Project 50/50: Vegas Underground

After using GPS to find a tunnel entrance that was accessible without having to navigate over a chain link fence and a foot of barbed wire, we snuck past a No Trespassing sign and climbed down a ladder to the concrete floor below. I had read that there are over 200 miles of tunnels, and close to a 1000 people living down here. The trash that littered the floor near the entrance was good evidence that we were headed the right direction, and we turned on our flashlights before walking further into the darkness.

“Has anyone ever told you that you’re crazy, Shay?” Nikki asked me as the light from the entrance disappeared behind us. The question surprised me slightly, but when I evaluated the situation I realized what she meant. I remember reading that one social explorer had brought a weapon with him. As we navigated the dark tunnels, it made me wonder: what did he need a weapon for? More importantly, what did he think he needed a weapon for? I had read about rumors of tunnel trolls and crazy fantastical ideas that people create when they are fascinated but afraid. I recently got an email from someone that said they have an irrational fear of homeless people. At least they realize that it’s irrational. Is desperation and addiction dangerous? Absolutely, it can be. My weapon of choice? Love.

Last year people had asked me if I had a gun. I thought it was a ridiculous question. Something told me that if I brought a gun, I might be inviting an opportunity to use it. I figured that if I was supposed to die I would, and that was that. I’m still here, so apparently it wasn’t my time yet. I’ve been putting my life in God’s hands and walking into “crazy” situations for a long time. I listen to God and my dog when they tell me that something is dangerous, but I’m not going to let fear stop me from shedding some light.For the next two and half hours or so, we walked. We jumped from one tunnel to the next, followed the trash and water; we explored every possible location. There were a few moments as we walked that someone would swear they heard voices, including myself. I’m not sure if it was our desperate hope to find someone or just our imaginations. The water would grow intense at times, splashing half way up to our knees and suddenly pouring from drain holes above our heads. There were poisonous spiders, cockroaches, and evidence of an entire army of rats. Yet, we know that people have lived here, and may still somewhere.

I asked myself questions. I wondered if we had picked the wrong entrance, wrong part of town, wrong time of day. I thought back to the morning where I was pouring over the images on the web. I thought about the discussion with Nikki before we came down here and my hesitation to document the people we might find. “The national media has already covered this story. It’s been told a dozen times. And yet, what did it do? What actually came from that documentation?” She shook her head and I asked her the same questions I had posed on Twitter the day before. “When does ‘awareness’ turn into change? When do we stop talking and start doing? What is it exactly that gets us over that line?”

Nikki thought for a moment. “A call to action,” she said. I nodded. Showing people how to respond to these situations. Maybe the problem is that we don’t know what to do, or worse; we know what to do and don’t want to do it. I wonder how many spare bedrooms are sitting empty in the greater Las Vegas community. I wonder how many people are sitting at home watching TV right now while so many others are living in the midst of desperation and trauma, waiting to be loved.

I splashed through the water, lost in my own thoughts, when I realized that everyone had been quiet for ten minutes or so. This is depressing — the complete darkness, the wet shoes, and the creepy crawlies everywhere. I burst out a rendition of “Singing in the Rain” and made a comment about wishing that I had galoshes. Nikki laughed and I felt better. Maybe we weren’t down here to add to the existing info about the tunnels, but just to see. To experience it. To imagine living it. To not be afraid. And to take that with us into the world.

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