Thursday, August 02, 2007

A Bridge Too Far

I got a note from my old friend Gary Marfin today. Gary thinks that I should not blog about new appliances I am purchasing. He is probably right about that. Although he fails to realize the fierceness of the family Golden Retriever, Amber, currently wearing a pretty neckerchief after her recent grooming.

Actually I had thought about Gary last night when the bridge in Minnesota went down. Gary spent a year in Minnesota, which came to a conclusion after much thought and prayer, and an incident where his car slid down the ice on a steep hill which reminded the Marfins how much safer it was to live in Texas. Indeed, last night's incident proves that point.

I associate Gary with another bridge. In the winter of 1980-81, I called Gary after the Air Florida bridge crash in D.C. He was the one who told me that disc jockey Howard Stern, someone I had never heard of, had just called Air Florida to ask them the price of a one way ticket from Washington National to that bridge.I told him that no one with that little taste would stay on the air for very long. That was before I had read that Pt Barnum's motto was "no one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the public."As always, P.T. was right.

So we now enter a new season of finger pointing. There are still over 20 bodies unaccounted for, but NBC is already closely questioning the Governor of Minnesota (a Republican by the way, I'm just saying !) about the fact that the Feds had labled the bridge "structurally deficient". Damn, got to hand it to the Federal government and their labeling practice. The loud sound you heard this morning was 50,000 plaintiff's lawyers simultaneously changing their web sites to display an expertise in "major bridge collapse" cases. I'm not quite sure who all will be sued. That mysterious guy who was "jackhammering" at the time of the collapse is a target. But I bet he's pretty well judgment proof. There will be enough litigation to go around. Hell, enough to open a Twin Cities office.

For the next couple of weeks, people will be thinking about their faith in American Engineering every time they cross a bridge, or sit under a second deck at a stadium, or take a ride in an old subway.And fear will be fanned by several news magazines featuring the collapsed bridge on their cover story, which will be called "Collapsing American Infrastructure, how safe are we ?". I admit that it crossed my mind when I drove under a bridge this morning. But it all comes down to timeing in this life.

Once when I was trying a case in D.C., an ice storm hit. On my way to court I heard a radio report of a woman who had been killed by a huge icecicle that fell from a tree or a high wire. It killed her instantly, in fact, decapitated her, to at least some extent. For weeks I thought about timeing. If she had not been late or early to work, if she had not varied her route, if she had not stopped for one second to pick something up.Virtually everything in her life led up to that bad timing.Some years later I was walking in Houston and felt a breeze go by me. I turned around and a hammer had fallen behind me from a multistory building that was being built, leaving quite an impression on the sidewalk. That would have been it for me.Once second, no, some fraction of a second, seperating me from the great beyond.The thing is, that kind of thing happens all the time. Most of the time we don't even know it. How many Twin cities drivers got home last night, turned on the T.V., and found that they had missed by minutes of being at the bottom of the Mississippi River ? "Boy, glad I left early today." was an oft repeated phrase around the dinner table last night.

Luther, when he was not persecuting Jews, is alleged to have looked up at a monk on a scaffold and said "in the midst of life we are in death."Sometimes the bridge, or the car, or the plane or the hammer just has your name on it.My advice ? Continue to drink heavily.

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