Friday, June 01, 2012


Originally published Oct. 12, 1995, in the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader
Image from Underground Ozarks, a great blog worth your eyeballs

"Look at me," says 18-year-old Sin, a man with the sides of his head cropped close and a ponytail on top. "I quit school in ninth grade. I've been in juvie, been in lock-up. I can't go that far and wonder what the future will be like. It's one day at a time. I just try to keep myself alive."

He's in the Acid Tunnel, a catacomb in northeast Springfield layered with graffiti through the stoner ages.

Sin, a professed member of the Low Profile Kings street gang, is with Melt, a 16-year-old bud.

Both men have been coming to the tunnel since they were kids; in fact, older siblings first introduced them to the concrete yawn in the ground, which bends and twists and opens again in a distant farm field.

How did they get their street names?

Melt: "That's what happens when I'm trippin' on acid, man. I look in the mirror and my face melts."

Sin: "That's what I do. Sin."

Teens like Sin and Melt come here to get high, spray-paint a few symbols on the cool concrete walls, fume against the people who just don't get it.

It's a pretty well-kept secret, this place. Cops and school counselors shake their heads when asked about the tunnel's whereabouts. They know about some of the other underground hangouts, like Piggyland, a series of stormwater tunnels beneath Interstate 44.

"Man, that's for little kids," Sin scoffs when Piggyland is mentioned. "Cool people don't hang out there, except to tag."

The tagger's messages in Piggyland are indeed provocative:
There is no God but yourself
I'm happy high right now
I love to die for my own sins
Find the sun see the sign take yourself to the other side
I am I
The antichrist will deliver the damned
Feel the void
Inside the Acid Tunnel — 10 feet high, 15 feet wide, a quarter-mile long — there's more crude artwork than deep thoughts, more tribute to the Doors and metal bands Slayer and Pantera than to philosophy.

Melt and Sin feel at home in the Acid Tunnel. In some ways, it is their home.

"I ain't got no family at all," Sin says, "except for my little brother. My Mom don't give a damn. My father don't give a damn. My grandmother don't give a damn. I've been living on my own since I was 13.

"I got kicked out of my dad's house then. I still can't go back. He said I was hanging with the wrong people. I said I was hanging out with my boys, my family."

Inside the tunnel, as night falls and the city winds down, Sin and Melt regularly meet their friends — fellow stoners who smoke pot and paint the walls and muse aloud at questions with no immediate answers.

Asks Sin: "Like, man, if God created all of this, what came before? And who created God? And why do you think he created us?"

Here it is safe for them. Out on the streets, bangers from rival gangs prowl for them. Sin and Melt say they've been shot at several times.

"It sucks when you're walking around," Melt says, "and a car pulls up and 10 guys come out and stomp you."

Adds Sin: "You just gotta stick up for yourself out there. Friends gotta watch your back. Nobody else will."

They feel like they don't belong, never will belong, to the above-ground society. That's fine with them.

"It's all because we don't dress like Ward Cleaver," Melt snorts, his intense green eyes flashing with mirth. "They won't let me back in school. So what?"

Sin picks up a half-empty can of black spray paint and starts to dot the walls with his tag. "If people don't like me the way I am," he says, "they can suck an egg. Like I care what they think, man.

"I can't change anything, so I don't want to, man. I don't know what happens next. Do you?"

Above him is a message in spray paint:

Will you find heaven?

1 comment:

Kimberly Papen said...

I am doing a research paper over the acid tunnels and I came across you blog. I would love to ask you a few questions that would help me out with my paper. you can email me back at or

Thank you!