Cab drivers had their own peculiar vocabulary that I was too young to understand and the Italians were making obscene gestures that I did understand. Modern day road rage is like voices in a choir compared to the language, threats and verbal insults exchanged on that particular day. All the while, my father was silently praying the old car didn’t overheat.
My dad patiently inched the family car up to the entrance and we were finally on our way to Ebbets Field to watch the Brooklyn Dodgers play the Boston Braves.
After a few minutes in the half-mile tunnel we could hear the screeching of brakes ahead of us. Brake lights were lighting up like blinking red dots on a Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center and we barely stopped in time to avoid hitting the car in front of us.
After a few minutes everyone in front of us turned their motors off and got out of their cars. My father asked me if I was alright and said, “We’ll probably be stuck here for a while.” Oh no! I thought I’d never get to see Preacher Roe pitch today or first baseman Gil Hodges hit a home run for my beloved 1953 Dodgers. Preacher was notorious for his spitball and Hodges had a .302 batting average with 31 home runs that year.
The back seat of the car always had a basket filled with things we would take on outings to Barnegat Bay, Manasquan or sometimes Asbury Park on the New Jersey coast. Dad reached back and brought out the checkers. Then I realized he was right — we would be there awhile.
After about 10 minutes I began to feel anxious, short of breath and strange thoughts of fear were zigzagging in my head. What if I never get out of the tunnel? How can I breathe? What if there is a water leak? Will I drown? What if I die?
My dad distracted me, let me win at checkers and said I was claustrophobic because I had been confined to an iron lung for almost a year and just was overreacting. I calmed down and remembered how safe the tunnel actually was. In parochial school we learned about the construction and history of the Holland Tunnel.
The Holland Tunnel was completed in 1927 and was named after the chief engineer of the project. Thomas Edison argued the ventilating system would not provide enough oxygen or ventilation to remove carbon monoxide emissions. But an engineer named Ole Singstad proved Edison wrong.
Singstad designed a three-tier tunnel. The middle tier was for traffic while the upper and lower tiers, circulating the cleanest fresh air in Manhattan, filtered and removed the exhaust fumes.
Finally, the cars started moving and we were in time to see Preacher pitch, Hodges strike out and the Boston Braves win.
Last week’s rescue of 33 miners trapped 2,000 feet below the ground in Chile reminded me of my childhood phobia in the Holland Tunnel. How can we begin to imagine what kind of fear and phobias they experienced and will have for the rest of their lives?
Most of the miners probably experienced at least two phobias. Man’s most common fear is thanatophobia, the fear of death. The belief in a supreme being is the most common remedy, however, Jack Daniels also helps. Probably, during the first 17 days before contact with the outside world, all the miners experienced taphephobia, the fear of being buried alive.
There are two phobias that might be a blessing in disguise. One is gamophobia, the fear of marriage, which I should have known about 50 years ago. The other is demophobia, the fear of crowds — something politicians don’t have to worry about.
Although we all experience one phobia or another, practicing the virtues of life such as kindness, understanding, mercy, charity, patience, humility and respect for all forms of life would quietly steer us through the human tunnel of fear towards the plateau of light at the edge of our own personal eternity.
David Farside is a Sparks resident and political activist. The polemics of his articles can be discussed at firstname.lastname@example.org. His Web site is www.thefarsidechronicles.com.