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Spelunker's Nightmare

Plumbing the depths on W. Washington

by Madeline Strong Diehl

From the July, 2019 issue

One morning recently, a passerby came across a group of city workers gathered around a manhole at the intersection of W. Washington and Seventh. Two men were chatting near their truck as two other men turned a hand crank to carefully lower a fifth man down to the labyrinth of pipes below. Kevin-that's how they were addressing him-hung helplessly by a cable, his body jerking back and forth as his coworkers worked the winch. Every inch of his body was covered by a white plastic hazmat suit, including a mask that looked like a welder's helmet. His destination was an underworld of pipes that looked moist, dark, and foreboding. The whole scene looked like a spelunker's nightmare.

"Man, you couldn't pay me ten thousand dollars to do that!" the passerby commented.

"Well, we get twenty, so it's worth it," joked a man they called Mike.

The manhole was lined by neat, circular rows of bricks, each seamlessly meeting its neighbor. "It's hard to find that level of craftsmanship among bricklayers today," Mike said. "Most of these access tunnels in this neighborhood are from early in the last century."

Mike explained that the crew was replacing old clay pipes that were prone to breakage. They were replacing them with plastic pipes to prevent ugly mishaps in the future. They worked at a good pace-it was 10 a.m. and this was already their third section of pipes.

When the passerby commented that Kevin must be very brave, Mike responded: "He's just down there because the rest of us have seniority."

"Really? He's the only one who has to go down?"

Mike smiled. "No, just joking. We each take turns working down there."     (end of article)

[Originally published in July, 2019.]


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