New Poem: The Fort Pitt Tunnel

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is famous for (among other things) its three intersecting rivers and the vibrant yellow bridges that cut across them. I lived for five years in that strange little sliver of West Virginia that rests against the Pennsylvania border, and my family frequently trekked to Pittsburgh by way of the Fort Pitt Tunnel:

Fort Pitt Tunnel

Image: Fort Pitt Tunnel by KitAy, on Flickr

For kids like me and my siblings, the Fort Pitt Tunnel wasn’t just a logical transportation route. It was a competitive physical challenge. The challenge, of course, was to see which of us could hold our breath through the entire tunnel, from shadowy first entrance to final explosion of light. At 3,614 feet, a car could theoretically drive through at 55mph in about 45 seconds under perfect conditions, so the challenge was not impossible. But in modest-to-heavy traffic, as an 8-year-old, while chewing a foot of bubble tape, with someone tickling you, it was pretty tough.

Here is a poem that I wrote that matches my memory of the tunnel. Try to take a deep breath and hold it in until you finish reading the poem. Ready? Inhale! …

I exercised my poetic license on the tunnel’s winding path (it is actually straight), but the “sunny bridge view” at the end really is a sight to behold. I could not dream up a more dramatic entrance into a city if I tried. If you’ve never been there, this clip brings it to life in full video and audio (tunnel view sped up to 200% for effect):

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Love it.

On a less happy note, I timed this post to mark the official conclusion of the twentieth consecutive losing season (1993-2012) for Major League Baseball’s Pittsburgh Pirates.

The team contended for most of the 2012 season, but for the second year in a row collapsed at the end with a dismal 17-37 record in the final third of the season. Even winning 20 of those last 54 games (still awful) would have earned them 82+ wins for the first time since Barry Bonds left town.

Pirates fans must be running out of breath. Hopefully their time in the Tunnell tunnel will come to an end soon.

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  • Donna Smith

    Great poem, and loved that view of the city as you emerge from the tunnel!

    • Ed DeCaria

      Thanks, Donna — it really is a cool experience. You cannot see the city AT ALL before you enter the tunnel. It is completely blocked by the mountain, which makes the view that much more spectacular once you clear the tunnel. -Ed

  • Penny Klostermann

    Love it! Very clever poem!

    • Ed DeCaria

      Thanks, Penny!

  • Matt Forrest

    Fun poem, Ed! Reminds me of my trips through the Boston tunnels, although much more spectacular. Also, my condolences on the Pirates; my Sox wrapped up their own dismal season (69-93) with a 14-2 loss to the dreaded Yankees. (We haven’t had a season that bad since ’65) So thanks for the smile!

    • Ed DeCaria

      Thanks, Matt. Yeah, rough season for the Red Sox. All you really need to know were the season lines of Crawford and Lester to tell that story …

  • Jeanne Poland

    As usual, a marvelous presentation.
    It smarted just a little to see the political ads.
    Your poem reminds me that now has a way of publishing an e-book which includes links to graphics and video!
    Isn’t this what you just did!
    Jeanne Poland

    • Ed DeCaria

      Thanks, but … what political ads? I don’t run ads on the site and I think that I embedded the video correctly to withhold related links at the end. Where did ads appear exactly? Thanks, Jeanne. -Ed

      • Dom D

        There were embedded Google ads inside the YouTube video to which you linked. The only way to prevent ads such as those from appearing is to host your own video, which your hosting site may not allow you to do anyhow.

        • Ed DeCaria

          Thanks. I saw an ad the first time that I viewed the video on YouTube (but quickly clicked to close it), and then never saw them once I embedded it. I’ll add a note.

  • Robyn Hood Black

    I did – I held my breath while scrolling, scrolling all the way down. . . . What fun – I love how you capture the feeling of a KID in this situation, and how the poem is interactive. Thanks for sharing.

    • Ed DeCaria

      Congratulations! Who was doing the tickling? And what flavor of bubble tape?

  • laurasalas

    I did it! Love the gum and the tickling and the concrete poem. Kids will adore this. OK, me, too.

    • Ed DeCaria

      Thanks, Laura! I think next time I’m in Pittsburgh I’ll try to drive through the tunnel and actually record the poem live. Better yet, maybe I’ll launch a contest where kids can record themselves reciting the poem while their parents drive through the tunnel. That would be hilarious.

      Anyone have an in at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette? It’s the only print pub that I can think of that might actually be able to fit the poem on one of its pages, and that might be able to facilitate such a contest. Ooh, I just thought of someone … stay tuned!


  • Linda Baie

    Wonder where that holding one’s breath started. We have lots of tunnels in the mountains & my students never failed to try, even in the long ones. I didn’t know about your tunnel, which is awesome, the way you have the view at the end into the city, Ed. I love that you made the lo-o-ng trail within the poem. Very nice.

    • Ed DeCaria

      There must be some innate response to a tunnel that makes kids want to hold their breath through it. No way it started with one person and then spread as an idea. Interesting to think about what within us would prompt us to do something like this.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Linda.

  • Andromeda Jazmon

    I remember that tunnel well! You are so right about the sudden burst of sunshine on the out. Cute poem!

    • Ed DeCaria

      Thanks, Andi! The video actually does a great job of capturing the light burst.

  • Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

    Your poem perfectly mirrors that forever-tunnel-feeling! I love it when shape poems do that…. As for me, I always held my breath when driving past graveyards (so the spirits wouldn’t get up my nose). Tunnels still freak me out. I know they will cave in on me. Thank you for the smile. ‘Glad I live in the country! a.

    • Ed DeCaria

      See, we never did the graveyard thing that I can recall.

      For some reason I’ve never minded tunnels that go through mountains, but those that went under water (like the path from Detroit to Windsor) always made me nervous.

  • jama

    Visited Pittsburgh for the first time a few weeks ago. If I’d read your poem before then, would have checked out the tunnel. Loved the yellow bridges — sorry to hear about the Pirates.

    • Ed DeCaria

      The bridges really do look cool. Walkable, too. What were you doing in Pittsburgh?

  • Renee LaTulippe (@ReneeMLaTulippe)

    Very clever, Ed, and of course I love the perfect meter. There are hundreds of tunnels blasted through mountains in these parts, particularly once you get up north in Liguria. On the way to France one time, I decided to count how many such tunnels we went through from our town to Menton, France, just across the border — got to something like 115. And there’s even one that is about 17 km looooong.

    I didn’t hold my breath, though, as I would have turned blue. :)

    • Ed DeCaria

      Hi Renée. Thanks for the compliment!

      A 17km tunnel would be pretty scary for most people, I think (see AmyLV’s comment above). Even Navy SEALs would have trouble holding their breath through that one …

  • Tara

    Ha! This made me laugh – our kids have done this breath holding for the Lincoln Tunnel and then any other tunnel we ever travelled through, too. I actually miss that, now that they are young adults and would never deign to revert to their charming childhood selves. Funny that it’s always a tunnel that elicits this in children.

    • Ed DeCaria

      Oh, I bet you could still entice them all to hop in your car and give it a go.

      Thanks for stopping by, Tara.

  • Vikram Madan

    Excellent Ed. I found myself holding my breath as I was scrollng down… I didnt make it to the end either without breath #2… :)

    • Ed DeCaria

      Thanks, Vikram. I did try to draw the length of the “tunnel” so that if people read the tunnel part as they would read normal words it would take about 60 to 75 seconds to read the entire poem. So it’s not supposed to be easy!

      More briefly stated: Speed Readers are Cheaters

  • Mary Lee

    Perfect in every way! LOVE it!!

    • Ed DeCaria

      Thanks, Mary Lee!

  • Katya

    Tunnels make me nervous… I think I’ve driven through a few tunnels that exactly resemble the tunnel in your poem.

    • Ed DeCaria

      I think that I would be nervous to go through a long, twisty tunnel as well; straight ones I’m okay with (other than the underwater ones mentioned earlier in the comments).

      Thanks for visiting and commenting, Katya.

  • Iza Trapani

    This is wonderful Ed! So clever! I held my breath through the video, but at 200mph sans tickles and bubble tape, it doesn’t count :-)
    You have a new subscriber.

    • Ed DeCaria

      You’re right, Iza. That doesn’t count.

      But your subscription does count!

      Thanks for sharing and commenting …

  • Dave Crawley

    Ed, As a 25-year Pittsburgher, I love the poem! I got the samw “Wow!” experience when I emerged fromt he tunnel in a cab from the airport for my KDKA job interview. For some reason, commuters insist on slowing waaaay down at the entrance…making the tunnel seem even longer than the circuitous path through your poem.

    • Ed DeCaria

      Thanks, Dave! Glad to hear that I accurately captured the moment of entry in this post. Now everyone gets to experience a little bit of Pittsburgh (in a non-sports way) …

  • Joyce Ray

    Ed, I loved the poam and thanks for the video. Now I’ve entered Pittsburgh. We don’t have too many tunnels here in New England. Our kids hold their breath passing cemeteries!

    • Ed DeCaria

      Hi Joyce. Thanks for reading and commenting. You’ve joined a number of other people who say that they (or their kids) hold their breath by cemeteries.

      Anyone recall other less popular breath-holding locations out there that we should all know about?

      Underwater locations do not count.

  • sarah frank

    hi uncle eddy miss you very much and Ireally love your poem!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Ed DeCaria

      Hi Sarah! Miss you, too. Thanks for visiting — make sure you stop by next week when the big tournament begins. There will be 32 new poems posted on Wednesday morning and another 32 posted on Thursday morning!

  • Damon Dean

    Linda, Ed…we all got here through a tunnel. On the first day we TOOK a breath. So holding our breath may be more of a natural response than we realized.

    Loved the poem Ed, and the trip.

  • Mary Ann Barton

    Oh, gosh, Ed, what a great poem and tunnel experience! When I was a kid we lived in Napa, California. I used to compete with my twin sister to see who could hold her breath longer while going through a long tunnel on our way to San Francisco. (I cheated…which I’m confessing for the first time here!) Thanks.

    • Ed DeCaria

      I remember all of us (me and my siblings) trying to cheat, too. Like we’d puff up our cheeks as if holding our breath and then still try to breath slowly through our noses — as if that was an undetectable trick.