Fifteen or twenty years ago, I was running through the McKenney Hills neighborhood of Montgomery County, Maryland, when I heard a voice that seemed to come from below my feet. I saw an uncovered manhole, the cover beside it, and I leaned down to call, Who's down there? A boy of ten or twelve came in to view. He and a couple of friends were down there, he said. "There" clearly was "in the storm sewers". I said that I didn't think it safe to be down there. Oh, he said, it was safe. They came down and explored all the time. They had been as far as the middle school. (Sligo Middle School, that was, about a mile east of this manhole.)
There wasn't much I could do. I couldn't descend and catch them, and if I could have caught them, I couldn't have retrieved them. Not knowing their names, I couldn't speak to their parents. There was no neighborhood listserv, or at least I wasn't on it, so I couldn't alarm the neighborhood by posting an account. In any case the sky suggested no imminent rain that might endanger them. I did what I could, which was to mind my own business and continue my run.
I still don't think it was a good idea for the boys to explore the storm sewers. (Though at ten or twelve I might have thought it a fine idea.) But it speaks to a level of enterprise and freedom that some suggest has been bred out of the middle class children of today. Are the children of McKenney Hills still exploring? I don't know; I seldom get out that way now, and would be unlikely to know in any case. But I wouldn't be surprised.
(A piece on the sewers of Paris over at Book Haven brought this story to mind.)