Sewers of Oakland

April 23, 1977 | By


John Law recalls:

The first event I organized. Dave remembered some storm tunnels he had explored as a kid. Dave, Gary and I scoped these tunnels one afternoon. We entered upstream at Mills College (all girl) in one of the tunnel inflows that Dave remembered from 35 years before. We went downstream trying to find a good place to bring a group in to the tunnels for an upstream walk culminating at the fenced in and pastoral Mills Campus. Several sections of the waterway further downstream were fenced in troughs running through residential backyards, industrial areas, and school grounds. These stretches would, after a few hundred feet or yards revert back to underground tunnel. A few spots seemed tactically possible for a group entry. We kept pushing for the bay in order to do a complete survey and perhaps find a better entry point. The closer we got to the bay the deeper the dense silt buildup along the tunnel floor became. We found ourselves in an uncovered section along the freeway, close to sea-level. Dave was 50 feet ahead of us and having a harder go of things due to his gimp leg and the necessity of walking with his cane. Leaning heavily on the cane he turned to look at Gary and me. The cane, with Dave’s full weight bearing down on it started sinking in the silt. We watched as, in slow motion Dave sank, sideways up to his armpit in mud. Gary and I were laughing so hard we were unable, for several minutes to help extricate Dave’s 240lb frame from its deep berth in the mud.
We picked an entry point in a fenced section fully enclosed inside a grade school ballpark/playground near East 14th St and 62nd St in Oakland’s most dangerous black ghetto. The tunnel went underground almost directly under the home plate. The fifty or so explorers parked their motley pack of vehicles along a tree-lined section of the ball diamond on a Saturday night. The neighborhood rarely entertained one white face, much less fifty at once. We were acutely aware of how much we stood out and some of the potential dangers we might encounter before slipping into the safety of the sewers. We drew the attention of a couple of kids as we furtively shuffled into a dark corner alongside the playing field. We were quite worried that the kids would inadvertantly expose us to their older, no doubt armed brothers. I told them exactly what we were doing. “We’re all going into the sewer and walking for miles underground”. I figured their interest in such a bizarre plan might keep them from rushing to find their friends and give us enough time to get underground before further detection. They were very interested in going with us underground. I kept putting them off as we climbed laboriously, one at a time over a fence, down rebar steps into the ankle deep water and into the safety underground. Our entry point was between and very close to two houses directly behind the ball diamond. The possibility of arousing an armed householder was quite real and we were sweating pretty badly. Gary, Bob and I were helping folks climb over the fence. The kids were going to try and come with us into the sewer. I told the kids that they could come with us if they went and got their parents permission “because of the alligators”. One kid said “there ain’t no alligators in there”. I explained about people flushing gators down the toilets and how they grew in the ideal climate of the sewers, eating rats, etc. I told them they could actually help us fend off the gators (once they had got back from getting parental OK) if they would bring back some big branches or posts to use as clubs. By then we had almost everyone in the trough and were assembling at the tunnel mouth. The kids ran off to get their clubs. We ditched them by speeding the group up into the quiet and enveloping safety of the sewer.


Category: Events

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