew did come down my tunnel I sat in the dark and quiet and listened to them from behind my false wall and the locked grate for three hours until they had finished their work and went back the way they had come. One of the things I thought was funny about that instance was that if they had known about one of Ogden's shortcuts they could have been back up in the main concourse where they could catch an elevator up in a few minutes instead of walking nearly a quarter of a mile down a dark musty passage to the manhole entrance they had come down.
Another thing I did was to not use the same entrance into my world more than once a week, if that. And I tried to never draw attention to myself coming or going by making sure I blended into crowds and I always dressed as inconspicuously as possible, and I paid special attention to the security cameras and made a point to not do anything in front of them, something that was getting harder all the time. But, as the complex is huge, and there are multiple entrances into it, and it is always busy, getting in and out quickly and anonymously wasn't as hard as one might think.
And the most important thing I did to maintain both my home and my access to it was that, until now, I have never told another living soul, save one, where it was and how I lived there.
It was the result of an accidental discovery that I got to see my first Radio City Music Hall Christmas Show.
I had been walking along the far north tunnel under part of Fifty Second street right between the foundation for the Rand Building and old Mother Earth when I noticed a grate that I hadn't seen before. It took me some work, but I got it open and pointed my old trusty flashlight down into the hole beneath.
It was another tunnel, and it had about an inch of water running through it from a pipe beneath my tunnel and off into the gloom south under the Rand back toward the Center. I put the grate back where it was and vowed to explore it the next day after work when I had my 'explorer's gear' with me.
So the next day, wearing boots and gloves and goggles and an old store vest with several pockets for things I might need I opened the grate again and was relieved that the water wasn't flowing today although the floor was still damp from it, then I lowered myself into the opening and set off.
Some tunnels I had rediscovered led nowhere. They would go back a few feet and end at a sheer wall, or turn slightly and do the same thing. Some, like the one under Fifty Second street, started at the edge of the complex proper, in this case a block south under Fifty First, and ran one way or the other to join up with the city's infrastructure and then it would end. And some, like this new one, seemed to not make any sense at all at first.
My light pierced the darkness to reveal a square concrete channel that sloped down slightly from where I was standing. It appeared to run straight south back toward either the Press building or the Music Hall which were part of the original Center. I had to do the stoop walk that had become second nature to me and followed it. At what I judged was under the opposite side of the Rand building it branched, but the water had gone straight, so I did as well. The tunnel ended not far past the junction. The water had flowed down to just under Fifty First Street, then it vanished down into a drain that I knew ended in a storm water sump that would eventually pump it up and out toward the East River.
But now I was curious about the side passages. I went back and took the west one first.
This passage was identical to the other except there was little trace of any recently running water. It sloped just slightly upward and then branched again. From what I could judge I figured I was somewhere under the north face of the Music Hall under Fifty First Street. I followed the branch that went straight and found that it soon narrowed to where it was difficult to walk through. Not much further along it ended at a narrow light shaft with several drainage pipes running down into it. I looked up and could see the edge of what I thought was the American Metal building, but I couldn't be sure. Then I went back and followed the other passage.
This one was it. It led in through the foundation into what had to be the sub-basement of the Music Hall. I was very careful as I climbed out of the drain sump and peered around the musty level.
There was no doubt about it. This was part of the famous theater.
I had never been in the building before. The main steam tunnel had a welded grate over it on the level above. I could peer through it at the racks of old costumes and scenery and giant shafts that supported the stage lifting system above, but I couldn't get in without drawing attention to myself. And now here I was. I looked around and found a service duct that ran up with the water lines and some cables mounted inside it. I was very careful not to touch the cables as I wasn't sure how good the insulation on them was, but I couldn't resist following it up to a light far above.
Part of the advantage of my being five feet six is that I fit through my tunnels. Part of the disadvantage is that getting into some places like this shaft is almost impossible. I had to find an old box and use it to get up to where I could climb the drain pipes up.
There were no side passages for a long way, I almost gave up twice, but thought that since I'd come this far, I'd go on. Then I reached the light that I had seen from the bottom. I was in the area above the stage where they fly the scenery in and out and control the lights and things. The pipes continued to the roof above me, the cables broke out and ran along the ceiling through the rigging. I sat on one of the beams and caught my breath. Now instead of being below the old theater, I was above it!
There were people down on the stage and out in the house, and I could just hear their voices, but fortunately they hadn't heard me as nobody looked up. Although I do have to admit that I would have been hard to see as I was sitting in the dark in the rafters between cables and pipes some fifty feet or more above the backstage area.
I finished my bottle of water and put it back in my vest then I began my long slow climb down.
It was from that perch several months later that I sat and watched the Christmas Show. Yes there were better seats in the house, but none with as unique a view for the scenery changes. But there was one serious disadvantage too, well, two. When the fire and smoke effects were used, the smoke came right at me. That and the dancing girls don't look as tall and leggy from fifty feet above either.
I dated a woman from the store for awhile, and I simply told her I lived in a men only apartment house and she accepted it. We got pretty serious for a little while, but in the end we broke up when she set her sites on a salesman with frequent flier miles tickets to the Caribbean.
After her I took up with a single mom named Carol who lived in a rent controlled apartment not far from the complex on the east side. We still saw each other once in awhile, but things didn't go too far with her either as each of the kids dads keeps talking about wanting to get back together with her.
When I want to socialize I don't have to go too far as there are always people not more than a few minutes walk away, but socialize is all I can do. Even if I run into a woman who seems to want to get friendlier, unless she has a hotel room or condo somewhere close by, all we can do is talk. Which does limit ones social life, but it also has the advantage of making life simpler, and cheaper, in the long run.
One source of income I discovered quite by accident while I was trying to rig up a toilet in an area that was actually below the sewer line level below one of the fountains. I remembered what Ogden had told me about the drainage system and how if the pump bypass was opened while the pump was on it would suck coins in, but then they'd get caught in the trap before they got to the impeller. It was a 1940 type solution to the problem of coins damaging the pumps. One night when I was sitting in my 'reading nook' going through a newspaper I kept hearing a light clattering behind me. Finally it dawned on me what it was so I waited until late that night during the normal shut down cycle for the fountain. I closed the valves and opened the trap. Then I was treated to about three gallons of water and over seven dollars in change. It wasn't much, but it was tax free!
Ever since I had actually worked here I have always glanced into the various floor drains and stairwells and even elevator shafts for lost money and other items. You would not believe what some people lose or thoughtlessly leave behind on the benches and planters around the Center. Some of the things I anonymously turn in at the lost and found, others I pawn, and still others I keep. By keeping my eyes open I have found and turned in hundreds of purses, camera and diaper bags and other personal items that I would hate to lose if they were mine. I have also come across and kept a wide assortment of cameras, radios, a lap top computer (I would have turned it in, but a sticker on it said it belonged to the Housing Authority, so I kept it), and enough money and things like subway tokens that I wasn't too upset when the store closed and I lost the part time job I liked the most.
My biggest find, besides the computer that is, was a blank envelope that contained fifty scratch-off lottery tickets. There were three different games all ranging from two dollar tickets to a couple of ten dollar games. I looked around and nobody seemed to be looking for the envelope so I stuck it in my pocket and simply walked away. I knew that unclaimed items like that would often go to waste as they would end up forgotten about until after they expired. So I took them home with me and spent the next few nights scratching off the little boxes to see if I could win anything. Of the fifty games I had twenty eight winners. Several were for free tickets, but others ranged from several ten dollar winners through a one hundred dollar cash prize. I had to catch a train to New Jersey but then I spent an afternoon going to several different lottery vendors to cash in my tickets to avoid a lump sum payment that I might have to sign for. In the end, with what I won off the original tickets and the few winners in the free tickets I ended up with a nearly three hundred dollar windfall.
My most interesting find was a bundle of foreign magazines that was left next to the gate at the subway entrance.
I noticed it when I was on my way back from an errand on Eighth Avenue. I had decided to use one of the tokens I had instead of taking a chance on slipping past security in the only other entrances I had on that side of the complex in the basements of the Time or Standard Oil buildings. I walked past the package, then looked around, nobody else seemed interested in it, including the MTA guys further down the platform, so, curious as to what it was, I picked it up and walked away with it. After the next train I waited until the time was right, then I slipped off the platform and disappeared around the corner. In two minutes I was inside the cubby and the panel I went through was re-secured. I always put the inside panel back up so that anybody that looked through the outer covering couldn't see anything besides a piece of cement board.
The magazines were single issues from last month of everything from a Russian Orthodox Church publication to a news magazine to political things to pornography of several types. And as near as I could tell, it was all in Polish. I added them to my library of school books, romance novels, a technical manual for ship pilots and other things I'd found over the years. But what was more interesting were hand written letters addressed to somebody named Marcianna from Wojciech dated over the course of a few months from earlier in the year. But there were no addresses for either person and I could not read enough of it to tell anything about it except that it looked like 'Wojci' was in Gdansk in Poland and 'Marci' was in New York. Were they spies or lovers or were the letters an attempt to collect a debt? I couldn't tell. I packaged the letters up and the next time I was out I dropped them at the MTA office lost and found. It was something I felt like I owed my fellow citizens.
When the terrorists attacked the Trade Center in 2001 I had been on my way to work at the store in the Fashion district. I remember hearing something that I still cannot describe, then the entire city seemed to stop for a couple of minutes. And as soon as that passed there was a low level but very real sense of panic that seemed to sweep through the streets like a quick moving fog.
I went on to the store as I didn't know what else to do. We stood in stone shock around the break room TV when the towers collapsed. All morning everybody was gathered around the TVs in the customer waiting area or a radio in the changing room. There were almost no customers and the streets were jammed as everything just south of us had been ordered evacuated. About noon the manager decided to close and send everybody home, I stayed and helped secure the store, just before we left we heard the president over the radio saying "...freedom itself was attacked this morning by a faceless coward and freedom will be defended." I still get chills when I remember those words.
I never looked south as I walked north to the Center. From my winter rooms in the US Rubber building I had been able to see the tops of the Towers standing above the Financial District. I went up to those rooms and stood and stared at the hole in the sky where they had been, and the thick cloud of ugly smoke that covered the area instead. That was when what had happened hit home for me. I was in there listening to the radio when building seven collapsed. I know it was just nerves, but I still think I felt it through the floor.
I stayed in my winter quarters for three days, watching the smoke, listening to the progress on the radio. But then I had to get out. I walked through the Center and marveled at how quiet and still it was. The people that were there were solemn. The Cathedral was standing room only all day. The Concourses were basically deserted. Finally I went back to my rooms off the steam tunnel and thought about what it all meant to the City, and to the country as well.
It took a long time before New York was New York again.
The Christmas crowds around the Center were thinner than I had ever seen, but it slowly built up from there. In a couple of years, it looked like we were back to normal. Except I still had trouble looking out the window in my winter rooms and not seeing the Towers.
I spent the next three years in something of a haze. My life had become almost routine. I worked four days a week at the management offices, then spent the rest of the time in my world under the Center.
But I wasn't just a tunnel-rat. I became a volunteer with the Rockefeller Center tour guides and spent a couple of days a week wearing a jacket and showing tourists around the place. There were several times I felt tempted to show somebody who had expressed an interest in the inner workings of the place 'the rest of the complex' as only I could show it. But I knew not to cross that line.
During the Holidays I got on the payroll of the Center as extra help doing pretty much the same thing. And it was during my working for them that I managed to take care of a couple a things near some of my places that had been bothering me. But then after the beginning of the year that job went back to volunteer status and I let it go.
I went to a couple of concerts in the Music Hall and watched some major name acts from my perch far above and behind them. I would sit out on the plaza and watch the people come and go, or join a tour and listen to the guide until they missed a detail or couldn't answer a question, then I'd rescue them and remark how tall the spires on St. Patrick's were or that the sculpture over the AP building door had been the largest stainless steel work ever done at the time. Then I'd move on.
But it was too good to last. Rumors abounded at the theater office of changes coming down the pike and some of the staff began polishing their resumes. I wasn't sure what I would do, but I was calmer than most as I didn't have a landlord to pay.
Finally my part time job with the theater management office dried up in the series of mergers and shakeups and I was left unemployed in the spring of 2004, but with the best home address in the world. It hadn't been much as had only been working on weekends for the last three months, but it had been something to do and a reason to get up in the morning on Saturday and Sunday.
But now I found myself lonelier than I expected I would be. I missed being on equal footing with other people. At the store we had a common interest and objectives to achieve. At the theater office there was always the next production to arrange advertising or supplies for. Now I had nothing to do, and without a real address it would be hard to get another job.
I kept busy, and found some other interesting areas of the complex that I hadn't fully explored.
I found an empty vault under the RCA building in a small deep shaft that had been part of the original air raid complex and then cut off during remodeling. I found it when I was re-drawing my map of the passages trying to keep it to scale and noticed something. Two passages ended some distance from each other, but pointed to a common intersection. Curious, I went and examined the blank walls where they terminated. Both were poured concrete, and both had walls and floors that looked like they should continue on.
So now I had a mission. It was difficult to check above the space, but part of it was accessible through a narrow passage high on the wall on another level. I got ready and crawled into the opening off the top of my ladder. The crawlway was really close in places, but it wasn't very long, and it ended in another hallway with another drop that I would need the ladder for. But I had an idea so I went back and got a long board and made a climbing stick with some smaller pieces of wood and pushed it through the crawlway ahead of me. Then I carefully tied it to a brace in the tunnel and lowered it until it was in a position where I could use it without breaking my leg in the process.
That was one constant in where I lived and what I did. There was a chance that I could lose my way and fall down one of the open shafts that were here and there under the Center. I had put barricades across them, but if I stumbled through one I could fall twenty feet or more to the bottom of a plumbing pit. Or brush up against a live wire coming from one of the underground substations under the street. There were sharp pieces of rebar that seemed to appear from nowhere to poke through the concrete, as well as the occasional chunk of cement that would fall without warning from the ceiling. No, these underground tunnels and rooms were not for the accident prone or faint of heart. So far however, I had managed to avoid injuries that I couldn't treat myself or get tended by quick visit to the clinic a couple of blocks away.
I stepped off my makeshift ladder and looked around. This passage was a continuation of the one that ended at the blank wall. I followed it to the other side of the poured wall and examined it, there was no doubt that at one time it had gone through. Then I started looking around and found an unlocked door.
The light switch worked and an old yellow bulb came on. It was an office, complete with three desks. I checked the rotary dial phone on the closest desk, it worked. The ancient electric typewriter with its golf ball typeface still worked as well, although it sounded like it needed a good service call to get it back into shape. I looked at the blotter calendar and smiled. It was brand new. Brand new from 1968.
The next room was a bunkroom with four bunk beds and a small locker and shower room attached. In the closet were stacks of civil defense boxes and barrels of survival gear. Around the corner was another office with documents and records that indicated this was to be the nerve center for one of the communications companies in the building above us in case the worst case scenario ever happened.
Down the other hall was a staircase. The part that went up was blocked at the landing above us by a concrete block wall. Cut off by another set of renovations. The down staircase ended in another set of similar rooms and a narrow shaft with a ladder down to the empty vault.
Then I had to smile. The entire inner complex spoke volumes about how various businesses had planned to survive World War Three. And the fact that it had never been used spoke volumes more.
On the lower level I found a narrow pipeway that allowed me to work my way out and into one of the other tunnels that led back to my area so I never had to make use of my ladder to get out. But the difficulty in getting in and out also meant that my usage of the area, except for the occasional hot shower and for making a local phone call without tapping into an unused line with a homemade butt set would be limited. And, I told myself, I might use it in case of WWIII.
I went back in and moved my makeshift ladder into the storage closet, then I retrieved a couple of the old survival boxes just to see what was in it that might still be good and carried them back to my room.
The first box I opened wasn't really a box at all. It was a cardboard drum that said Sanitation Kit all over it. It was supposed to supply 25 people with everything they would need to maintain their personal hygiene for some time. I was surprised that the kit had been opened and an official looking sticker placed on it that said the hand cleaner had been removed, but that the rest of the kit was OK. According to the manifest, it was supposed to have one can of some sort of hand cleaner in it, but it didn't, and I have no idea as to why. Now I had five rolls of toilet paper and a plastic toilet seat that should do to replace the old wooden one I had been using. Nothing else in the kit seemed to fit my needs, although I did keep everything else against some future need.
The Medical Kit was far more interesting, and potentially more useful. I read the outside of it with some interest. It said it would serve about fifty people but it also said it contained no narcotics in big bold print. Even though the rubbing alcohol can was sealed, it was almost empty. But I did smell alcohol when I opened the box. Evidently forty years of storage was long enough for the liquid to evaporate out of an unopened can. According to the stamps on the box, everything perishable in it had expired in 1971. Which was fine with me as thankfully I didn't have any use for Penicillin or Phenobarbital. Some of the packages of bandages and cotton were yellowed with age, others were brittle and the wrapping came apart as I sorted through the box. But most of the things I could use for one purpose or another, although I didn't think I would want to depress my tongue with any of the tongue depressors.
I sat back and looked through the 'medical care in shelter' manual and listened to my radio talk about an accident on one of the bridges. I considered my day's work quite successful and was grateful my commute didn't involve a bridge, although I did have to go through several tunnels.
Later I went back through the shelter and found some other things, such as a 'shelter ventilation kit' complete with the stationary bicycles that were to power the fan. Ever resourceful I put one of the units together in the bunkroom and rode it until I was quite sweaty, then I took a hot shower and decided that I'd call it my 'health club'.
I spent about a week in the shelter using my laptop to finish typing my memoir and using one of the phone lines to chat with friend of mine online as the old connection for their phones was a lot cleaner than what I had been using with my rigged jack and plug on a borrowed line. Sitting at the old desk with a real telephone and lights and all I seriously thought about going out and rejoining society in some sort of job. But then I went and rode the bike until the feeling went away.
I knew I couldn't stay down there forever, but I didn't see any reason to move out just yet.
In the other desk I found a diagram of other shelters in the area. Two I already knew about. One of those was under the AP building and had been sealed off from the rest of the underground and converted into a secure computer room. The other I had discovered several years ago, it had been empty when I found it and I had no idea what the cluster of small oddly shaped rooms had been. Now I knew.
It took some work on my part but I managed to open up one of the other shelter rooms and found it pretty much like the one with the desks. It had suffered some water damage at some point, but it was still serviceable, although the electric had been cut off and the phones removed, but the other facilities, including, for some reason, an old 16mm film projector and a collection of training films from the Civil Defense and Red Cross were intact.
I moved the projector and the more promising sounding movies back to my room and had movie night once a week for awhile. For sheer entertainment value the one about how 'fallout can reach your farm' had to be number one. The others were depressing repetitions of 'duck and cover' drills with either cartoons or people from the fifties, or sometimes gruesome films about applying tourniquets or how to move a contaminated dead body. In the end, I put it all back where I found it.
However, I did keep the one Geiger counter that I felt most comfortable with out of their selection of various Radiation Kits. The batteries in the kits were useless, so I actually had to go out and buy some D cells, but the V-715 model detector worked like a charm, or at least it seemed to. While there was some radiation in my tunnels, most notably under the AP building and near the subway, nothing appeared to be serious.
Update and conclusion.
It wasn't quite a year after I had checked my living areas for radiation that I got an email from Carol, the single mother that used to live on the East Side.
Her youngest kid had finally left for college and she had been going through some of her old memory books and came across pictures of me and her when we had been dating. She found my email address somewhere and took a chance that I still used it and would I mind getting in touch with her?
Yeah, I still used it. And no, I wouldn't mind having coffee with her and catching up on old times.
I even suggested a place we could meet. One of the shops in the Center.
If anything, our relationship restarted on even better terms than it had stopped. We had tons in common, more than Carol could appreciate right away.
Our first meeting was nice, we seemed to hit it off pretty good and she smiled when I said that we should do it again sometime, then she asked me when. I suggested the same time and place tomorrow and said I'd even buy her a donut. Carol agreed and said she'd be there.
We hadn't finished our Danish and coffee on our second 'date' when she asked if I knew of any available apartments in her price range because her building was going to go Condo shortly and she couldn't afford the new prices.
I did it.
I swore Carol to nine kinds of secrecy and showed her my ... 'world' as she called it later.
To make an already long story shorter, she put her stuff in storage and moved in with me, but Carol never stopped looking for a place as she liked to live in someplace that could get regular mail delivery.
Through her good word with the guy that used to be a manager at the store I got another regular job doing something similar to what I had been doing at the theater office and went to work in the real world again. And I was making a lot more than I had at either previous job too!
Carol got OUR names on a list for a rent control apartment up by the Park and we settled in for what could be a very long wait.
For the next two years we lived in my tunnels. She gave my room a 'feminine touch' but it was still the old valve control room for obsolete steam pipes. Now seeing it through her eyes, even the old fallout shelter seemed pathetic. But with both of us working we were saving a Lot of money. We were able to put her entire paycheck and about three quarters of mine in the bank every week. And did so for two years.
She couldn't climb the shaft to watch the concerts in Radio City, but we could sit in the basement under it and hear every word and note with remarkable clarity. She also liked the way we could get home from Mass in the rain without getting wet or having to fight our way across Fifth Avenue. In the winter, the small upper rooms was really cozy and Carol said she didn't think she could be happier.
Something that made me happier than I thought I could be too.
When our names came to the top of the list for an apartment that would become available in about six months we put the first year's rent down in cash. A move that guaranteed we'd get it.
But then we had to move out of the tunnels.
I carefully secured most of the entrances, but I didn't seal it off. When she asked me about it I said that there had been too many apartment fires in the neighborhood we were moving to for us not to have a refuge 'just in case'. Carol agreed and said it was good thinking to have a Civil Defense Shelter as backup.
Over my time there I had managed to outfit everything from my winter quarters to the health club with all sorts of things. Some of which we wouldn't need in the new place, others, like the stationary bikes, we wanted. So over the next several weeks we moved what we wanted or needed out of the tunnels and into the storage unit.
When our moving date came, we did so with a heavy heart.
But then after about two weeks in the apartment we had a day off together with nothing to do. So we went back to our 'first home' and walked through.
Nothing had changed. We took a break in the old valve room and talked about what it had been like living there, and how she missed the quiet of the tunnels at night. We had both taken several nights in our new home to get used to the normal city noises at night. But Carol said there were a lot of advantages to our apartment, which I had to agree with.
One of the first things I had done was to order a pizza.
Over the years at the Center if I wanted a pizza I had to order it from the butt set clipped to a line, then meet the guy in the Plaza. Now I gave them a real address and said to ring apartment 3. They did.
We spent the night at the Center once in awhile. Most recently we woke up to January 2008 there.
Carol had never done New Years Eve in Times Square. So we went down there and stood with however many thousands of people and watched the ball drop. Then we walked back to the Center and went in through one of the more obscure entrances I used for such times. We took a shower in the fallout shelter, then walked to the valve room and slept long and hard.
The next morning we got up late and went out to breakfast, then walked back to our apartment.
As we crossed the Avenue of the Americas Carol stopped and looked back and said something that still makes me smile. And yes I kissed her after she said it.
"You know. I think we've got the best weekend home in the City."
The Fiction Index
[NOTE: All characters, events, and other plot devices are FICTIONAL. NO inference to the REAL Rockefeller Center is to be made. No similarities to ACTUAL anything is intended including the MTA, Radio City and so on. This Piece Is FICTION, please enjoy it as such.
Rockefeller Center is currently owned by Tishman Speyer Properties and its partners. No disparagement of the property or the owners is intended.
Thank You the Author. ]
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