Behind the scenes of The Greatest Story Ever Told
Setting up the whole event took quite a bit of planning and effort.  To begin with, I spent a lot of time reading up on proposal ideas, most of which were tacky clichés, but they at least got me brainstorming and looking for patterns as to what worked and what didn't.

Then it dawned on me that a tunnel was a pretty good idea.  As this site attests, Dani and I have had a long history of exploring together, so I narrowed it down to a tunnel what would have some significance.  This one also happened to be one of the closest tunnels to our house, and it didn't take a tremendous hike to get to the big room where "the show" was going to take place.

While it wasn't exactly going to be anything on the scale of a Pink Floyd concert, I wanted to incorporate audio and visual aspects.  The Yaz song was an obvious choice.  We have a handful of other ones, but that was the shoe-in as you would know if you were there with us watching the The Office and bawling on the couch a couple years ago.  I didn't have an easy way to get music down there, however, so I related the scenario (in its nascent form) to my neighbor Linda and bounced ideas off her.  It was her boom box I ended up using.


Anyone who has seen the BBC version of The Office will immediately recognize the significance of Yaz's "Only You."  They'll also have it playing in their head, and will know this scene isn't remotely about the three guys in the foreground telling a joke at an office party.

Although I ultimately ended up using the original recording of the song by Yaz, I also I recorded several midi versions of the track in which I experimented with alternate instrumentation.  The reason was that I didn't know how the audio would work in a space given to excessive reverb plus the ambient sounds of running water, etc.  I tried versions that were staccato as well as more "spacey" mixes.  In the end, the original recording of the song worked just fine.  Dani hates midi anyway.

The other hurdle was that I wanted to put up a sign in the tunnel to create a visual component.  I had the idea that I would write it on a wall, but that lacked the element of surprise if it was immediately visible as soon as you entered the room.  Also, Dani would see the sign before I could hit "Play."  Unless you've never seen a movie before, you know the music starts before the revelation, not the other way around.  I hit upon the idea of chalking a proposal on the ceiling just above the entrance.  After all, the fun thing about being underground in a pitch-black space is that you miss a lot.  One thought was that I could take Dani past the writing, then draw attention to it when I was ready using the flashlight.

Okay, so then it was time to test this whole scenario out.  I snuck out after Dani went to bed and carted a ladder, stereo, and backback full of gear underground.


Looking back toward the entrance to the room.

No, it isn't a sex toy.  This is the sidewalk chalk.

Michaelangelo is best known for:
A) Painting a famous ceiling.

B) His superhero ninjitsu skills and living in tunnels underground.

I tried to be Dani's hero and paint a ceiling underground with chalk, but it sucked.

I found some wire that allowed me to hang the stereo from one of the rungs in the wall.

Hey, what's that sound?

Just in case you've never heard it, here's a midi version.  (The original sounds better, of course.)


While I listened to the music, I tried doing the chalk on the ceiling.  I had bought some sidewalk chalk earlier to work with.  Unfortunately, it really didn't stand out.  Even colored chalk is pale, no matter how big you make your block letters.  Additionally, the physiology of night vision is such that you are largely colorblind across the spectrum (i.e., not just red vs. green), so the contrast had to be better.  I packed up and went home to regroup.

The next day I went out looking for a banner of some kind.  I couldn't come up with anything satisfactory, so I finally went to a fabric store and bought a couple yards of red.  After Dani went to bed that night, I dug out the fabric and started writing in the letters, then coloring them in with a permanent marker.  Since I was trying to get it right (and it wasn't something I'm good at), this took a lot longer than I had expected.

Finished!  The guitars were over-eager and wanted to get a better view.  I let them watch while they helped hold the banner steady.

When I was done several hours later, I took it out to the tunnel, again along with all the stuff (i.e., ladder, stereo, several varieties of string, a whole punch, etc.; everything from before and then some... except for the chalk).  I climbed up the shaft and worked on the banner from there.  There is a little room at the top of the shaft now (thanks to new construction on the street a few years ago), so I was able to perch up there and get set up.  I ran a bunch of string down to hang the banner from and attached it to the cloth and then to pieces of rebar jutting from the opposing walls.  After making adjustments to get it level, the length was fine, but the banner hung like a wet bath towel.  You couldn't read the text among all the folds, plus the slight breeze in the tunnel gradually tugged the banner off to the side.

"Looking from a window above."  A view down the shaft.

Tied to the rebar...

...the banner hangs down...

...but it looks like crap!

And this was just one shot where the breeze didn't pull the damned thing off to the side.

Can you read that?  I can't!


I scoured the tunnel for a piece of light-weight material that was rigid enough for my purposes, and eventually I came up with a strip of plastic, though it turned out not to be terribly effective (as you can see in the picture above, and that was an improvement over using nothing at all).  I ended up climbing out of the tunnel, running home to my shed, and dug out several strips of wood (plus a couple wooden dowels, just in case I could get away with a lighter material).

Eventually I managed to get these tied to both the top and bottom ends of the banner and was able to get it situated at the forward edge of the ledge.  The string hanging down was relatively inconspicuous since it was whitish-gray, roughly the same color as the concrete walls.  It was exhausting climbing up and down to test pulling the banner down, but seeing it deploy properly was very rewarding once I got it to work like I wanted.


Now that's better.  Admittedly, this is a bad shot of it since it's turned to the right, but it came down great.  The wooden strips (top and bottom) straightened out all the creases and made it heavy enough not to sail off into the sunset without me.

After the proposal, I had to go up to the top and take down the banner...

...which was tied pretty far up there.

The proposal came off pretty well in the end.  Granted, I would rather have had a camera crew and a string quartet on hand, but you work within your means.  Hey, if you've got a better story, I'd like to hear it!
Alexplored 12/14/06.

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