Sunday, August 12, 2007

A bridge to nowhere

As I got to the midway point beads of sweat collected on my forehead.

Ten years ago one winter I'd reached this very spot on the bridge and lost control of my car. It had skated in a complete circle. Before I knew it the car came to a stop and I was facing the river, my knees shaking. I hadn't even considered what to do as the world slid sideways, I just held my breath and steered into the skid. Knees still knocking against the steering wheel, I righted the car and continued driving, thanking the universe there were no cars behind me.

Every time I drive over the span of metal and concrete, I relive that cold night and think about what could have happened.

This time as I traversed the bridge it was mid-summer, Champ was in the back seat, presumably sleeping and there were no impediments to a safe and uneventful crossing. But in Minneapolis, where a bridge collapsed into the Mississippi River at rush hour just the day before, there were hundreds of commuters who probably thought the same thing. I imagine some of them routinely held their breath as they crossed time and again.

I'm not particularly afraid of bridges, but I have to admit that I tend to go through a mental run-through of all the things I could do should the concrete evaporate under my wheels. I never get far before I have to chastise myself for neglecting to put a hammer under the seat. Should the car submerge and the power windows short out, I'm fairly certain I won't have the strength to open the car door underwater.

I briefly consider precautions to take the next time I'm crossing over a bridge. Maybe I'll wear the baby sling. If we go under, I can crawl into the back seat, pop him in the sling and swim on my back once I get to the surface. But then I look into the rearview mirror and see the toddler car seat, which is currently empty since she's spending a few hours with her Amah and Papa, and mentally wad up that particular solution and toss it into the trash.

It may sound funny but I know people who are getting prepared for all types of disasters. They've got flashlights and batteries, duct tape and plastic bags, sterno and stereos. They're stocking up on bottled water and canned goods, they're tucking sleeping bags and road flares in their cars and they're putting Iodine in their medicine cabinets and candles in their cupboards.

Of course they're not crazy, they just want to be prepared in case the end begins with them.

We all have our particular fears, too. Some living along the coast fear hurricanes, some fear floods. Terror is on everyone's mind, while faulty bridges (specifically those over water) is my fear trigger.

It's not as if such things as the Minnesota bridge disaster haven't happened here, they have. Ten people were killed in April 1987 after the collapse of the Thruway bridge over the Schoharie Creek near Amsterdam sent several cars and a tractor-trailer into the water.. Other failures have occurred, fortunately without the loss of life. Two years ago a ramp of the Dunn Memorial Bridge partially collapsed, but was identified by a woman who had driven over the fault and who alerted authorities. The episode vaguely recalled another stunning bridge failure that similarly resulted in no casualties -- the Green Island Bridge, which in 1977 collapsed after flooding weakened its foundation.

We've been lucky. According to 2006 Federal Highway Administration reports, of the 594,709 bridges in the United States, 152,945, or 26 percent, are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Likewise, 17 percent (161,750 of the 961,382 federal-aid road miles) of U.S. highways are reported to have conditions needing resurfacing or reconstruction.

Sobering statistics that always seem to bring me back to my mental drawing board, tapping my imaginary pencil on the paper of my empty plans.

Maybe if I had an inflatable raft ...

1 comment:

Fairly Odd Mother said...

I have these trains of thought at night---what I'll do if an intruder appears over my bed; how I'll wake the kids and evacuate if there is a fire; and lately, how we will run into the basement when a jumbo 747 starts to fly toward our house. I know that is a rather odd one, but it keeps coming up.

BTW, I saw something on a news program about how to survive if your car goes underwater, and there is a little metal thing that can easily break car window glass with a little tap. You've reminded me that I need one of those. . .