The dark side of the Underpass

Thomas Humphrey | Staff Writer

Let me start this off with a disclaimer: I think what Washington University has done with the Underpass is great. It supplies a creative space to advertise campus events better than flyers or posters ever could. But consider my state of mind as I enter the Underpass, tired and dehydrated on the way to class, and you can begin to see the foundation of complaints. That Underpass, the cool, hip, unique thing on all the Wash. U. tours and pamphlets, has caused me a lot of pain.

To set the scene, it’s 9 a.m., overcast, 30 degrees. You’re walking away from the worst, driest Bear’s Den egg sandwich you’ve ever had, feeling your core body temperature drop and it starts to drizzle. “Good thing I’m so close to the Underpass!” you might say, hoping to escape the eternal dampness of a Midwestern winter. What you get instead is a punch in the face—whiplash from the wind that careens through the tunnel like the vengeance of god himself. A nice pick-me-up that wind is, but not quite as lovely as the putrid, stinking garbage water that piles up above the eternally clogged drains.

Water, in general, is the greatest enemy of the Underpass. It piles up in the cracks and the crevasses; it ruins the hard work of those who painstakingly painted the sphere and the pyramid, liquefying the designs into a dripping, twisted visage of whatever festival they were promoting. To make matters worse, there is also the psychological damage that the Underpass causes due to that false hope of refuge from the rain, a shattered illusion as you leave the constructed urban cavern and return to the reality of February weather in the Midwest. Alright, big deal, these just sound like more weather complaints, right? No, because it is not only in bad weather that the Underpass brings pain, its poor design alone torments me daily.

Let’s take a moment to examine the feng shui of the Underpass, specifically in the context of garbage can placement. Picture this: four cans, slightly offset from the wall, at each of the tunnel’s four corners, breaking up the flow of both energy and people. This is the worst possible arrangement and is the biggest source of pain anywhere on the Washington University campus, maybe the world. If Satan was personally in charge of the garbage can placement for the Underpass, this is what he would have come up with. Problem number one is the high likelihood of pedestrian crashes—anyone tempted to cut between the cans and the wall has zero visibility around the corner. You can’t slow down or do anything to prevent a crash once you are locked in. From a logistical standpoint, there is also the issue of the separation of trash types: the recycling cans are exclusively on one end of the Underpass, making me walk all the way to the other side of the tunnel to ditch my recycling.

But the biggest problem that comes out of this, the whole reason I am writing this article, is the collateral damage that comes from the one-two combo of wet paint and trash can placement. In a rush, you might just cut through the trash can gap without even thinking about the level of risk you have accepted. Because your backpack just hit the wall as you were turning, it leaves you with a scarlet letter—newsflash, that paint is never coming off—a permanent mark of humiliation, a reminder that, once again, you have been claimed by the power of the Underpass.

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