Friday, February 20, 2009

Underground Journalism

On Thursday morning I taught an “underground journalism” class to my “Introduction to Media Writing” students at Portland Community College.

That’s an apt enough lead for a post about a class that included a tour of the utility tunnels that burrow beneath the blockhouse architecture of the PCC Sylvania campus.

The tour started in the cavernous boiler room with its three-story high ceiling crisscrossed with color-coded pipes. The massive boilers heat water to roughly 190 degrees before it is pumped through the tunnels to the far reaches of the sprawling campus. The operation keeps dozens of classrooms and offices comfortably warm. That’s somewhere between 68 degrees and 74 degrees, depending on the season, heating engineer and tour guide Dale Payne told us.

Payne (front row right in the group photo) enthusiastically told us about his work and the machinery. An affable, easy-going guy, he piled on heating facts and ventilation explanations well into the depths of the underground labyrinth.

Of the many questions asked during the tour, he eagerly asked the most. It was always the same one: “Do you have any more questions?”

Finally, his prodding left the class with nothing more to ask.

The hard-hatted students retraced their steps through the concrete, cramped tunnel. They emerged into daylight filled with stories to tell — and to write.

I instructed them to have fun doing so. I’m eager to see what they come up with. One thought the boilers and the tunnels would make a great setting for a horror movie. Another was struck by just how unaware he was of what was going on beneath his feet.

Whatever they write, it’s due next Tuesday, 9 a.m.

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