The short goodbye [Eastsideweek, undated; accompanied by a photo from MOHAI, with the caption, "She was the first: the floating bridge's opening day, July 2, 1940]
A Mercer Island boy's nostalgia for The One True Bridge
At age 5, I realized that not all bridges float. It happened on the Aurora Bridge, going to the zoo. I suddenly noticed that we were on a bridge, and yet we were not on the water, or anywhere near it. My father explained, but it still didn't make any sense, all those girders. Every Mercer Island toddler knew that all you needed for a good bridge was a few hunks of floating concrete and grates at either end that hummed when you drove over them. And on such a bridge, if you should accidentally drive off the side, all you'd get is wet, rather than falling hundreds of feet to your death and then getting wet. No doubt about it, I thought. The Aurora is a dumb way to build a bridge. And I still think so.
That's what growing up on Mercer Island did to you. I've been crossing a lot of high-profile bridges since then—the Tower Bridge, the Ponte Vecchio, the Bridge of Sighs, the Golden Gate, the Brooklyn—but for me, when you say The Bridge, there's only one: the Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Old Floating Bridge. Ignored the Evergreen Point New Floating Bridge; suffered quietly during my bridge's Bulge-ectomy; scorned that drab slab of I-90 alongside The Only True Span—but now they've sunk a goodly part of my edificial heritage. For all real Islanders, that's a bridge too far.
You can't underestimate The Bridge's influence on Mercer Island. First, it established your credentials. In the premier Mercer Island joke, there were three kinds of Islanders. The BBs, who came before The Bridge; the ABs, who came after, and the SOBs, who ran the school system.
As early ABs, most of our neighbors were BBs: lean, hard types who made their own furniture, grew their own vegetables, and filled their bathtubs when the wind came up. (No power, now water.) For those people, The Bridge was a curse, because it brought—us. Old Man Johnson used to peer through the dense forest toward my house—on a good day he could just see the smoke from our chimney—and grumble about "Squatters raising property values." Today there are six houses where that forest used to be, each costing 40 times what he paid for a 5-acre waterfront spread. (The last time we saw Old Man Johnson, he was heading up Cougar Mountain with everything he owned, plus Old Woman Johnson, in the back of a pickup truck.)
For a Mercer Island teen, The Bridge was a benign barrier to the good life, especially after you got your driver's license. As he son left the house, clutching priceless car keys, a good Mercer Island Mom always asked one question: "You're not crossing The Bridge, are you?" Driving around East Mercer Way at 120 mph playing "le Mans" was OK, but Crossing The Bridge was a very big deal. Then one night, without permission, you finally did cross, white-knuckling the steering wheel around The Bulge (TEENAGER DROWNS IN BULGE DRIVING FATHER'S IRREPLACEABLE OLDSMOBILE! "I TOLD HIM NOT TO CROSS THE BRIDGE!" SAYS SLIGHTLY GRIEVING MOM), then flooring it as you hit the tunnels. (Whoever made those tunnels exactly one-quarter mile long underestimated every teenage male's fantasy to be drag racer Jerry "The King" Ruth.) When you came out of the tunnels, the feeling you got? It was like the scene in Who Framed Roger Rabbit when Eddie finally comes out of the tunnel and drives into Toon Town.
Parental concern about crossing had nothing to do with sinking. Until The Bridge actually did sink, I doubt that a single Mercer Islander ever considered the possibility. What bothered our parents was The Bridge's very real function as a gateway to Sin, Odd Clothing, Blended Whiskey, Low SAT Scores, and Washing State University instead of Yale. (All right, I know Pullman's the other direction, but you get the point.)
So, Engineers, refloat the bridge! I really don't care how. In youth it sheltered me, and I'll protect it now.