Coming Home to the Bridge


“Let’s just stop for dinner,” I begged from the back seat.

Our son was driving—we were headed home from our family canoe trip in the Boundary Waters Wilderness. We had dropped off one of our daughters at camp and now we needed to get back to the cities.

We had a great trip. We were still getting used to pavement, cars, trucks zooming by us and superstores on the horizon. We were relieved to be in clean clothes with washed hair, but reluctant to depart from the tall pines and loon calls we had known so recently.

We had our typical controversy over where to eat. We always want the ma and pa restaurant… but we couldn’t find one. Should it be A&W or Subway? Weirdly, we did both… A&W for three of us and Subway for one… agreeing that the food we’d had over the campfire had been much better…

A hard rain slowed us down as we crawled between our two fast food choices. FINALLY we hit the road again, a whole hour after we stopped… just one hour to go… and we’d be crossing the old Mississippi into Minneapolis on 35W.

So instead of six p.m. on Wednesday, August first, it was seven. We were surprised and a little irritated to see that 35W was closed.

“ROAD CONSTRUCTION!” we growled, until our daughter said, “but it says ‘accident…’” arrrgggghhhh… we switched on the radio to find out… and, like so many people we talked to later that evening, we leaned forward in disbelief to hear the news of the bridge we should have been on at 6 and how it had crumpled into the river at just that time.

I tried to take it in… I’ve lived here 25 years… crossed the bridge a gazillion times…did this really happen? Do I know anyone who’s in the river? All I could picture was my sister’s baby, who rides so merrily in our van, strapped into her car seat. Were there any babies in the river tonight?

We wound our way through the much less familiar side streets of St. Paul ’til we found the Lake Street Bridge. Later my son told me that he held his breath while we crossed.

The night, which should have just been us wearily unpacking the car and spreading our smoky damp gear all over the front porch, reading our mail and checking the garden, was turned upside down in the gasp that follows the fear and disbelief of an unexpected catastrophe. We called family and friends, we traded stories, we stared at the TV. I called camp to get a message to our daughter that we were okay. I talked late into the night to close friends in Wisconsin, Seattle, New York, with the television showing eerie pictures of twisted cars and slabs of broken pavement and people swimming in their clothes.

I had that sickly adrenaline rush— the kind that won’t let you get to sleep—the kind that makes all the what-ifs whirl around in your brain. I was having a mini culture shock from being home and yet I WAS home, safe.

I don’t know what more to say. We were almost on the bridge when it collapsed.