Jarvis Coffin: Off the Highway – Contemplating bridges

  • Jarvis Coffin

Published: 11/18/2022 9:54:26 AM

I am inching forward in a line of cars and trucks approaching the George Washington Bridge. I have been inching forward for miles. I am on my way to western Virginia, into the heart of Appalachia, for a conference.

Prior commitments have me on this road unless I am willing to retrace my steps to cross the Hudson River at a higher point. But I hate driving away from my intended direction. It is a thing with me. I have similar requirements walking in the woods – I prefer hiking in a loop rather than coming back down a trail in reverse.

It is Saturday morning, and I am not in a hurry. This helps. In a previous life, I would have had deadlines looming on the other side of the bridge and been growing increasingly agitated. My road rage generally stays within the vehicle. I do not confront other drivers. The car's interior takes the punishment --pounding the side of the door, slapping the wheel, jackrabbit starts and stops that send coffee cups onto the floor.

If cars could talk, it might sound like, “Gre-a-t . . . tha-ank-s . . . C-an . . . we . . . st-t-op . . . n-n-ow?” Which is very similar to what I get from my wife if she happens to be riding shotgun on those occasions.

But I am not in a hurry or enraged. There are fewer deadlines these days. Calmly, with relaxed interest, I marvel at the bridge and its approaches carved into Manhattan’s sturdy bedrock. It is a fortress. A hardened landscape. Towering, awesome, thick, gray, also old. It looks like castle walls at this point. It appears impenetrable except for the dark water trails that stain parts of the embankment. Some of them glisten.

Water versus rock is truly the world’s most-enduring contest, with each side possessing a very long view. And it is astonishing the extent to which we have tamed these elements for our purposes, such as crossing a river. Except that I am still two miles from the river and traveling so slowly. There are vendors along the center barricades separating the east and west roadways selling flowers and popcorn. That is how slow the travel is. I see no reason why someone could not be selling hot dogs and soda.

I must decide soon if I will use the upper or lower deck of the bridge. Historically, I have used the lower deck, where the traffic tends to be lighter. After 9/11, the lower deck was closed to trucks. I assume that remains the case. But I am in the furthest lane from where I need to be. I have a semi-truck to the right and in front. Two motorcycles are creeping up on the left shoulder.

The car behind is one of those low riders. It is white with darkened windows and pulsates with music. On the city street above and across the highway, a police car is trying to punch through traffic with siren wailing. My fate for the moment is to be swept along with the tide.

I smile to think this was once typical of my everyday life. Now I point out to visitors that the nearest stoplight to where I live in the Monadnock region is seven miles away. There was, of course, Peterborough's sidewalk project this fall, rounding out two years of bridge work, that caused traffic delays of five to 10 minutes. It was a once-in-a-generation inconvenience, and the job is done. Meaning we hurtle past the new bridge with barely time to admire it.

Jarvis Coffin and his wife Marcia owned New Hampshire’s oldest inn, The Hancock Inn, during which time he wrote a popular newsletter for the inn’s mailing list. Retired from innkeeping, he now writes full-time, mostly essays on rural life and fiction. You can reach him at huntspond@icloud.com, and visit postcard-from-monadnock.ghost.io to keep up with his other musings on the Monadnock Region.


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