You know that feeling of technological dominion when you use Waze or some other navigation app, and you beat the projected arrival time? I felt this way a few weeks ago, when driving 90 minutes from Washington, D.C., to Chestertown, Md. I’d driven from Pittsburgh to D.C. for an event, stayed two days in a hotel, and then drove to speak at Washington College in Chestertown. I had to make it to a 9 a.m. creative writing class, so I left my hotel at 6:30 — inserting a time cushion in case I was swallowed by the notorious Beltway traffic. But my drive was so linear (and, occasionally, illegal) that I beat Waze by seven minutes, arriving at 8 a.m.
Okay, that’s a stretch. I didn’t almost die. I did, however, feel like I was almost dead. Because approximately an hour into my drive, I crossed a “bridge” that is less a “bridge” and more a “broken escalator from hell.” They call this instrument of terror, this arbalest of dread, this double-jointed bayonet of doom the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, and my genetic code was irreversibly altered after crossing over it. My name, before this transit, was Damon. Now they call me The Bridgeman.
When it opened in 1952, the bridge, which stretches 4.2 miles across the bay, connecting Maryland’s eastern and western shores, was the longest continuous overwater structure in the world. Tens of thousands of cars pass through it on an average weekday, and it brought numerous social and economic benefits to the region, particularly the Eastern Shore. It’s truly a marvel of architectural rigor, something I undoubtedly would have appreciated more if it weren’t also Pale Death.
The first sign that I would soon be summoned by and pledged to testify to the Bridge to Terabithia was literally a sign. And not just a road sign alerting me, but an electronic wind advisory. I live in a place that is known as the City of Bridges. I cross so many during my daily commutes that I couldn’t even tell you when the bridges end and the parkway begins. But I have never seen a wind advisory. You’d assume that, when constructing a bridge, a question like “Will a strong breeze blow them into the unending void?” or “Will they be undone by the creeping darkness?” or “Do the sunken speak, or are they detongued during the descent?” would be considered by the engineers. But apparently this was constructed by Jigsaw from “Saw.”
“Does this mean I should, um, turn around?” I asked myself while speeding forward. I do not know who or what was driving my car then, but it was not me. I had no agency. I was controlled by a propulsive force thrusting me into the mouth of Mephistopheles. (I was also really hungry.)
When first landing on the beast, I was struck by how narrow it was. There were no margins for error on this shoulderless fiend. If a pigeon sneezed in my direction, I would’ve tumbled into the abyss. And then it just kept going and rising and going and rising until I could see nothing but water and a fog that I hoped was heaven but was probably just Satan’s flatulence. It felt like the climb on a roller coaster. But instead of tokens, I paid for this ride with my soul.
But then, as I reached the Monster’s Summit, I saw sweet, sweet earth again. Thine eyes had never seen such glory! Could it be a mirage, an apparition, a final temptation from an amused and vaguely British Lucifer? Or would a wretch like me be saved by His amazing grace? (And was that a billboard for all-you-can-eat crab cakes?)
There were no margins for error on this shoulderless fiend.
I reached campus a half-hour or so after bursting through the phantom realm. “How was the drive down?” my host asked. I asked myself if I should tell her of the void spreading where my soul once slumbered. Would she even believe that I’d seen the archfiend? Could she not see that she was talking to a man forged through the fire? And what would happen if I dared allow her to witness the truth? Had she even been saved?
“It was easy. Made good time,” I replied. “If it’s not a problem, I would like to get something quick to eat before class.” Before she had a chance to answer, I opened my mouth as wide as a swimming pool and devoured her whole.
I am not The Bridgeman. No, I am The Chesapeake Bay Bridge now, and you will all kneel before me or prepare to meet your fate.