{ Trading Pedestals at Exit Three }
Kate Lukaszewicz

millvale tunnel - the new yinzerI don't really care for bicycles so much, so I'm somewhat of a disgruntled Millvale citizen. I like the train tunnel that hides out next to the highway. I like the grit and stones, the rusty spikes, busted bottles with their jagged edges providing the look of avant-garde vases. But somebody's been cleaning it all up as part of the Rails to Trails project, because the less-adventurous people of the Pittsburgh community want to pedal through a hazard-free terrain, one flanked by pristine walls, with no obstructions on the path.
   Where's the sport in that?
   I don't suppose I can blame Millvale. It's not the most high-class of neighborhoods, nor even the most middle-class. We landed there by default. Because my mother loves the sound of traffic, she bought a place across from the beer warehouse, where the eighteen-wheelers are loaded with the fermented nectar before sunrise. It's a working-class borough that holds the world record for most bars per square mile (Millvale is only .68 square miles). In the local business section of the Millvale community Web site, there's a link labeled, "Millvale has always been known for its bars and churches. Here are some of the fine establishments that you can check out." What follows are ten photos, all of them bars.
   So when the Borough of Millvale purchased, for a dollar, the strip of land that runs parallel to the river, under the condition that it be used recreationally, I could hardly be angry. It's triggered a renaissance of sorts, attracting more businesses, even concert venues. Millvale can't lose.
   But selfishly, secretly, I am kind of opposed to the whole thing. The renaissance really is a rebirth for Millvale. It's a resurrection, and for that the locals are grateful. But I like my tunnels good and dead. The more decayed, the better. The borough council should quit breathing life into it.

The tunnel squats, unassumingly, just across from exit three on Route 28. And it's more than a thoroughfare for trains; it serves as a gallery showcase, a target range, even a bordello. Aspiring artists with nothing better to do consider vandalism their something better to do, and decorate the otherwise dull concrete with obnoxious spray-painted hues of traffic-light green and Eighties'-eye-shadow blue, mocking the rocks of various skin tones: brown, red, peach, cadaver gray. Pebbles wedge themselves into the grooves of shoes, but larger stones are suitable for launching at abandoned beer bottles, as though there were a war on between drunken teenagers and a dirtied glass army of grimy clear bottles with the occasional green Rolling Rock thrown in for variety. Potentially poisonous Trojans lie among these cheap diamonds and emeralds, discarded as easily as virtue or the simply satisfactory girl.
   This is a place of senses. The tunnel is long enough to disregard rain, but short enough to invite the spring wind in through the south entrance and kick it out at the north. This is a fragrant breeze, tainted with the scent of new grass that has been licked by the Allegheny River. The concrete walls are bumpy and gritty with seasons of dust, dust that clings to skin as readily as it clings to the walls. One wall is solid; the other is lined with rectangular holes that resemble paneless windows. Engines rev overhead, and speedboats race the river, slicing the water, making zipping noises.

I was introduced to the tunnel by a boy, one of the aforementioned vandals, who, at his most eloquent and best inspired, could commit to no more than admitting that he liked me better than his computer. (He was the familiar kind of boy that ovaries ache for, but I could appreciate him for little more than the fact that he was exothermic and my hands were always icy.) It was "our" tunnel. It was where I could find him if his mother didn't know where he was. I would cross the highway and slide down the pebbly hill across the broken tracks (one set is fully intact and functional, slick and black, while the other is decrepit; the wood is there, then gone, and then there again, like the second place runner in a marathon desperate to win—falling back then sprinting ahead), and he would be there, the discerning look on his face replaced by a sheepish smile when I caught him red-handed (or green- or blue-handed, depending on the can). I cared not so much for his vandal ways. I preferred the classic approach of his camera.
   Dann was an artist in the making, capable with a number of media: acrylics, charcoals, spray paint. But his favorite was film, and he was always searching for the perfect photo opportunity. During our tenure together, I trekked down treacherous valleys for a better look at crystalline water, tiptoed across rickety train bridges for a view of a glowing downtown, ventured to the edges of slate cliffs to admire the streaky lights of speeding traffic hundreds of feet below, climbed to the holey roofs of abandoned warehouses to take in the city in all of its grandeur. The end results were always worth risking death, were always terrifically breathtaking, blurred at the right places, bright or dusky, the product of properly timing the shutter.
   Before he learned how to develop his own film, I was often charged with picking it up from the photo lab for him. The final product was always amazing, and amazingly disheartening. What Dann could hold hostage in magenta, ivy, cerulean, and pitch, I could merely restrain in pinks, greens, blues, and black. His water captivated light when mine could only reflect it. His train tracks splinter where mine are broken. I would look at his photos and would know that I had a better job, a higher grade-point average, and that I had gotten into each school I applied to, yet I would feel lesser than him.
   And I deserved it. My gloating egocentrism elevated me to an unsteady pedestal, from where I smugly disapproved of petty vandalism in the name of art. My pedestal spiraled higher with every personal success and scholarship offer, until the day that money dictated that I would not attend my first-choice school. I crossed the highway to that tunnel, where a lanky artist, disregarding his distaste for my penchant for Maryland schools, abandoned his aerosol can to silently console me among the rubble of my pedestal, and in that first gallery showcase of his, surrounded by those filthy walls adorned by his previously compressed rainbows, decorated with his designs that other vandals admired, I realized that the boy who had been smiling at me from the foot of my pedestal had a pedestal of his own. It squats, unassumingly, just across from exit three on Route 28.

back home.