Tuesday, August 21, 2007

What I Did On My Vacation

Earlier this month I took a week off from work, as I usually do during early August. I though about the placed I could go. I could take the family camping at a state park here in Pennsylvania. I could take them on a trip to Minnesota, as I did two years ago. I could take them to Washington, DC, as I did two years before that.

My car had other ideas. The ABS light on the dashboard is both blessing and curse; nice to know that something is wrong, but why the mystery? We weren't going to take a chance on a breakdown, so we stayed home. I'll get the car looked at, as soon as I figure out how I'm going to pay for it.

Even as a family man slowly approaching middle age, I retain a touch of wanderlust from my younger days. So, one day early that week, I took a drive to Steubenville, Ohio. It's not a vacation destination; I was visiting the courthouse to study old records. (Yeah, that's what I do for kicks on my day off.) As I headed west on US 22, the thought occurred to me: I have to drive across a bridge. This was going to be my first bridge crossing since the I-35W collapse in Minneapolis. I hadn't been to Steubenville for a few years, since a friend of mine lived there in the 1990s. The US 22 bridge over the river is, as my friend described it back in 1992, "a really cool looking ultra-modern suspension bridge". This is the bridge that I used to get to my friend's old house a few miles north of the city. It is not the bridge that one takes to get to downtown Steubenville.

The most direct route to the heart of the city of Steubenville lies a bit farther south down the river. You drive a couple of miles on West Virginia Rte. 2 and make a right at the next light onto the Market Street Bridge, which takes you right into the heart of the downtown. The US 22 bridge isn't old enough to drink or vote. The Market Street Bridge is over 100 years old. It seems sturdy enough, being constructed from steel (as you'd expect in this area with all of its steel mills), though it does have its fair share of rust. By "fair share", I mean that I'm glad I did not make physical contact with the girders for fear of contracting tetanus.

Even worse than the rust was the road surface, or lack thereof. I'm sure the old bridge is safe enough, being made of steel and all, but there is no pavement of any kind at the bottom. You drop a penny out the window, it doesn't stop until after it hits the water. Nevertheless, I felt safe. It didn't seem like the kind of bridge that was going to collapse under the weight of my minivan.

That afternoon, I scooted over to Butler, PA. I had to cross the Ohio River again, though at a more distant point upriver. This time I felt a little more skittish. The I-79 bridge is the kind of bridge that's so high that you don't feel like you're on a bridge unless you start thinking about it. Believe me, I was thinking about it: The Minnesota bridge was an interstate! My life is at stake!

I hadn't had such irrationally paranoid thoughts since September 2001.

Still, it's a nice bridge, and I wasn't consumed with thoughts of rust, nor of dust or lust. All I wanted to do was get to the other side. And so I did. Then I wanted to return the same way. I did that, too.

Bottom line? I like bridges. They have character. They're mostly safe. Statistically, the chances of being on a bridge that suddenly collapses into the river are microscopic. I can't get very far around here without needing to drive over a bridge.

If, someday, I'm on a bridge that happens to fall into the river while I'm on it, well, que sera sera.

No comments: