Saturday, August 04, 2007

Minnesotans are fascinated by collapsed bridges

I keep trying to see this bridge with my own eyes, but it's blocked off in every direction.

There has to be three miles of perimeter surrounding the bridge that fell down in Minneapolis, on both sides of the Mississippi. Yet the police have managed to block off every view possible (which is easy, because there's a lot of trees). It is technically a crime scene, so nobody is allowed in.

Yesterday I went by the University of Minnesota before I ran some errands, and as I walked along the heavily forrested riverbank (blocked with yellow police tape), I suddenly caught a small glimps of IT, the famous bridge. It did look surreal. A bridge looks WAY larger when it's on the ground, I can now state.

I saw the steep slope of the west side of the bridge, veering down at about 50 degrees. The eerie thing is that all the cars are still sitting there like they're about to drive off when the light turns green. It looks sort of like regular stopped traffic, except they would be driving in a straight into the deepest bowels of the earth.

Today I went to a gallery opening (and ran into Anton, and ultimately my good friend Emily, who I drove home). The gallery happened to be in the same building where Emily works, which is right next to where the bridge collapsed. I went up on a little hill near the river there and tried, again, to see the bridge. All I saw was the two ends at their weird angles, far in the distance. Couldn't even see the cars from here. All day long for the past three days, people keep calling all the radio stations telling their stories - they had planned to take 35W, but at the last moment they had to stop for gas, or they took a different road, and were spared disaster. I think a thousand people think they were just the recipients of a miracle.

This bridge thing is a weird transformational moment in Minnesota. I've just realized now that we (Minnesotans) have always thought of our state as a place that far from crisis, perhaps even immune from crisis. Bad things happen in other places, never here. We think of ourselves as organized, thoughtful people - people who never have these kinds of problems. Tragedies are for New York, San Francisco, Florida - but never Minnesota (except tornadoes and floods, and we are used to that). Even though this bridge collapse is hardly a September 11th, or even a Katrina, it seems to have such a profound and strange effect here. But surprisingly, I think we're fascinated by it. Not many people died, in the end, so it has become curiously engaging, mysterious, unfathomable and utterly absorbing.

When I went to try to see the brige, both times, there were MANY other people trying to see it too. It was a true pilgrimage, people from all walks of society and all ages flowing past like a steady river current on foot and on bikes. There was a quiet air of fascination and reverence, as one is in the presence of immense forces at work. The atmosphere wasn't solomn or sad, nor was it a circus. It felt truly Minnesotan - which is to say it was a quiet, reserved expression of total awe. People looked and whispered to each other and lifted their kids up to see. They called on their cellphones describing it to people who couldn't come see for themselves. Nobody can see the bridge yet everybody feels compelled to see it with their own eyes.

Emily gave me the secret tip tonight, you can see it from the old ruins below the Mill City Museum. Maybe I'll go there tomorrow.


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