Disturbing the Grease

Battery Street TunnelThere are automotive traffic tunnels in Seattle that are lined with yellow ceramic tiles. In some of them it works very nicely to reflect more light and generally brighten the place up. In some of them it doesn’t work so well, because the walls are perpetually filthy with greasy dust and grime. In pondering these walls, a bold, daring (and stupid) plot was born.

My friends and I weren’t very good rebels, because we were dreadfully afraid of getting caught doing something rebellious and thrown in jail. In spite of this we managed to pull off some very minor crimes, mostly involving water: climbing up the “no trespassing” underparts of the East Channel Bridge to jump off into Lake Washington (oh!), swimming at the public beach in Kennydale after closing time (ooh!), or hopping the fence to go skinny-dipping (coed—oolala!) in a private pool in Newcastle (that one was fun—the rounded, quonset-hut shaped inflatable roof above us; no light source except one underwater light in the deep end; playing “chicken fights” in the shallow end).

But for us graffiti was beyond the pale. Destruction of property was beyond our remit. We were crazy impetuous fools, but not malicious crazy impetuous fools.

Enter: The Plan*.

One can create letters not just by adding to a surface, but also by subtracting from it. With a couple of pails of water and a couple of sponges, we could “write” whatever we wanted on one of those filthy—but eminently washable—ceramic tile walls. It was a perfect scheme. We weren’t damaging any property, and if we got caught, what could they charge us with? Malicious cleaning? Washing without a license?

So, hearts a-flutter, we collected our sponges, buckets, and water, and set out for the Battery Street Tunnel (see photo) to do our dastardly graffitic deed. We were soon in the neighborhood, and found a place to park adjacent to the mouth of the tunnel.

The problem was, we didn’t know what to write. We argued this over as we hatched the plan, we argued it over as we drove to the parking place, and we argued it over as we got out of our cars and walked into the tunnel. Sensing that the moment was about to be lost, I boldly took charge and decided that we were going to write “GIVE PEACE A CHANCE.” I informed my other accomplices of this, and promptly started doing so. Complaining all the while that that was a stupid thing to write, they nevertheless got down to work, and we were quickly done. It took more water than we expected: that was one dirty tunnel!

After this brazen and reckless bit of derring-do, we went to Denny’s to get something to eat and talked about how bold and brave we were, and how stupid “Give peace a chance” was for what was for most of us the only act of graffiti we would ever commit. It was rather a silly thing to do, and not nearly as much fun as co-ed skinny dipping at a private pool (a story, perhaps, for another day), but it was exciting and scary while it lasted.

And yet I wonder: Unlawful Tunnel Wallage? Destruction of Public Dirt Patina? Assault with a Dripping Sponge?

Epilogue: As it turns out, we were 28 years ahead of our time! This has apparently become something of an art form: cleaning art into the dirt on public surfaces! Here is a story on Huffington Post showing this kind of art. Do watch the slideshow. These people have something less stupid to wash into the grime than “Give Peace a Chance.”

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*At this point you can increase your reading enjoyment by imagining a startling “Phantom of the Opera” organ chord.

Copyright © 2008-2012 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.

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