Okay, so I'll begin by saying names have been changed to protect me. The year would have been 1983 or so, and I a misanthropic 15 year old, who had not been making any headway in the pursuit of compromising young girlies in my area (*as an aside, may I say that hearing of all of these hot teachers putting out for young male students delivers me mixed feelings- including jealousy). In an effort to kill time until the views of local girls would be more accomodating, my pals and I would get up to whatever other sensory overloading things we could dream up and afford. This is story of one such day.
The cast of characters (that I can remember): PG: local cury haired pot smoker friend that either had smoked his way to an attention disorder, or may have had hearing problems. He never really responded swiftly to audio clues, ques, or commands. R: The only black guy that chose to hang out with us (as opposed to the many others that lived in my neighborhood, and sort of dealt with us as scenery or sort of knew us, but kept us at arms length personally). R was really mellow, no doubt in some measure to the amount of dope he smoked with us. I think PW. and C. were also in this caper- they were brothers who loom large in several of my hijinks.
Right where the green arrow points is the core to the whole story. This is a significant intersection of streets in a town where I lived, and dead in the middle of the intersection, by the tip of the green arrow, is a manhole. Now- as a moment of background- in the midwest there are things called storm sewers. These are basically intended for heavy rainfall runoff, and are concrete tubes of nearly six feet diameter. In this place, these storm sewers ran under the two big streets that the arrow identifies, and they are dry most of the time (although sludge and garbage are not uncommon in places). So, there is a four way intersection at street level, and a four way intersection in concrete tubing underneath. In the exact center of this all, there is a ladder of metal rungs in concrete and a manhole that is smack in the middle. With me so far? Good.
At the very bottom of this image, is a railroad track (where I nearly got killed repeatedly) and a ravine that allowed convenient access to said storm sewers. This is where we began. I was a model rocket junkie (clue #1 as to why I wasn't getting laid) and would "retire" old and unwanted rockets with as much "wow" value as I could. One day, I decided I wanted to "retire" a rocket from a missile silo (hey- Cold War era, what can I tell you?), and I think PW was the one who mentioned the venue. Off I trudged with my friends to the ravine, and rocketry gear in tow. We entered the storm sewer at the tracks and slouchingly walked to the arrow point, where I dutifully setup my launch pad and readied the rocket, igniter and so on. The last thing we thought to do was to was to remove the manhole cover. I say the last thing we thought to do, because we weren't really thinking about much, other than the rush of doing something dumb and fiery.
C was I think the one that climbed up the rebar "ladder" to the cover and muscled it over with his shoulder. This was dangerous and remarkable in it's own right, as cars were driving by within inches of that spot in all directions, but he managed it without injury. Oblivious to the world topside, "3, 2, 1, BLASTOFF!"- I launched.
What happened above us was at least as far as we were concerned, unexpected. The rocket went straight up as intended and must have looked really cool from the street level (cool by our tastes anyhow). The first unexpected thing was that a jogging man, wearing those really blousy nylon running shorts that were popular at the time, was running diagonally across the intersection(!), and apparenly wasn't paying attention to things like open goddamned holes in the street, and came within inches of having a 300 Mph hunk of cardboard and plastic go up his shorts. The burnout of the rocket went straight up past his body and was nearly a gunpower driven polyp ream. I don't think it burned him, but he was in full on freak out mode as a result of the experience.
The other immediate problem was the smoke. There is no breeze in a storm sewer, and the smoke from launch lingered and was thick enough to disorient us. Well, some of us anyway. As with any good subversive, I was at least sure of my escape route, and a debate ensued. PG, PW, and R were opposed to C and I about which way to go back. I mean really- concrete tunnels look all the same, and we had no landmarks or trails of bread crumbs. So C and I took off to the south and our point of entry, and the others went west, and I'm told had to hoof it for a couple of miles to get out.
Upon existing, I couldn't resisit the urge to see the mayhem topside, so I walked along the sidwalk to the arrow point after stashing my gear at the ravine in some scrub brush. C, having had more experience I think in these matters- went home. By the time I had gotten to the "scene of the crime", there were two cops there on the scene. One was taking a statement from a clearly distressed jogger in effeminate shorts, and the other- a cop shaped like a Bartlett Pear, was bent over with his 4 foot long cop flashlight/knightstick shouting into the still smoking manhole opening. I could hear him using his best cop psychology from well away by the second set of tennis courts- "Come on out now- we've got you- there is no where for you to go- make it easy on yourselves, blah blah blah". I was trying as hard as I could not to be seen laughing, but it was tough to contain. I mean, how often does a youngster get to see a cop frustrated in broad daylight shining a flashlight in a smoking hole in the middle of the road in the heart of town? I don't know if the cop arrived above sewer when PG, PW and R were still within earshot, or if he was making asumptions. For sure, beyond smoke, nothing was left behind, and all participants had moved on somewhere.
The cop eventually gave up the sugar coating and starting shouting "saltier" terms into the smoking hole, and I took that as my time to leave. The following Monday at school, I heard about the underground "Iditerod" my mates had to endure, and while I was sympathetic, my sense of direction was trusted more in future escapades.