Friday, November 24, 2006

Perspective, Courtesy Of The Guy From The Bridge Crew

I live on what is basically a dead end street--there are two side streets off of my street, but both of them come to a quick halt, ending just before the banks of a creek. The second of the two streets used to continue across the creek, but that bridge was washed out in the flood of '72 and never replaced, which really has nothing to do with my story but is a fact I find sort of interesting as a comment on governmental inefficiency--governmental inefficiency which in this case I'm actually quite grateful for because I'm sure my kids couldn't have played so much street hockey safely or uninterrupted if the bridge had been replaced.

But the washed-out-in-the-flood-of-'72 bridge isn't my subject for the evening. It's the other bridge I want to talk about. When I first moved to this street, there was a steel deck bridge I crossed every day to get home. Writing for the county paper, I had covered town meetings in which the state of this bridge was discussed and weight limits imposed--basically, only passenger vehicles were light enough--no garbage trucks, no ambulances or fire trucks. These meetings included speculation on what would happen if the bridge were to collapse and someone were to file suit against the town. (This is how the phrase "non-specific migrating back pain" came into my vocabularly--a phrase I love but (fortunately, I guess) don't get to use often.)

Finally, a year or so after I moved in, state funding came through, and the bridge was scheduled to be replaced. In order to re-route traffic, the town appropriated an access road that a business at the dead end end of the street had put in place when the weight limits were imposed--this business had heavy trucks coming and going and no way to get them there without cutting a path through the woods. So this path through the woods--literally a rutted dirt road on which I regularly saw deer right in the middle of town--was how all the cars on our street were supposed to connect with the rest of town. We were all okay with it, though--sacrifice in the name of progress and improvement--it could only be a good thing that fire trucks might now be able to reach us without falling into the creek--and, anyway, they said it was going to take six weeks.

Six weeks. Well, the first four weeks, they were right on schedule. The weather cooperated, the old bridge came apart and was carted off without a hitch, the footers (or whatever they are) were placed without a problem. Then came time to lay the deck pieces. We heard they were very fancy, made of some composite material, the wave of the future--long-lasting, easy to work with, on and on and on. They were also cut to the wrong size. It would be at least another six weeks--more likely twelve before the replacements could be manufactured and shipped.

It went on like this. The new pieces were finally shipped and placed but by then it was too cold to apply the (also experimental) surface material so they had to build a gigantic tent and bring in those big heaters that look like jet engines and try to warm it up enough in there to spread this miracle material. Material which, once spread and set, began chipping up in gigantic pieces within a few days. So six months after the first six weeks which had become close to six months, there was a crew again, spreading what looked to the untrained eye like plain, old traditional asphalt. And that crew has been back three or four times a year in the four years since the bridge was "completed" to fix "mushy spots" and all sorts of other fun stuff like that.

One day last spring, I was walking to work and there were the poor bridge guys again*. As I passed the one directing traffic, I smiled sympathetically and said, "This bridge must be such a nightmare for you guys."

And, he said, "Oh I don't know, we sure have learned a lot about how not to build a bridge."

When I grow up, I want to be just like the bridge crew guy. I want to not only learn from my mistakes, but to be able to embrace those mistakes for the opportunities they are--opportunities to understand more about myself and everyone else, about the world and my place in it.

*It's been a good year--they've only been back once since then. Of course, that time, they were here for a week and a half and had to dig two six-foot squares all the way down to the deck level, but still.

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