When Veronica and I first decided we would start attending Gig Harbor Church of the Nazarene, the biggest drawback in my mind wasn’t the distance, or the toll we’d have to pay every Sunday, but the mere idea of having to drive across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
The Narrows Bridge – there are actually two as a new one was added in 2007 to give each direction its own bridge deck – cross an inlet of the Puget Sound, separating the Kitsap Peninsula from Tacoma. The bridges are world famous for the original collapsing in 1940 during a windstorm soon after it was built. Galloping Gertie is well known, for the famous newsreel clip of the bridges attempting to “take off” like an airplane wing, eventually breaking up and falling into the ocean hundreds of feet below.
So, when you pull onto Highway 16 on the circular on-ramp from Jackson Street above, and you merge quickly to your left, suddenly before you is four gigantic towers holding up these majestic beasts.
I had a panic attack the first Sunday we went to church driving over them. It was a mild one, thankfully, but I definitely had the sweats and tried not to look over the edge. Of course, going westbound is not fun either because of the air ducts in each lane which make it so the bridge won’t try to take off again.
Anyway, I’ve long had a fear of bridges.
I used to chalk it up to my fear of heights and that is part of it, but I get freaked out on bridges close to the water as well.
My earliest memory of a bridge was when I was riding on the Bay Bridge in a traffic jam with my mom Robbie, aunt Rosemary and sister Olivia. I kept saying, “I have to pee. I have to pee. I have to pee.” Eventually, I changed it to, “I peed. I peed. I peed.”
But that should be a happy memory, not one to strike fear into a driver’s heart.
I also remember watching earthquake coverage from California when the Bay Bridge collapsed, sending people plunging into the water far below. That is probably where my bridge fear began.
I’m sure it was compounded by the sinking of the I-90 floating bridge when I was growing up, and finding out that the Alaska Way Viaduct – a double decker elevated freeway in downtown Seattle – was basically a 7.0 earthquake away from folding up like a cheap chair.
I also remember the first time I visited New York City, we got stuck on a high above a river because of a car accident blocking all lanes ahead of us. That was a pretty scary few hours. Or the time we were driving across the Mississippi River during the 1993 floods, watching the angry, brown water pour over the sides of the bridge. Or even when we were coming home from Seattle in the winter once during a fierce squall, and a sailboat had been knocked over onto the side of the 520-floating bridge.
Despite my fear of driving on bridges – and don’t even think about trying to get me to walk over a big one – I find them such beautiful, majestic structures.
I’ve been fortunate to drive over some huge ones in my lifetime.
From the George Washington Memorial Bridge (Aurora Street Bridge) in Seattle, which sits 167 feet above Lake Union, to the Coronado Bridge (200 feet high) connecting San Diego to Coronado Island, to the John F. Kennedy Memorial Causeway to reach Port Aransas from Corpus Christi, to the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges in the Bay Area. I’ve certainly been on some big ones.
But I also go out of my way to avoid big bridges. When we drove to Newport, Oregon, recently I skipped going down the coastal highway because I wanted no part of the giant bridge near Astoria, Oregon.
And any time Veronica and I drive on a bridge in the Seattle-Tacoma area, we often chant, “no earthquake, no earthquake, no earthquake,” until we are over it.
With our terrible infrastructure in this country, that might not be a bad chant.
At any rate, I’ve discovered that by attending church regularly – which I’m sure my pastors are happy about – it gets me over my fear of driving on the Narrows Bridge. The more you do it, the less scary it seems.
Now, how about taking that toll out of my weekly tithe …
– Craig Craker