No, this is not going to be a commentary on Sarah Palin and her dishonest claims to have nobly stood up against pork barrel spending on unnecessary building projects that use taxpayers' money to benefit only a few people on a remote island in Alaska. Oops, too late.
Actually, this post is about the bridge across the Mississippi -- the rebuilt Interstate 35W bridge, which opened early this morning. Although the bridge is little more than a stone's throw from where I currently sit at work, I haven't actually seen it since it opened to the public. I did, however, go on the Star Tribune web site and watch a short video of the first wave of traffic, led by first responders and DOT maintenance trucks, making its way across the river shortly after 5am. You can see the various colored lights of the emergency vehicles twinkling in the darkness like Christmas lights, and hear the honking of the horns.
The whole thing was quite moving, for some reason. I haven't quite been able to put my finger on why. Certainly I'm relieved that the inconvenience of the detours is over, and I'm looking forward to much less traffic at the U of M West Bank exit, now that people won't be so tempted to get off there to use the 10th Avenue Bridge. But it's more than that. I didn't have a close to connection to anyone who was killed or injured when the old bridge fell. There's nothing that explains why I felt so emotional. But watching the two lines of traffic approaching from opposite ends of the bridge move towards each other, finally meeting in the middle and closing the dark chasm with a ribbon of light and sound, I just felt like something important had happened. A connection. A completeness.
I suppose the shine will be off quite quickly. New traffic snarls are already developing south of the bridge where people merge on to westbound Interstate 94. Sooner or later, we'll be hearing about the first fatality on the new bridge from some car accident. The elegant white concrete will inevitably prove an irresistible target for graffiti vandals. In the meantime, I'll enjoy this sense of wholeness, this satisfaction in the rejoining of the northern and southern halves of my city. In the words of E. M. Forster, "Only connect . . . live in fragments no longer."
Although I have lived in Minneapolis or its suburbs my entire life (with interludes in Poughkeepsie, New York; Ann Arbor, Michigan; and Edinburgh, Scotland for schooling), I have never understood the whole "Minneapolis vs. St. Paul" thing that most people here go on about. I don't think anyone has ever backed up this claim with any actual hard data, but people here are always talking about how despite the fact the two cities border each other and their downtowns are only a few miles apart, people who live in once city never go to the other. Minneapolis vs. St. Paul is a favorite subject of the local media, and it inevitably resurfaces every time a big event (like the Republican National Convention) comes to the Twin Cities. As soon as any celebrity comes to visit, the question is bound to be asked.
As a kid, we made regular visits to both cities for cultural events, to eat out, or to shop. A Prairie Home Companion and the Science Museum ensured we made regular forays to downtown St. Paul, and downtown Minneapolis was the site of the much-anticipated, annual post-Christmas shopping trip as well as the home of what my parents deemed one of the few decent Mexican restaurants in the Twin Cities during the 1970s: Guadalaja Harry's.
In addition to the elephants and their ilk, St. Paul was also the home this week of Jon Stewart's The Daily Show. Tickets for the studio audience were made available last May and I was lucky enough to secure a reservation for last night's taping. Like those free movie preview passes you can sometimes get, these tickets didn't actually guarantee a seat. They only guaranteed you the right to stand in line to try to get a seat. The show has set up shop at the History Theatre, located directly on the designated protest route through downtown St. Paul. As I sat on a ledge outside the theater, enjoying the September breeze and the musicians playing Indigo Girls covers on the lawn of the adjoining McNally Smith College of Music Media, I could also observe the many barriers set up along the sidewalks, police in full riot gear, and then a large group of protesters flanked by cops, "peace patrol" members in yellow jerseys, and journalists.
Shortly after the protest went by, the Daily Show staff decided to move the line inside the building, for fear of possible violence or general mayhem. Sure enough, when the show was over and we came outside at about 7:15pm, we saw a mass of people on the bridge crossing I-94, just to the north of the theater, with an equally impressive number of police blocking their progress towards the Excel Energy Center to our south. Since our car was parked on the opposite side of the street the police were blocking (after arduous navigation of the various detours created for the convention's security zone), we beat a hasty retreat, afraid our path to the car might soon be cut off. As it turns out, the stand-off continued for quite some time but never made it past the bridge. It certainly made for a interesting visit to our state's capital city.
The Daily Show was great fun, and definitely worth both the wait and putting up with the RNC security zone. You can see the episode I was in the audience for online. I was sitting in the 2nd row, stage left, but you can't see me at all on camera. If you listen real closely, I'm the one in the background shouting "Minneapolis rules!"