I don’t want to overstate any proximity to the event since through much of the construction I had been avoiding the bridge during rush hour. There are many other’s who can claim a much closer call than I, but still when such a disaster strikes a location that is so familiar to you it is hard not to consider the possibility of what could have happened.
It’s also strange the random nature of the memories and thoughts that come back to you when a place that has been such a regular part of your life is no longer there. These three stand out in particular.
A weekday evening in Early-July, 2007: It was about 5:00 PM. I missed my normal detour around the construction and ended up in the middle of the slow rush hour flow of the two remaining northbound lanes. It was just after the failed bombing attempts in London and Glasgow and in that moment I had a strange realization of the vulnerability of that situation and how something we take for granted could easily be turned into a place of danger. I said a prayer for safety and quickly put the thought out of my mind until about a month later. Though my thought that day primarily revolved around the possibility of terrorism, it now seems to have been a premonition of what was to come.
About 2:00 PM, August 1, 2007: Ironically I left work early to have my back checked out by my doctor due to a car accident the day before. Again I missed my detour, but the traffic was not as heavy at that time of the day. As I drove across the bridge I looked at the newly laid concrete. Having become weary of all the detours I remember thinking to myself, “Good, it looks like we’re making progress toward getting back to normal.”
Just over four hours later sitting at home, working through all the paperwork from my own situation, we received a phone call from my mother-in-law to check on us. It was at that moment we would find out that nothing would ever be normal about 35W again.
Evening, August 8, 2007: A week after the collapse my wife and I made our pilgrimage to the river to look at what has happened and somehow connect with this tragedy. As we stand on the Stone Arch Bridge looking down on the destruction, I catch a glimpse of an ambulance crossing the 10th Ave bridge on it’s new route from downtown to the east side and it brings my mind back to a much happier memory and the role 35W has played in our lives.
I remembered back to the very first hours of May 19, 2004 as I sat in the back of another ambulance looking at my wife laying there with our newly born daughter who couldn’t wait for mom and dad to get her to the hospital to make her appearance. The freeway was very empty at that early hour and the concrete glistened in the glow of the street lights as we rolled across the bridge and up the Washington Ave ramp on our way to HCMC. It was like the whole world had stopped for this special moment and this was Elaina’s time in the spotlight. This definitely was a much happier memory and it is the happier memories of this place that I want to hold on to.