The troubled bridge over waters

By Jeff Petersen, The Observer May 31, 2013 10:49 am
Me being nervous is nothing new. I get nervous over stoplights, incessant May rain and buzzards circling when I attempt golf.

But all these bridges falling, first Minneapolis and now Mount Vernon, Wash., have my knees knocking.

Many of us have driven over these bridges, when we were touring the ice farms of Minnesota or trying to escape the Vietnam War draft and get to Canada.

My history goes back further. I got bridge phobia as a fifth-grader when a rare snow hit Western Oregon. I was assigned to feed cows across Crooked Creek, and the only way to get to the barn where the hay resided was a
log, the remaining part of a wooden bridge built during the Teddy Roosevelt administration.

Snow is heavy in Western Oregon. It is about a 100:1 ratio water to ice. Even the weight lifter/body builder turned California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, even on steroids, would have difficulty shoveling Western Oregon snow.

I was a strong kid. A brave kid. But when I got half way across the log passing for a bridge, it suddenly broke. I plunged into the muddy, roiling waters. I saw my life pass before my eyes — it looked short and lacking in graduation gifts.

Numerous obese cows gathered on the north shoreline, extremely concerned that they would miss a meal. The cows were slowly eating my family into bankruptcy and thought it was amusing to see me bobbing like a cork in the icewater — except for being scared they might miss a meal.

Several decades later, when I lived in Minnesota, I drove over the Minneapolis bridge that later collapsed. Even driving 60 mph, it was hard to outrun mosquitoes and deer flies. The insects seemed to be jet-powered in that state of 14,000 lakes of which the locals, weak from blood loss, only brag about 10,000.

Later, when on a quest to have a Nanaimo bar in Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island, in Canada, I rolled up I-5 and over the Mount Vernon bridge before I knew it was a hazard. Such was my quest to fulfill an item on my bucket list that I failed to consider the risks of the venture. The biggest risk, it turned out, was to my pocketbook. The ferry from the mainland to Vancouver Island costs about as much as a cruise. Only one problem. There was no free food on board, no rock climbing walls, no jacuzzis. Just a lot of passengers grumpily dodging raindrops. 

By the time I got to Nainaimo, I could have not only eaten a Nanaimo bar but all the poutine on the island and maybe if I could have found one a buzzard.

Still, after all that, I have no trouble crossing bridges by car. It beats swimming. Or taking a rowboat. Or trying to walk on water.

It would be nice, however, if bridges came with an engineering seal of approval. People deserve to know their bridges are safe — and they won’t go for a swim in glacially infested waters.