Thursday, August 02, 2007

Biking to da bar - disaster edition

It's hot. I biked to Town Hall as I usually do on Odin's Dag, but today held a special event.

I was present for the collapse of the 35W bridge over the Mississippi river here in Minneapolis. I didn't see the actual structural failure, but I did see the bridge in the river minutes after it happened.

It is weird. It takes a couple of seconds to process that something that cataclysmic has happened. I saw the bridge, but I didn't conceive of just what had occurred. Probably a product of growing up with TV and looking at disasters that happened far away.

"Things like that never happen here."

Wise up, fat boy. Apparently, they do.

It's odd looking on death and destruction of such enormous scale. You are accustomed to small disasters, car crashes, building fires and such, but not the destruction of something that has stood your entire life. Something that doesn't even really register. It's always been there, you use it daily and never give it a second thought unless traffic is slow across it (which happens). It's part of life, the little thing you never sweat.

Until it disappears.

Then what? You look upon the destruction with disbelief, a detachment. Then, the connections. Holy shit, Mrs Yam has dance class in Nordeast tonight! She's on her way!

For the first time in my life, I felt a white flash of panic. The opposite of a gnawing feeling, but an attack like an ambush from a cougar. It was but a brief flash, but I know I never want to feel it again. I call her phone, no answer (nothing unusual) and leave a message.

After realizing that my wife could have been on that bridge, my phone rings -- but it's not me Mrs, it's my brother calls asking how we are. He's the family worrier -- he is last person that I needed to talk to right now. I tell him that I'm looking at the scene, that I'm on the bridge next to the one that collapsed and that I haven't heard from me Mrs. yet. He says that he'll get off the phone and pray for us.

Now, things start to sink in. I clear my head with facts: we know that traffic sucks on 35W, we've discussed alternative routes earlier today, there are limited lanes of traffic and that the odds of Mrs Yam being on the bridge are actually pretty small.

This is comforting. A deep breath and some thought tell me that I haven't really anything to fear. She'll call as soon as she hears of what has happened.

The phone rings and I notice with joy that it is me Mrs. She called to let me know that she's fine. She was on the on the 3rd St bridge about the time the river bridge collapsed. Dance class was starting, so we can't chat but I don't care. I'm freaking floating. She's fine.

My other brother calls (he'd talked to the worrier) and wanted to make sure that we're OK. I assure him and decide then I needed a smoke and a beer. Since the 12 mile ride from work to da bar pretty much dehydrated me, I was sipping water. No longer.

I sat outside and watched the traffic snarl, the emergency vehicles push their way through the crowded streets and listened to people gossip about which roads were closed. Considering the confusion, the size of the catastrophe and the ability of the typical Minneapolis driver, things went really pretty well. I saw emergency teams from Anoka and Eagan, Stillwater and Edina, Richfield and Roseville. A collapse building team from Dakota county, diver squads from all over, boats from cities that don't have bodies of water -- it was truly astounding. Minneapolis' finest showed up and the cops that were directing traffic did a really tremendous job.

Traffic sucked as I sat there with the other regulars and gave directions to how to get the hell out of where you were. I'm really glad I had a bike.

I got a call from my sweetie offering me a ride (the weather looked pretty threatening), but I said that she should just get the hell home and I'll fend for myself. It's so freaking hot, that a ride in the rain would be great.

No rain, but the ride home was great anyway. Waved through by the completely exhausted cop that had been there for three hours, I worked my way to the Greenway to the Lakes and home. I flew as there was no one on the paths.

I was happy to walk the dog with me Mrs. tonight.

Very happy.

Governor Paulenty Pawlenty will have a lot to answer for tomorrow. He had the bright idea to not keep up the roads due to his "No New Taxes" plan, and I think that his Vice Presidental bid will probably suffer for it.

Good. I hope his political future is crushed by that bridge.


More later, but in the mean time read Rick Perlstein and his coverage of the infrastructure of this country.

We need more bikes.

Updated: Here's what the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) thinks of our infrastructure.


the old bag said...

Glad to hear you and yours are all well and accounted for.

Yes, it will be interesting to see what comes of the investigation...from one report, the state has been skimping on transportation $$ since the late 80s. The gas tax hasn't gone up since '88 from what I understand.

bother yam said...

It's funny how there is money for new roads, but never money for current infrastructure. I guess that there isn't enough money in repairs for contractors (contributors) and the gravy is in new construction.

Rhea said...

That bridge collapse is scary as hell. All over the country, maintenance of infrastructure has been put off. Expect more of these collapses.

bother yam said...

we've been warned by the society of civil engineers that our infrastructure is collapsing.

Snakebite said...

Glad the Mrs called and everything was OK. That helpless wondering feeling really sucks.

Beast1624 said...

Glad you and your family are OK. I know what you mean about those "it'll never happen here" things. It was 22 years ago today that the Delta flight crashed at DFW Airport, just a mile or so from where I sit.

We'll be praying for everyone there. Biking
has some Minneapolis bike and trans links.

Fritz said...

Glad you and the family are okay, Yammie.

I see that 280 is now an "unsigned highway." What does that mean for bike traffic into downtown?

bother yam said...


what does this mean for bikers in town? goodness knows. traffic is bad and uptown and downtown drivers are cognizant of bikers, but the suburanites looking for their way through town have enough trouble getting over the fact that they're driving in "dangerous" minneapolis, and they don't see bikes anyway. this is a recipe for disaster. it'll probably take mpls a couple of months to deal with the roads -- just in time for winter...

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