Sometimes you have to wait a while after a catastrophe to properly analyze it. It could take weeks -- months, even -- before you can find adequate words to describe a situation. In the case of the collapsed Interstate 35W bridge here in Minneapolis, it has takens seven weeks to the very day -- August 1, 2007 -- for me to muster up these words:
Holy mother of fuck.
Coincidentally enough, those were the exact same words I used upon hearing about the bridge, once I actually figured out what bridge it was.
I've lived in Minneapolis since August of 2001 and in that time have learned my way around town quite well. I almost never get lost, I always know which way is north and I'm confident enough to give directions to people who ask me. The day of the bridge collapse, I was driving on 35W north, headed into downtown to pick up my husband. I noticed an overhead sign saying that a road was closed and that alternate routes should be used. I breathed a sigh of relief that I wasn't in need of that particular route and I almost felt smug as I bypassed the long stretch of cars that was backed up for miles. You know how that feels -- it's like you are living in a Mentos commerical when you think, "I'm one lucky bastard because I am heading in a different direction."
The overhead sign also said to tune to 88.5 - a local channel that offers traffic reports and, on Saturday nights, big band music. There was someone talking about a bridge collapse that had happened just minutes before and I kept straining to remember what part of town that would be in. For some reason it never ocurred to me that it was a bridge that I used quite often. A bridge that my sister used every day. A bridge that, for over a year, took me to and from work in Northeast Minneapolis.
Then I did realize it. I realized that it was that one bridge my husband and I were stuck in traffic on for fifteen minutes one week earlier. At the time I didn't think to myself, "Wow, here we are on this bridge, not moving, just watching the guys in the lane next to us work on road patches... I'll bet this baby could go anytime!"
But bridges in America should not fall down, right? We never expect them to. We trust that the people that maintain our roadways have our best interest in mind. We hope that, if our governor refuses to sign a gas tax bill that would fund our roadways, it is not because he's in the pocket of the Taxpayers' League of Minnesota, but that our roads are simply in prime condition.
That night we made lots of calls and received lots of calls -- friends and family wondering if we were okay, if everyone we knew were okay. Luckily we had no bad news to report to any of them.
Three of my daughter's classmates were on the school bus that was the focus of so much attention, and it didn't occur to me how shaken up Abagail would be. The next day I was driving her around and there we were, stopped in traffic on a bridge. I felt queasy she asked me, "Mom, if this bridge fell, what would we do?"
I paused for longer than I think she wanted me to. All I could say was, "I'd get you out." Did I honestly believe that we'd survive a crash into the river? Did I know for certain that our vehicle would not be trapped in the water by fallen concrete, as many of the cars were under 35W? No. But she didn't need to hear that. She needed to hear that no matter what happened, I would turn into SuperMom and save her.
I'd be lying if I said I didn't still think about it as I drive over bridges every single day, but I do. And I play it over in my head: Would I speed up? Would I try to come to a screeching halt? Would I have the sense about me to get my windows rolled down before hitting the water?
I have no answer to any of this. I just know that I have to continue to trust our lawmakers that they've learned some sort of lesson from all of this. If I don't, how can I possibly ever leave the house again? How can any of us?