Saturday, August 4, 2007


(The cranes and the piling are for the new bridge)
My heart goes out to those people in Minneapolis-St. Paul who lost family and friends in this week's collapse of the I-35 Bridge over the Mississippi River. Thank god, the death estimate in this terrible tragedy has gone way down. Five are confirmed dead and about eight are still missing. That's astonishing when you think about the bumper to bumper traffic that was on the bridge at the height of evening rush hour.
Every day, I cross not the Mississippi River but the Missouri River on the bridge shown above. When I first went to work in Mandan, I worked in an office downtown, so it was about the same length drive whether I took this bridge or the Grant Marsh (Interstate) Bridge. In 2006, this very bridge shown above was declared unsafe - the supports were crumbling! - and it was closed for repairs. That's when I started driving the Grant Marsh Bridge exclusively, and came to love the drive and even posted about the wonders I saw on my daily trips.
Workers repaired the Memorial Bridge by constructing sleeves around the supports and pouring concrete into the sleeves. The bridge was declared safe enough to drive on until the new bridge opens in 2008. For months, though, I would not cross the newly-reopened bridge. That is, until Dan told me "Don't be ridiculous!"
With my new job, I still work in Mandan, at a location in the southeast part of the city, very close to the Memorial Bridge. It would be truly ridiculous for me to go out of my way just to avoid this bridge. As it is, I am only six minutes from my driveway when I take this route.
I really don't care for this bridge. Although it is pretty seen from a distance, when you are on it you feel like you have blinders on and can't see what's going on on the river. Plus, there's construction everywhere as they build the new bridge. Yesterday was particularly disturbing as they were doing something on the new bridge that caused a deep low booming sound - thrum, thrum, thrum. It sounded like the drums of doom.
I have never had a phobia of crossing bridges, and I still don't, but sometimes as I'm driving over the bridge I have an image of my car sailing off the bridge into the void, "Thelma and Louise" style. What keeps me going over this bridge twice a day is deciding that if it is my karma to die crossing a bridge, so be it. I keep remembering the scenes from "Shogun" in which Lord Toranaga tells Englishman John Blackthorne that it his karma - or destiny - to never return home but to forever remain in Japan.
That may be a bizarre way of looking at things, but as I said it keeps me crossing the bridge. The people who died in the Twin Cities bridge disaster, I'm sure, were not thinking of karma as they crossed that bridge toward home on a beautiful late summer afternoon. They were thinking of their supper, the Twins game on TV and the pleasant Midwest summer evening to come.
It also leads one to think, could they have changed their karma by going a different route that day? CAN you change your karma? How do YOU know what your karma is? If you change something you were certain was your destiny, was it your destiny after all? What you end up with IS, then, your destiny. I could follow that convoluted train of thought for a while!
What I should have, is underpass phobia. As it is my husband's birthday tomorrow, I am remembering another birthday of his. We had left his parents' home in Williston to drive to his home in Langdon, where a birthday party was to be held for Dan and a friend with the same birthday. We were engaged at the time, so it must have been 1973.
Seventy miles into our drive, just outside Stanley, ND, we were hit by a massive cloudburst - a hail and heavy rainstorm. We pulled over to the side of the highway and waited out the worst, then drove into Stanley. What we didn't know was that the underpass was filled with 7-8 feet of water. (The policeman who should have put barriers up turned up later.) Just as we entered the underpass, Dan realized (visibility was still poor), that the underpass was flooded. He could not reverse in time, and into the drink we went.
The swirling waters were taking the car and throwing us against one side of the underpass and then the other. I remember very well sitting there with water up to the level of the seat, thinking I was going to die. And being absolutely paralyzed.
That's when the policeman showed up. He came into the water and pulled me out the passenger window. Dan managed to get himself out. I remember sitting in the back of the police car with a blanket around me. The streets had been deserted minutes before, but now there were dozens of gawkers looking at me. One of them said, "She's hysterical!"
"No, she's not!" Dan said. "She just needs a drink." So, we and our new friends went into the bar for drinks and the policeman belatedly put up his barriers. Dan called his parents who came and brought us back to Williston. The icy cold waters meeting the car's hot engine had cracked the block, causing hundreds of dollars worth of damage. Dan missed his birthday party and I missed the last week of summer school at UND.
Hope Dan has a better birthday tomorrow! (And I'm still not afraid of underpasses!)

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