A Bridge Too Close

skyway_bridgeEveryone has their phobias. One of mine is traveling over a bridge, presumably even over non-troubled waters. It all started when I was a little kid in the late 1950’s. We lived on Chicago’s Far West Side a few blocks from the newly constructed Congress Highway (years later it would be renamed the Eisenhower Expressway). On Sunday family outings, Dad would take the Congress (until today I still call it this) east towards the Loop, the downtown area. The end of the highway was signified by the gigantic US Post Office built smack dab on top of it. I understand that they built it with the cutout for the normal height of semi-trailer truck traffic in mind. After you went under the building tunnel, you were immediately hit with crossing over the Chicago River. At that spot, the river was no more than fifty or so feet wide. For a kid it was terrifying going over the steel waffle-like bridge pavement rather than solid cement. I was convinced that the ground beneath us was not sturdy and that we would eventually fall into the river.

One time, and probably the only time that I can recall it happening as we came to it, the bridge was up to let a tall schooner boat pass through. More scary thoughts crossed my mind worrying about riding over the bridge and it all of a sudden going up.

Such a thing did happen to me while I was walking on a bridge not too much time later. In the very early 1960’s Dad sold a big face value insurance policy and with the windfall commission he took the family for a couple of weeks or so in South Haven, Michigan, during that summer. Not far from the cottage in which we stayed was the Black River. There was a bridge that let you cross over it to get around in the mostly residential area. As I walking across at a slow, leisurely pace, all of a sudden I hear a clanking sound, a gate go down and the bridge start to go up. I grabbed the side railing and held on for dear life as I made my way back from where I started.

More than thirty years later I happened to be doing business in Brooklyn. That evening, I decided I to go into Manhattan with the car I rented. For whatever reason, I chose the Williamsburg Bridge rather than go down a bit to the Manhattan bridge or ever further to the Brooklyn Bridge. I had no idea that the Williamsburg was in bad shape until a local New Yorker told me so. The bridge shook so much that I was worried that my car was going to slide into the East River. Now I knew how Jimmy Hoffa felt.

Driving in New York has never been good for my nerves- not because of the crazy drivers. I can deal with that, such as the time a cab driver on Central Park West decided to make a right turn onto a side street while in the left most lane. For me, it’s all those bridges. I clam up when I approach the Throgs Neck and that monster one that connects to Staten Island. Can you imagine that someone with a wicked sense of humor named a bridge in Staten Island that is dedicated solely to rail traffic the Arthur Kill Vertical Lift?

But by far, the scariest bridge I’ve ever driven on top of is the famous “High Bridge” over the Calumet River along the Calumet Skyway. That bridge is technically part of Chicago and therefore is considered the highest point in the city. The main span is 650 feet long and 125 feet high.

I’m not much of a card player but if I was I can assure you I wouldn’t play Bridge. I don’t eat Bridge Chocolate and I definitely don’t go boating. The last time I did was forty years ago and I got seasick on a fast motor boat in Lake Michigan not far off the Chicago coastline.

Yes, give me land, give me land, under starry skies above, don’t bridge me in.

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