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On the Verge

Much as I’d like to think I exist wholly in and of myself, that I am guided in action, as it were, by some internal governing principle, that my essence, my nature is unequivocal and exists irrespective of my surroundings, I cannot deny the influence the built environment has on me, at least insofar as I am defined by my interaction with it and, in the case that follows, the lessons I derive from it.

There is one feature of my immediate environment that has come to bear quite heavily in the past six or seven months, that being the 35W bridge collapse and subsequent reconstruction project. Though I cannot say clearly or distinctly what it is that has affected me, I can at least relate my experiences and observations. On the evening on August 1st, 2007, three friends and I were just crossing back into Minnesota from a concert we’d been to at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre outside of Denver –– Daft Punk, if you’re at all interested. A little while after 6:00 PM we turned the radio on to MPR and heard something about a bridge –– some kind of collapse, though we didn’t think much of it at the time. We hadn’t caught the beginning, so we were left to speculate half-heartedly. Some sparsely traveled highway overpass or some other such thing. But when they finally did that whole “If you’re just joining us...? deal and we were abruptly awakened. Like so many other people, we said to ourselves, hey, I’ve been over that, just last week or just last month or last year. I thought of calling some friends who I knew were on campus during the summer, but I didn’t. I should have, though.

Last year we’d always walk to a friend’s fraternity by way of the 10th Avenue Bridge, and on the way back we’d take some time to admire the night-time city lights. We barely even noticed the bridge that ran parallel, not more than the width of a city block away –– less, probably. It was part of the image. It was a permanent fixture. Whether the leaves were falling or the snow was drifting, it was always there, underneath, waiting to be uncovered, waiting to be covered, always waiting, it seemed, for something. It was solid, it was, like I had once conceived of myself, unequivocal. But it was gone. The wait was over. We couldn’t quite wrap ourselves around that.

When I got home after letting off my friends, I sat and watched the news for two or three hours. I was trying to get a glimpse of my apartment building –– it’s on 4th Street, probably what amounts to two blocks up 35 from the bridge. Now, just over seven months later, the foundations have long since been poured and the pillars erected. Most recently they’ve been grading slopes here on the north side and driving piles along the embankment where the entrance ramp used to be. It’s rising alright, but it’s not what it was before. There was a bridge of green steel that spanned the Mississippi for 40 years, and it’s gone. What few incoherent fragments remain, marred by orange paint and covered in snow, lie in an open grave under the Washington Avenue Bridge, neglected, no longer able to bridge the waters of the Mississippi River.

All I can think of are delicacy and transience –– the precariousness of our whole edifice. The realization that we are always on the verge. The verge of what, I cannot say, but I am certain that we are on the verge –– the verge of collapse, perhaps, or the verge of happiness, the verge of sadness, the verge of peace, the verge of war –– like we’re walking along the edge of a straight-razor, a toe’s width and a wobble from falling or slicing ourselves down the middle.