Balloons and Bridges

Ordinarily, a new Harry Potter book and The Simpsons Movie would have been enough to make for an eventful week, but my week was even more eventful–I received the first advance check of my career and took a hot air balloon at sunrise over the St. Croix River Valley with my wife and a balloonist named Jim.

Ballooning - Picture 1

Ballooning - Picture 2

Unfortunately, even these pleasant memories, which I’m sure will last my entire life, were soon oscured by a sudden collapse of a major bridge spanning the Mississippi. The east end of the bridge, part of the west loop of Interstate 35, is a few blocks from where I work, and a few blocks the other way from my old neighborhood where I lived for several years.

I learned about the collapsed bridge when my mother in law called and said, when I answered the phone, “I just wanted to hear your voice.” I didn’t have any context for that remark — I just passed the phone to my wife with a shrug. A few seconds later my wife told me what was going on. Her mother must have worried that her daughter and I took the bridge to and from work (we don’t, but we go right by it).

With the bridge going right by the University where I work, I was immediately concerned about the hundreds of people I know who must take it home every day. As it turns out, nobody I know seems to have been directly affected, though family and friends report passing over the bridge in the hour preceding the collapse, and more than one tell me they felt something was wrong with the way the bridge rumbled as they passed over it. Near misses with friends and family, and the two links of separation of any two people in Minneapolis, make the stories of victims and survivors real and poignant.

For the families and friends of people on the bridge when it collapsed, this is a personal and private tragedy, but there is also a public aspect to it. I feel as if our city is wounded. It’s difficult to describe to out-of-towners how central and essential that one bridge is… it is one of the key conduits that connects the two sides of Minneapolis (though some national news incorrectly reported that the bridge connects Minneapolis to St Paul).

A few days later one of the overwhelming feelings is one of disconnection. Having America’s greatest river run right through town is one of the primary points of pride and identity for Minneapolitans, and people ordinarily hop back and cross across the river with aplomb. Overnight, we’ve become wary of bridges, reluctant to take the trips across the river, and I find myself reaching for my wife’s hand when we do so.

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