I usually tell guests that the reason the tunnels are so deep is because they were meant to double as bomb shelters.

A middle-aged Czech told me this once; maybe it’s true and maybe it’s not. It’s possible that the shockwave would blow flat across the city, leaving the tunnels unscorched.

Or maybe the fireball would snake through the tunnels too, seeking out the open entrances like invading hordes. In any case the exposed tunnel system offers no protection against radiation, and the Soviet planners knew this.

When you spend twenty minutes a day descending escalators blasted by a soft wind, one thinks about these things. One also stares at beautiful women, old men and pimply faced junkies as they scroll past. Occasionally I flash a peace sign at one of them, just to see what they do.

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An Australian kid I met in a hostel told me about his cousin who was an Ultimate Fighting champion in Melbourne. He had been attacked by a gang in Rotterdam. He knew he couldn’t possibly beat them all so he adopted Nixon’s “madman” theory to the moment and rushed up to the lead assailant, promptly ripping of his nose with his teeth, then spitting it out onto the ground like a piece of bad meat.

Blood dripping from his lips, he told the others encircling him that they would surely kill him, but not before someone else lost a nose. They looked at their friend writhing on the ground and backed off. Later, when he was reporting what happened at the police station, the hospital called in with the identity of the noseless thug. It turned out that he had a long record of nastiness and was notorious in the area for acts of extreme brutality.

The officers sent up a cheer, slapped the tough tourist on the back and offered him drinks. Listening to the story, I wondered if I would have the sack to rip off a man’s nose with my mouth. And if I did it in Prague, would the cops congratulate me? Or would they just stare at me in silence, afraid and looking more than a little stupid?

Friday, January, 1997.

A blizzard. My first night in town when I realize my ATM card is back at my hostel on the outskirts of Prague, together with the directions to get back there. 100 crowns and no place to go until Monday when the agency I booked the room at opens. I spent Friday and Saturday night with the bums in Hlavni nadrazi, trying to curl up on the benches and get some sleep between blasts of cold and kicks from the cops on night shift.

The Prague homeless shared their TB infested bottles of wine with me and played toothless folk songs on a beat up acoustic with glee. On Sunday night I decided to tramsleep instead of take one more kick from the station’s security forces. I forget which number night tram it was, but I remember well my two compatriots. They were hardened, grizzly veterans of the art.

When the tram pulled into its end station and we had to get off, I hopped around and blew into my hands until the tram started up again for another heated crawl through town. These other two guys just sat there, still as Buddhas. They did this every night and probably still do.