Tuesday, July 7, 2009

tunnel rats

Our friend Craig dropped in unexpectedly the other morning to see if we wanted to go with him over to his new loft and check it out.  He had just closed on it the day before.  Craig has always lived in one house or another until just recently when he and his wife divorced.  He needed a place to live and since he travels so much with his job he decided to get an apartment downtown.  He’s been enjoying the lifestyle so he bought a ninth floor loft right in the big middle of downtown on Main Street.  

Downtown Houston has been undergoing a metamorphosis.  The city has been trying to get a residential sector established there by converting old buildings to lofts, building the new sports stadiums there and new parks.  The Theater District has always been downtown and the Convention Center as well but in the past, downtown always emptied out after business hours.  Lots of new restaurants and stores have opened as a result of this new trend and it’s a lively place to be.  The rapid transit train runs along Main and the city has commissioned many new Percent For The Arts projects outdoors.  Most of the old residential neighborhoods outside downtown have been razed and multilevel apartments and condos with business spaces on the ground floor have been built in their place.  So now our friend is undergoing a metamorphosis of his own.  He is embracing the downtown lifestyle where just about everything is within easy walking distance.  He’s becoming a tunnel rat.

One thing about downtown Houston is it has a network of underground tunnels connecting all the buildings so that when the heat of summer is interminable or it is raining, you can get from place to place without ever going outdoors.  It’s been a long time since I was in the tunnels beneath downtown.  Back then there were short segments where there were a few business establishments but mostly it was very creepy down there.  Now, it is all built in and looking very much like an indoor mall.  We went down there with Craig while he tried to find his way to the entrance to his parking garage which is across the street from his building.  I felt like I was in the middle of a science fiction movie, one of those where the atmosphere is poisoned and everyone has to live underground.  You could probably live your whole life down there and in the buildings and never have to go outside.  They publish a map of the tunnel system and it's a friggin’ maze, this system of tunnels connected to that system of tunnels, you could easily get lost.  Husband wanted to know if GPS worked down there.  Personally, I’m expecting the population to start mutating. 


  1. That is SO funny, Ellen. When I was 12, my aunt had a travel agency located in the basement of the Tenneco Bldg (is that still around?) and I delivered tickets for her via, you guessed, the tunnel system! I LOVED it, never even thought of it as creepy (well, maybe in a couple places). I such a foodie, and I was always trying out little places to eat. I wish I could remember the BBQ place. I always ordered a "chopped outside beef" sandwich. YUM! When I emerged into the sunlight and used sidewalks, I was always amazed at all the languages I heard people speaking. Two things I think surprise midwesterners about Houston: 1) that it's such an international city, with the port and 2) how vibrant the arts are (a ballet company, an opera company, a symphony, the Alley Theatre and on and on).
    Thanks for stirring the grand memories!

  2. Fascinating! Reminds me of the tunnels (outside) linking all the buildings in Minneapolis because of the cold. Not nearly as cool as underground, scary tunnels, though.

  3. Hartford here has been trying to undergo a metamorphosis for decades with no success. After 5, it's a ghost town. Sounds like we could take a lesson or two from Houston, with sports stadiums, art, and tunnels. How cool is that. It's just those characteristics that help define a place.

  4. How fascinating. That is just the kind of weird tourist experience I would want. You could buy your friend a copy of Mik Jackson's Underground Man for his next birthday.

  5. I suppose you found your way, else there would be no post. Might be a good location for a writer to dream up some sci-fi thriller!

  6. Sounds great. If Houston ever gets taken over by zombies, I'd head there if I was you. Or use his apartment. One has to have a plan for such emergencies.

  7. Kathleen - the thing that surprises most people about Houston is that we're not all riding horses.

    Nancy - about 10 years ago (maybe longer, hard to keep track) a hurricane sat just outside town and dumped 23" of rain in a 24 hour period. All the tunnels flooded. Hell, all downtown flooded, In fact the whole city became one big lake with my house sitting on an island.

    Joanne - Not their first effort. This one seems to be taking though.

    PurestGreen - plenty of weird here.

    Kathy - we didn't venture too far.

    Willow - I know, right? Especially since no one has basements cause they flood.

    Madame - I shall certainly take it under advisement.

  8. I had no idea. Very cool. DC, too, has tunnels connecting all the federal buildings, and of course the subway, too.

    Once upon a time I thought it would be fun to put together a book called "Subterranean DC" with pics and interviews of the people who work below ground, the subway drivers, Smithsonian curators, congressional staffers, etc.

  9. This is so cool. I want to go too. No idea. Been in, around, Houston several times. Never heard of this. Wow.


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