' ' Cinema Romantico: My Favorite Bridge(s)

Friday, March 03, 2023

My Favorite Bridge(s)

Recently, Friend of the Blog Jay was driving back home from Florida and reported that at least two roadside establishments, one in Georgia, one in South Carolina, some 900 and 700 miles, respectively, from New York City contained murals of that exalted NYC landmark, the Brooklyn Bridge. He noted that while the Brooklyn Bridge would be on his list of Top 10 bridges, he could not help but find these odes to NYC’s most exalted East River overpass in The Peach and Palmetto States curious. Is the Brooklyn Bridge so culturally formidable that it’s the one thing even non-Big City people are not suspicious of when it comes to the Big City? Who’s to say? Maybe there is research to be done, though I confess, what most struck my fancy was not researching the Brooklyn Bridge’s place in culture south of the Mason Dixon Line but Jay’s phrase Top Ten bridges. Because, huh. Top Ten bridges. I’m 45, going on 46, I’m halfway home, I need to start getting things like this settled in my mind.

Note: only bridges I have seen with my own eyes are eligible. 

My Top 10 Bridges

No matter how many times you see it in hotel lobby-style photos, when you finally see those Neo-Gothic arches looming above the East River from below with your own eyes, boy, it gets you. And yet. Can I confess something? I (not so) secretly prefer the Pulaski Bridge, the one connecting Queens to the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn where my best friend used to live. A bascule bridge opened in 1954, the Pulaski Bridge is no great shakes in terms of beauty but what I love is less the bridge itself than the view from it, of Manhattan, spread out before you, quiet, like a stage with an open curtain before the show starts. Let’s call the Brooklyn Bridge and Pulaski Bridge a tie for #10.

Per the National Bridge Inventory, there are 23,870 bridges in my native state of Iowa, 4,504 of which are structurally deficient, including the Rock Island Centennial Bridge (#8) connecting two of the Quad Cities, Rock Island, IL and Davenport, IA across the Mississippi River. Of course, the 3,850-foot officially named Master Sargeant Stanley W. Talbot Memorial Bridge is best appreciated not speeding across it, perhaps with your fingers crossed, but below, especially at night when its five arches are illuminated. The murky Mississippi might not be comparable to Sydney Harbour, but the Centennial Bridge will always be the middle-west’s version of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and Modern Woodman Park its opera house. At least, until it’s condemned. 

My iPhone background picture is not of the Pont Neuf (#8) in Paris but a photo I snapped from the Pont Neuf in Paris of the Seine at twilight, suggesting the oldest bridge in Paris is akin to the Pulaski, more about the view than the structure. That would seem to be buttressed by Paul Lecroix capturing the fate of so many bridges, beautiful or otherwise, in 1840 when he deemed the Pont Neuf after a few centuries as just another bridge to be crossed without stopping. But I gotta say, take a moment to take in those stone arches in that peerless Parisian early evening light and it’s breathtaking in its own right.

It reminds me, in fact, of a smaller version of the Arlington Memorial Bridge (#7) in Washington D.C, hometown of My Beautiful, Perspicacious Wife, that feels less like a bridge despite being constructed over the Potomac than a Neoclassical stone arch runway from Virginia to the nation’s capital. What an entrance!

The red brick arch Bass Pond Bridge (#6) on the century-old Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina is a century old too, though being in its presence takes a person back even farther, all the way to, say, 1757, the setting, of course, for the blog’s favorite movie, “Last of the Mohicans,” in which the Bass Pond is briefly featured, director Michael Mann cinematically painting a Monet. Like this would never be included here.

Beginning as a transporter bridge in 1905, the Aerial Lift Bridge (#5) transitioned to a vertical lift bridge in 1930, rising 135 feet in the air to allow boats access from Lake Superior through the Duluth Shipping Canal and into Duluth Harbor. It’s one of the few sights left, I suspect, that can prompt adults to act like kids, thrilling to the boat horns as the big lakers arrive to pass below the raised bridge. Even better is the way it stands there in the distance, like a gateway, the St. Louis Arch of The Great Lakes.

Since rechristened the DuSable Bridge (#4), the bridge that takes The Greatest Street in the World, give or take, Michigan Avenue over the Chicago River was constructed in 1920 to link the city’s north and south sides. In truth, the bridge is as much about the spot, a “vortex of history,” as Sarah Vowell put it for NPR, a continental hub for various commodities when American trade was strictly water-based, if also eventually the bridge that allowed for Keanu Reeves’s character in the magnificently middling 1996 thriller “Chain Reaction” to escape the authorities (it’s ok, he was innocent all along). And if I can allow myself to stand there, to not get bent out of shape by the tourists, to not just uncaringly rush over it trying to get to a movie at the River East before it starts, I can feel that history too. 

The Red Wing Eisenhower Bridge (#3) opened in my dad’s eponymous Minnesota hometown in 1960, christened by the 34th President himself, and connected US Route 63 across the Mississippi to Wisconsin. When I was a kid, my sister and I would pile into our grandpa’s station-wagon and we would drive across that bridge just to drive across it, ending up in Wisconsin – we’re in Wisconsin!!! – back when going to another state was like going to the moon, a feeling underscored in the trusses of that cantilever bridge, making it seem like we were shooting through an open-air portal into another dimension. The Red Wing Bridge, alas, was deemed structurally insufficient and demolished in 2020. To paraphrase Old Rose DeWitt Bukater, it exists now only in my memory (and Google photos).

Though the covered bridges one county directly south of the Central Iowa county where I grew up get all the overpass pub, in my mind they have never compared to the 400-foot Pin-Connected Pratt Through Truss beauty crossing the Raccoon River into Adel, eight miles west of my hometown.  Every time we drove into Adel on the US Highway 6 bridge, I wanted to be on the right-hand side of the car to catch a view of the Adel Bridge (#2) as it flew by. If the Red Wing Eisenhower felt like a portal to another place driving across it, the Adel Bridge was a portal to another place just in looking at it, opened in 1882, closed in 2000, and frozen in time.

Even before I set my own eyes on both of them, I always considered myself more a Golden Gate Bridge (#1) man than a Brooklyn Bridge man, and not just because the Golden Gate Bridge was prominently featured in “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” the greatest sci-fi screwball comedy ever made. It was the astonishing engineering feat, of course, and the bridge’s design, the orange vermillion gloriously embodying the name of the passage between the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay giving the bridge its name, and how the suspension cables in visual concert with the towers bring to life the line from the Jeanette McDonald’s eponymous song in 1936’s “San Fransisco:” “open your Golden Gate!” Indeed, The Golden Gate is one bridge that seems to swing both ways. From within the bay, it welcomes you, to America, like a Statue of Liberty for the left coast. From the ocean, or better yet, Marshall’s Beach, the Golden Gate looks like an end point, the last golden splotch on a map, the edge of the world. That’s truly how it felt when I sat there in its shadow for a long, long time 22 years ago. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so small and inconsequential. I kind of loved it.

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