This guy named Tunnel Bob used to live next door to us. He was nicknamed such because he used to break into the tunnels underneath the university and under the hospitals — pretty much any tunnel in town, he could get into it. The rumor was that he was so capable at finding his way around the tunnels that the police could never catch him; so eventually they hired him to help them map the tunnels.
I never asked Bob if the police hired him, but he did often bring up his tunneling in conversations. He told me that he’d go to different cities to explore their tunnels. He’d been in Ann Arbor tunnels, Minneapolis tunnels, Milwaukee tunnels. Some of them were really nice, he told me. One even had drinking fountains in the tunnels.
He was a nice guy. Genuinely good-natured. But as you might have surmised by now, he was a little nuts. Eventually, he got evicted from his house.
By his mom.
She owned the place, but lived in a condo or some assisted living place since she was getting up there in age. She warned Bob that if he didn’t keep the place clean, she’d kick him out. And I guess she followed through on that.
This all happened a couple years ago. Bob stopped over to tell us he was getting evicted. Soon afterwards, this guy showed up at the house in a van and started fixing up the place. He was a nice guy, about 60 years old, handy, hard worker. We just assumed that Bob’s mom was getting the place prepped to sell.
We didn’t say much to the guy, since you don’t typically get to know tradespeople who work on your neighbors’ houses, you know? But he was there a lot; he even had a couple helpers — younger guys he’d hired to help him out.
Weeks turned into months, and eventually, he introduced himself to us. One of his employees was living in the house “to help defer the mortgage,” and he introduced that guy to us too. We’d never seen the house for sale, so we assumed Bob’s mom still owned it. And at one point, the man mentioned that he lived 45 minutes out of town.
This was all about three years ago. The guy’s still working on the house; we talk to him more often, though neither one of us knows his name. He told us when we first met him a couple years ago, but I didn’t figure he’d be around so long, so I didn’t bother paying much attention.
The other night, I went out in the front yard with Tember and noticed the guy’s van had its lights on. He’s got two vans — one big one with ladders on top, and one minivan that gets driven more often.
The house was dark, like it usually is at night, but there was a blue light in one of the rooms. We’ve always figured that the low lighting every night is just a timer of some sort to make people think someone lives there. But when I saw the van’s lights on, I tried knocking on the door of the house. Nobody answered, but when I started walking toward the sidewalk, I heard a tapping on a window.
I looked back and saw that the blinds on the front window had been opened a bit. I couldn’t see much inside, but I saw a red digital alarm clock reading 10:30. I waited.
After about 30 seconds, the guy came out of the house and thanked me for pointing out the van lights.
When I came back inside our house, I said to Eileen, “so that guy is our neighbor.” Only took three years to figure that one out.