If you have read Marc Helprin’s Winter's Tale you might have some rough comprehension of my ridiculous fascination, no, extraordinary love of bridges. Mostly I love the bridges in and out of New York City. Maybe the Queensboro best of all, although there’s a lot to be said for the Brooklyn Bridge and that frequently elusive Manhattan spur of the Triboro and who hasn’t discovered the joy of the 57th Street Bridge? But to cross the GW, that center line between The Badlands and NYC has often been enough to drive me to tears if I’m not careening from the far left ez-pass only lane to the far right get-the-hell-off-the-road-to-hell (I-95 and onto Rt 9 North) and cross over the gentle Henry Hudson with the last (or beginning depending on your point of view) of the Palisades on the left and all of what became (sometime when I wasn’t looking) my home city on the right. In all seriousness, I love them all, right down to the Outer Bridge Crossing that comes up out of nowhere, depositing unsuspecting New Yorkers from Long Island to the Badlands of Midworld Jersey.
Do you realize you cannot photograph the GW any longer? Not since 9/11 you can’t. I always want to though. There is only one other bridge in the world I’ve wanted to photograph; all the rest I’ve been happy to look at including the Chesapeake Bay Bridge (Tunnel) which I’m generally too queasy to do much more than focus on staying out of the water although I’ve had a love affair with that 21 mile span most of my life.
There is a bridge in Delaware that looks very much like a bridge in Germany although no one says anything about this anywhere I’ve looked. I saw this bridge in Germany in February, 1984 when I was there with Cletus’s father and he knew exactly what that bridge was and knew the architect and the story behind the bridge and we did photograph the bridge and it was red. I should ask him. Probably he’d remember. The bridge in Delaware is often mistaken for St. George’s Bridge which is just off to the right if you’re heading North and should have been condemned years ago. The locals love the bridge and they’ve managed to save it. With a name like that I’d love it too. I don’t know how much weight St. George can bear but I guess I’d want to walk or ride (my bike) based on what I’ve read. The bridge I mean is called the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal Bridge. Yes, with an ampersand. Really. I looked it up. It’s a beautiful bridge. It needed a better name.
I first noticed the bridge in the dark before dawn on the way to the Outer Banks. I was very, very tired and in the headlights the spans looked like gold. I shivered and thought of Peter Lake. He should see this. I’ve tried unsuccessfully to photograph this bridge on subsequent trips back from the Banks but I’ve been exhausted and sandy. Or something like that.
Yesterday I was exhausted differently and I’d only been in the car maybe four and half hours coming out of Eastville, VA. I held my phone up over the steering wheel and started pressing the button at the bottom about half a mile out and I kept that up until I ran out of span. It made up for a lot of things. Or took the lid off, or something like that.
I entered the court room at 11 AM and sat in my work dress and low heels until 12:30 or something like that. A lot of people had lawyers. No one but me came in alone. I noticed that almost right away. I drove 380 miles one way by myself to stand in front of a judge with a summons in my hand to face the charge of reckless by speed which carried the possibility of a maximum fine of $2,500 and / or a jail sentence of several months, I don’t recall which. I wasn’t expecting a jail sentence, but DAMN, you never do know. There’s an appeal process and you have ten days so I figured that would be the time to hire a lawyer.
Anyway, I was the only person in the room alone. Well, shit. Guaranteed I’m also the only person in the room drove 380 miles too. I will NOT cry out of fear OR, more likely, loneliness.
There was a woman to my left. When I saw her in the courthouse lobby before it was time to go in, she was brash and loud in her body language and she scared me. I wanted to be away from her and I wondered what she’d done. When she sat down on the bench next to me and I slid right to make room she smiled and said thank you and I could breathe. A very big man, not fat, big, in a very nice suit, best he could come up with I think, sat down next to her. He looked as scared as I did and he had a dubious sort of lawyer waiting up front for him.
That woman held his hand in the fiercest grip ever until he stood up to face the judge and when he did, she leaned forward and held her breath the entire time. I sat next to them while they waited and wondered what would happen if I held my hand out just a little. Would she take my hand and hold it too? Could I maybe have some of that seemingly abundant comfort and love? Just a little so that I wasn’t so alone. And then when she was waiting for him I wondered if I reached my hand out, palm up, would she take it so that she wouldn’t have to be so alone? I didn’t have the stones.
There was a man and his son to my right. The kid was maybe 14 at best so I figured it sure as hell could not be him; too young to drive, even though he seemed to be holding all the paper work and the man to his right had to be his father. They both sat calmly, side by side, touching, legs, arms, shoulders. When the man’s name was called, the boy strained to see and hear and the couple to my left was already gone so I slid all the way over, pulling the boy with me so that he was almost in the aisle. THAT, I could do. He started to breathe again.
So here’s the thing, all these cases that went before me (and there were A LOT) of reckless by speed of anything over 70 in a 55 were automatic 90 day suspension of license in the state of Virginia. I was 54 miles from the Maryland state line traveling on US 13 and alone. It didn’t have to be this way. I had any number of people to choose from but it never occurred to me to ask before I went. I just went. I listened to people tell their stories, with or without a lawyer present. I listened to the judge listen patiently to some of the most outrageous and some not so outrageous excuses for speeding I’ve ever heard. Tell the truth, people. 79 in a 55 is 79 in a 55, I don’t care what you were doing. If you did that, you’re guilty. Plead guilty and then tell your story if it’s a story worth telling but for the love of god, please don’t lie. It’s just wrong. For the record I did ask up front if I could just plead guilty to speed and not reckless and he said no, so guilty it was but I’ll get to that. I spent the last hour working out how far I was going to have to walk, how long my car could sit in that lot before it was towed and impounded and the multiple possibilities I had to get my car out fastest in addition to the closest possible motel in the event that I wasn’t getting out that day. I did a lot of deep breathing. I had one phone number written on my hand.
Why am I going last?
So I said hello to the officer and asked him how he was. He said hello back and looked at his shoes. I know. WHO DOES THAT?!!! I do. It’s reflex. I said it very shyly. It’s not like I had a big friendly grin going on. I’m pretty sure I turned red about then and stayed red. I left my makeup bag at home so there wasn’t a damn thing between my face and the world.
Reduced to speed
Face goes white
You came to court
(of course I came to court)
$200 fine and court costs. Go through that door over there on the left.
I had to write the check three times before I got it right.
Do you want to see any identification?
No ma’am, that won’t be necessary.
(I guess you know who I am)
I looked later at the receipt.
Reduced to improper driving, not sent to DMV.
I drove very slowly to the Maryland state line. I cried a lot. I didn’t cry about not having to work out how to get my car across the state line. I’m pretty good at that sort of thing. I’m resourceful. I have to be resourceful. I’ve been doing this shit by myself for a really long time because I don’t know any other way to do it. Can I tell you how much that hurts and how scary it is to be this alone? Really, truly, it’s just awful lonely. I bet she would have held my hand if I’d asked her to. Maybe. Oh hell, I don’t know, maybe I would have just made an ass out of myself but it wouldn’t be the first time. Or maybe I ought to just ask somebody I actually know.
So right. This beautiful bridge. I got a good look at it yesterday. And the GW, I did actually cry on the way over that because the traffic wasn’t too terrible and the gentleness of the Henry Hudson which isn’t beautiful at all, but it’s egress.