Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Bridges In Time- A Lowcountry Timeout

Ben Sawyer Bridge
      Sitting on Sulivans Island the other day waiting for the Bridge to close, I couldn't help but think of how rare it is in this hyper-speed world that we are forced to re-evaluate our life and direction by A technology that has been around longer than the City we live in. Ahead of me through their car windows I saw a line of impatient drivers and passengers alike all hooked up to their smart phones, completely oblivious to to the very scenery they traveled so far to see. It occurred to me that as the quality of the bridges have improved its had the effect not of bringing us closer together but just the opposite. Its given us a quicker, faster way for us to reach an end, not a beginning. There seemed to be a direct correlation between the improvement to our bridges and the distance from our peace of mind. 
     Being a coastal people, Charlestonians would find it impossible to drive fifteen minutes in any direction and not cross some body of water. Surrounded as we are by the many marshes, rivers, creeks and of course the ocean, we often don't stop to think about how special this land is.  Like Venice we are a city of Islands connected to one another by a spider weblike network of bridges that most of us never notice or most certainly take for granted.
    The Cooper River(Ravenel), Limehouse,Wappoo cut, War Memorial, Ben Sawyer, Stono, Grace memorial, Wando & Westbury bridges tie our community and each other together like a hand sewn quilt. Smaller bridges; Noisette, Ellis,Breach Inlet and Penny's creek along with numerous others complete the fine detail stitching that completes the bond holding all of us together not just as a city but as a community.
Stono River Bridge
     Weather in the Lowcountry is a fickle thing at best. Seasons seem to come and go on a whim and not at the command of any calender. I have as a kid learned to judge where we are on our yearly seasonal journey by the color and growth of the marsh grasses. Many times I would sit in my car waiting for the Stono Bridge and look out over the marshes and it always struck me as a much better and certainly more personal way to judge the onset of spring or fall. From the old bridge you could smell the salt water and hear the wind in the rigging of the sailboats at Buzzards Roost Marina. Now the Stono has been reduced to nothing more than a bump in the road on Maybank highway.
Old Cooper River Bridge
     Anyone who ever drove across the Old Cooper River Bridge knows the sight of scared tourist white knuckling their way from Mount Pleasant to Downtown, and we would all be liars if we didn't admit to the anxiety that even the most stout of heart must have felt on a quick descent into the first corner. The old bridge dangerous as it was did though bring everyone and everything in our cars to a church like silence for a short time and I can attest to more than one "Thank God" or "I love you" was uttered at the critical moment. I bet that today our kids I Pods would go silent, and all cell phones would go unanswered if we still had to cross the old Bridge. Now the scariest thing about the new bridge is trying not to wreck or get caught by your wife as you check out the girls who run the bridge to and from town on the running/biking lane.
    Sitting one day at the Wappoo Cut bridge I remembered my my dad telling me about taking the cable cars from downtown Charleston out to Folly Beach and Sullivans Island when he was a kid. Sitting in a cable car they would have lunch as they crossed the marshes on railway bridges just feet above the water on their way to the beach. His family would take up the entire car and they used the time to talk about their week or tell tales about the islands and look for the migration of the fish and fowl that permeate our local land and waters as they make there way across our coast.
Wappoo Cut Bridge
     My personal tie to the Wappoo Cut is one summer when I went with a group of friends and we spent the day jumping the 40 plus feet from the bridge into the cut only to swim out and do it again, until the Charleston City Police ran us off. Wet, laughing and full of adrenaline were young, foolish and bullet proof for that brief moment in time. Its one thing to see the cut from the bridge, but its quite different to feel the tug of the tide and the pull of a bond of friendship from water level. No technology needed, just a little gravity, alot of peer pressure and the courage of youth. It was simple, direct,exciting and oh so connected to this land.
Isle of Palms Connector
      I wonder how many romances were started at the draw bridges that use to dot our coast? How many souls owe our existence today to the extra time that our parents were oh so happily forced to be together, waiting for a drawbridge? Moonlight shinning on the water and  the sound of a ships horn sounding somewhere in the distance as she headed seaward. I don't think cupid hunts on the IOP connector and if he did it's hard to hit a moving target. People who blast to and from the beach don't often think about where they are, only where their going.
     Bridges by definition tie people together,but their just a tool like any other. Used  to connect both land and people together, they also can bond you to the ones who count. It's so easy to forget that the only reality that we can live in is the now. So next time you cross a bridge, roll the windows down and mute the phone, and share a few minutes and maybe story about the time of the dinosaurs, a time before cell towers ruled the earth and the inner net was a place where you caught shrimp.

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