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You Big Dummy

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Right on [Sep. 21st, 2005|08:04 pm]
You Big Dummy
You are a

Social Conservative
(21% permissive)

and an...

Economic Moderate
(55% permissive)

You are best described as a:


Link: The Politics Test on Ok Cupid
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Narrative history of Big Money Opening Day: Appendices [Aug. 2nd, 2005|10:36 am]
You Big Dummy
The following shit I picked up for free:

Booklet history of the bridge
Three fans
Commemorative coin
Spent fireworks casing
Two souvenir bottles of water (one unopened)

The following stuff I paid for:

Copy of the Post and Courier
Six sausage, egg, and cheese biscuits
Foot-long CBR sammich
Dictionary of Charlestonese
The P and C's book The Bridge Builders
Eighteen shrimp
Seventeen gallons of gasoline

Soundtrack (Greg) available on EW records

Lose Control
Missy Elliott

Theme from Forrest Gump
Alan Silvestri

I Will Always Love You
Whitney Houston

Hell's Bells

It's Five O'Clock Somewhere
Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett

Ramblin' Man
Allman brothers

Luck Be a Lady Tonight
Francis Sinatra

Partita for double string orchestra (Scherzo ostinato)
Ralph Vaughan Williams

I've Been Everywhere
Johnny Cash

Kool and the Gang


Lose Control remix
Ben Ingram

Thus Spake Zarawhoever

Fanfare for the Common Man

Black Or White
Michael Jackson

Hit the Road, Jack
Ray Charles

Quotes from Cliff's film "$uper Big Money O:pening Weekend"

"Today's the day!"

"Aw, man, that was tough, That was tough, dog. I'ma go ahead start preparing for the next one."


"Tell me when you start taping."

"Listen, it's on the radio."

"We got on the interstate an hour ago, and we drove about eighty-five miles since then, man."

"You know, Greg, we are involved in a race against time. Oh, hey, Cliff."

"We seriously need to think about this. We will never go over those bridges again. This is it. (burp)"

"This a momentous occasion."

"Ah, that's really close to Ben."

Cliff: How they getting on the bridge already?
Ben: Probably got passes.
Cliff: Ah, those sons of bitches. It's OK.

Cliff: Ben, how do you feel?
Ben: I really don't know, man.
Cliff: Is it a feeling of jubilation?
Ben: Yeah, it's sort of a mix.

Cliff: In with the new, out with the old.
Ben: Yeah, but you know, these, these had to go. These had to go sometime.
Cliff: Think I said that backwards though.
Ben: Naw, I think you're right.
Cliff: Think it's 'In with the new, out with the old."

"Don't pass me, Dodge, savor it!"

Cliff: Ah, that's really close.
Ben: Probably really close to scraping.
Cliff: Actually, you've got a whole foot.

Greg: OK, now let's go try and be the first people to swim under the new bridge.
Cliff: Greg, how do you feel?
Greg: I, uh, I concur with Ben.

"We are about to step on. We're about to step up 'cause it's about to step on."

"Drop it like it's Greg."

"I'm about to do something I've never done before. I'm gonna spit from one bridge to another."

"[I'm gonna] try again, this time with a penny. 2003 vintage."

"Can you believe it? No cars on it. First time since '29."

"What you want me to do, Cliff?"

"Piece of crap."

"...just to say I did."

"Hey, how much?"

"Hey, they're putting rocks down."

"What did he say to get this bridge built a year ahead of schedule and under budget? Let us pray."

"I got a voice machine. Probably from Market."

"They didn't blow up nuthin', those Yankees."

"Hey, what are them two big triangles?"

"Ben, what day is it?"

Ben: Guess how much we paid to get in here. Greg?
Greg: Um, three bucks.
Ben: Three dollars!

Ben: I think it was worth every, every dollar that we actually paid to tour the, to tour this historical site.
Cliff: Ben, how much did we really pay?
Ben: We didn't pay anything.

"Maybe our artistic nerves can be touched a little bit."

"No, we were just trying...dude, I see a truck pulling up up there. They're pulling the cones away!"

"This is THE hour!"

"Avast, ye matey." (Believe it or not, I didn't say that.)

"Sucks for the groom."

Ben: [The bridge] costs only half as much as the entire New York Yankees roster.
Greg: (applause)
Ben: But, still, it's pretty expensive.

"Sandlappers, Stoneys, and Americans...."
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Narrative history of Big Money Opening Day: VI [Jul. 29th, 2005|03:30 pm]
You Big Dummy
Stoneys love a party and hate to wait in traffic to get to one. So the completion of this bridge, which almost doubled up the capacity of both the old ones, was twice as nice. When the Grace bridge opened it wss a three-day event. This time the celebration took up a week.

The weekend before was "Open House," in which foot traffic was invited to walk across. There were also shuttles running back and forth between the towers and the access points for folks who were unable to walk. The opening committee under Bobby Clair expected that during the five hours the bridge was open on Saturday morning and the five more hours on Sunday afternoon, a total of about forty thousand people would show up. They got about twice that. Since only one-half of the deck was reserved for the walk, it was a bit crowded, but everyone thought, you know, so what.

On Monday evening came a big money, black tie gala on the main span. Something like a thousand people paid two hundred dollars apiece for food, drinks, and music played by the Charleston S.O. More than one TV person called the orchestra a "band." The event ended at ten, but the last cars, carrying the straggling revelers with their gift baskets, didn't scoot until eleven.

Thursday night was really the climax of it all, including the dedication. At 9.30 there began a $350,000 fireworks show that damn near blew the bridge apart. They shot them off of riverbanks, barges in the harbor, the deck itself. The towers glowed in a dim red and green, echoed the noise of the explosions across the harbor. Half an hour later there was a hell of a lot of smoke on the water; the show was over. I watched the spectacle on television, and trying to use words to describe it is vain. Go find, copy, or download it yourself.

Next, some citizen chosen in a drawing gave the command to the light crew to illuminate the bridge, using its own lighting system, for the first time ever. The crowd at Patriots Point cheered and clapped. And on the bridge, nothing happened. Personally, I was scared shitless. Finally, the M.C., whose day job was county administrator and who was not supplied with copy, told the folks that it would take a while for the lights to warm up (like stadium lights). It would have been nice to know that earlier.

So the bridge gradually grew brighter, but on TV it wasn't all that impressive. There was a lot of dead air, so the director whistled the reporter to go find somebody to interview. She finally caught the county administrator (and lousy M.C.) and asked him some uninteresting questions. And again, with Bobby Clair. After that, the show awkwardly ended.

Opening Day was quite a bit more structured. Twenty seconds after 9 o'clock Bob Harrell stepped to the podium, greeted everyone, said a few words about what today meant, then yielded to Moot Truluck, of the 6th district (my own), who added some remarks of his own. The two shared the duties of presiding over the opening exercises.

Three men each delivered an invocation: a Charleston city councilman, the senior of the Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy, and Arthur Ravenel's own pastor. The last was entitled to, and did, say a few words about the down-to-earth man everyone knows as "Cousin Arthur" before offering his prayer.

A color guard detached from the Washington Light Infantry marched in from the south rail with the gilded banners: the United States flag, the Palmetto flag, and two of their own standards. Gentlemen doffed their caps as representative Mack led everyone in pledging their allegiance and the Magnolia Singers rendered the national anthem.

Harry Hallman of Mt. Pleasant and Joe Riley of Charleston offered their welcome to each of their cities (we were slighly on the Charleston side of the city limits). Senators Graham and DeMint and former senator Hollings spoke. So did Congressmen Clyburn and Brown. Tee Hooper, chair of the DOT commission, offered his words, then gave the podium to Speaker of the House Harrell. Next came the transportation officials: Buck Limehouse, ex-commissioner; from the SIB, chairman of the board Donald P. Leonard; Elizabeth Mabry, DOT executive director; Robert L. Lee of the FHWA. Chairman Stavrinakis of the county council added his remarks. So did Bobby Clair. After he was finished he had the honor of introducing Cousin Arthur himself, who tried to stifle the abundant applause thus: "Sit down, sit down, lemme lay a few words on you."

More than two hours after the welcome Representative Whipper offered the benediction; then the officials formed a long line and each cut a bit of the red ribbon. We were long gone by then; Cliff wanted to see the WLI and none of us really wanted to listen to hours of talk in the hot sun when we could watch it later on television. So we turned and began the long walk back down.

Most of the out-of-town news reporters and photographers had seen enough, also. Tom Crabtree of WSPA waved us a greeting as he and his cameraman sped down the deserted bridge. A crew from WYFF lingered by the now-quiet east tower, getting a few more feet of film to be used for that evening's news. Many of the news helicopters had left by now, headed back to the other corner of the state. A few runners were taking advantage of the foot lane, which, officially, didn't open until after the ribbon was cut.

The rest of the bridge wouldn't open right away, because the cars, the people, the chairs, the platform, the speakers, the podium, the tents, the step ladders, the congratulatory banner signed by well-wishers during the open house weekend, all had to be cleared away. The Post and Courier said the bridge would probably be open to general traffic by 2 o'clock, but we noticed temporary DOT message signs that claimed that the gun would fire at 3. So for a time there were three bridges back to Charleston, but none were open.

That meant we were stranded. We cranked up, pulled out, and drifted south on the road to Patriot's Point, where a friendly police cop, directing traffic, pointed out to us a vendor's tent in a gas station parking lot, right on the corner of the Patriot's Point road and the Coleman on-ramp (the one we passed under on the way up). Under the tent were insulated bottles, keychains, koozies, magnets, postcards, lanyards...and a hell of a lot of T-shirts. I paid fifteen bucks for one, but the rest of the stuff was pretty much a rip-off, including the four-dollar magnet. Damn, I bought that, too.

We then headed south, going through the town and over the Ben Sawyer swing bridge to Sullivan's Island, trying to find a beach access parking lot. Once we finally hit one Cliff realized he needed a towel, and while he was at it he might as well buy a Frisbee (my golf discs aren't made for catching, now). So we drove over to the Isle of Palms, crossing the inlet through which the Hunley passed on her final journey. In the town market Cliff got that towel and Frisbee, after which we started looking for free parking, without success. So it was back over the bridge to Sullivan's, when Cadet Cliff realized he could get us on the beach before the Citadel house. Back on IOP, we drove almost the entire length of Palm Blvd. and reached the house moments before eleven.

There was a big cookout there, so we went around the huge picnic shed to get to the beach. Good thing I didn't bring a surfboard: the tide was low, and IOP's notorious wave-killing sandbar was only yards out. It did enable me to walk and then swim way the hell. Besides, going to the beach gave me a chance to get rid of that tie.

After a shower in the Citadel house the uniform of the day was much less formal: I had on the shirt I had just bought, cross-country practice shorts, Rainbows. At the Subway in the town market I ordered the most expensive sandwich they had, not because it was Opening Day, but because I had never tried it and felt like it.

The bridge was still hours away from opening, so we jumped over to Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's. (As part of the Grace opening ceremony, dignitaries toured the fort, at the time still in use, but I had forgotten that.) As usual, only a handful of people were wandering the grounds. That's actually normal; everybody wants to see Sumter, which was less important to history.

At 2.30 we left and headed back to the northwestern corner of Mt. Pleasant. Already a line of a dozen or so cars were waiting on Coleman to get on the still-unopened bridge. We turned by that same gas station where I bought that stuff and joined the end of a slightly larger line on the Patriot's Point road. For ten minutes we all sat and waited for the new traffic signal to be activated, letting the line of cars cross the bridge.

Truly the tension was palpable as the vehicles--cars, vans, motorcycles--moved slowly forward, inches at a time, as if getting that much closer to the starting line made an appreciable difference. We were all as horses ready to bust out of the gate, except most folks had cut their cars off, rolled down their windows, and chatted with nearby drivers and passengers. We waited about fifteen minutes.

Far ahead of us a flash of white passed before a green wall of trees. We realized it was a DOT truck moving slowly southward on Coleman. Through binoculars Greg watched and waited for the bed of the truck to come into view; when it did, he saw orange cones in it. The bridge was ready.

For a time our line did not move, then it finally lurched forward for half a minute or so before stopping again. We had to wait for the light to change. One car trying to get out of the gas station pulled athwart the lane going the other way, trying to cut in front of us in line. This blocked traffic in that lane, hence blocked traffic turning from Coleman into our road.

The light, still far away but visible now. turned green again. The line moved quicker this time. We just might make this light...we've got to hurry...this light can't stay green this long. Three cars away...two...don't yet see yellow...across the white line...quick turn, maybe too fast...we made it. A jet black stretch of road seemed to lead to a pile of sand, then curved suddenly and led directly to the white concrete ramp.

I was afraid it was going to bore me to tears, with no dips, curves, narrow roadways. I thought it would be too easy. I was half right. It was not a challenging drive over, but it was far from boring. Greg, almost as a joke, found some Strauss and Copland to put on.

Drivers around us honked, waved. One flew a Jolly Roger, for some reason. We got behind a car with a Wofford sticker, changed lanes, pulled beside him and had a short, shouted conversation, despite the 50 knots of apparent wind. The other side of the bridge was empty, but then a line of motorcycles appeared on the horizon, leading the first cars from Charleston across.

It seemed as if we were going a lot slower than we were, but the bridge was so big. The cables didn't flash by, but each just seemed to majestically drift by, one by one, almost pausing to welcome us aboard before giving way to the next one. The highest parts of the old bridges' superstructure just poked over the level of the edge of the deck.

On the way down we crossed over the old bridges and peered respectfully at the Town Creek spans. The deck leveled off over Charleston Neck, where we selected the South 17 ramp. Once again up, over the former I-26, long, soft left-hand curve, a more abrupt right turn, a cloverleaf circle, and we were on the surface of downtown. What a way to get to King Street!

We wound up in front of Rainbow Row, whence we walked to Waterfront Park to look at the bridge. Already (3.30) traffic was backing up on the eastbound lanes, on account of the new signals, the higher volume of cars going east then west because of the higher abundance of entrance ramps, and the general demand. Then to the Market (where I bought a book about the new bridge, written already!), South King, Marion Square (where I bought some Ives, Ravel, Bartok), the Aquarium, the tall ship South Carolina under contruction, and back to the Market for seafood. We then drove to White Point and walked around, just because it is a beautiful spot.

By then the sky was turning orange and the shadows were lengthening, so we journeyed back up East Bay, through the railroad yards and docks, and passed under the old bridges. Nearby, we took a ramp back onto the new bridge for our first west-to-east crossing. At eight o'clock, the traffic was as slow as it was at 3.30, but not sluggish. And it was fine with us; this allowed us to savor the crossing at a leisurely pace. We were moving about as fast as the walkers but were within the comfort of an air-conditioned vehicle. Finally we landed, once again at the vendor's corner, turned about, and crossed again, driving into the setting sun.

Some folks think that Stoneys will soon become numb to the greatness of this bridge, will ho-hum whilst speeding over the harbor, under the towers and cables. I doubt that. The bridge is already being used in local business logos, being included in local paintings. Stoneys, and all Sandlappers, are interested in, also proud of, the story of the bridge. Count the number of hits of the DOT's official webpage, of Frank Starmer's unofficial one. If the Grace and Pearman really were tourist attractions, which, because of their dimensions and personalities, they were, I'd bet folks from hours away would come to Charleston to see the bridge. It might not be as magical as the first crossing, but surely every trip over, on foot or by car, will excite.

This bridge truly is a most durable monument.

Back over the Neck we took the direct ramp to I-26, which to us was the road home. When we reached Oakdale just before ten, after a fast ride north, we had not stopped since the Mt. Pleasant gas station. It was as dark and almost as deserted as before. We were sixteen hours in.
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Narrative history of Big Money Opening Day: V [Jul. 28th, 2005|09:43 pm]
You Big Dummy
I spent four years in the Upstate. When ground was broken I was between Wilson and Wofford. Now I am a Bachelor of Science, or whatever the hell I am. I missed the Low Country. I missed the flat, boring landscape, the stagnant air, the humidity, the heat; the tobacco fields, the corn fields, the soybean fields; the swamps, the larger bodies of water. The largest body of water up there could barely hold up a keel. Now we were standing fifty yards over the narrowest neck of the biggest port in South Carolina. The hell with the Upstate for today. We were going to go see a bridge open, and then we were going to the beach.

The two lanes of the ramp merged with two more, and the now-four-lane trestle then rose to meet the westbound (north) lanes, high over the edge of the river. Then the united deck, over a hundred feet wide, finally straightened and headed, almost resolutely, to the towers.

The deck shimmered. There was no noise except the distant whirr of the news choppers. The cables on the horizon were as a mirage. We zigzagged up the deck, climbing over railings, peeking through pipes, looking over the side to the old bridges, where the last cars were trickling over. There wasn't really that much to see, just concrete, and the view didn't change much with distance but, hey, the journey was its own reward. And all that concrete was an awesome sight.

The curvature of the deck forms a horizon, and as we walked up we could see, first, the tops of portable toilets, then hundreds of parked cars, eventually the tops of speakers set up for the opening ceremony. Soon we could see the black dais, with half a dozen American flags flying in the light southerly. At this point the deck ahead became even lighter in color but with dark spots. We soon realized the light color came from the reflections of the five thousand white folding chairs set up for the audience, and that the spots were people filling them.

There was nothing to mark the event when we finally made it to the east side span, where we were kept above the water by wire. We jumped over the rail and onto the northern ledge, where the cables were anchored. This was strictly verboten, as we were one step from the river and no rail blocked the way. We will never be able to do so again.

Nor will we hear a tower talk to us as it did on Opening Day. When we passed under the east tower in the middle of conversation we heard a pair of echoes, the second hard on the heels of the first. I would say it sounded like we were in an empty gymnasium, but it would have been a huge one. The sound had to make a round trip of up to 800 feet to reach us.

After we had our little chat with the tower we walked across to the south end, where there was a plaque installed in the face. On it were the names of the members of the DOT commission, the DOT general officers, the DOT officers overseeing the construction (led by Bobby Clair), and the principal contractors (under Wade Watson).

Next we hopped over to the ninth and most famous lane of the bridge: the one made just for foot traffic. This lane, walled off from the car lanes and lined for pedestrians and cyclists, was a result of a grassroots campaign. Honest. Letters to the editor and the government, bumper stickers, and a joke by a commissioner that a bridge from Charleston should have a lane for horse-drawn carriages, caught the attention of the City of Charleston and Joe Riley. In the end everybody agreed, grudgingly or otherwise, to shell out the extra $12.4 million to extend the deck out over the side of the bridge twelve feet.

The foot lane is on the ocean side of the bridge, offering better views than could be seen on the other side. Jersey barriers bound the lane on one side; on the water side is a metal fence, designed specifically for the bridge. The top rail is over seventy inches off the deck. The fence was built as high as it was to prevent suicide attempts (there were over a dozen on the old ones, and over one-third of the jumpers survived). It would be a bitch to climb over anyway, because most of the beams are vertical, not horizontal. It's better that way, too, in an aesthetic sense: it's easier to see through them.

Back on the road deck is another way to view the harbor. I almost stuck my foot through a drain pipe, which led right through the deck to the water, straight down. Cliff, the DOP, made sure to film this.

At last we reached the guestbook, signed it, grabbed some programs and booklets and some bottles of water, provided free of charge to beat the heat but at the same time making awesome souvenirs. There were plenty of seats, but Cliff with the video camera and Greg with the still placed themselves on the south rail, at a point exactly eight-and-a-half cables east of the Charleston tower, in order to get better angles. I bumped into Elizabeth Rast '03, who drove onto the bridge from Mt. Pleasant after making eight trips over the old bridges; we found a pair of seats on the north deck. It was nine a.m.
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Narrative history of Big Money Opening Day: IV [Jul. 26th, 2005|08:11 pm]
You Big Dummy
It looks like just another highway in Mt. Pleasant, with all the concrete and the Jersey barriers and the tangle of piers and girders and beams and caps. Going up the proper ramp, the actual superstructure of the bridge is visible one mile away. But on Opening Day the only entrance to the empty bridge that was easily accessible to us was an off-ramp. The ramp passed under a viaduct, and the viaduct blocked the view of the bridge from us. So when we walked into the cement maze we took it on faith that we would first of all somehow exit, and that when we did we would be on the foot of the bridge.

Actually somewhere in that interchange we took our first steps on the bridge, so that when we came out we were already aboard. It wasn't hard to notice, but it was in an otherwise inconspicuous spot. At a point underneath the viaduct the black road suddenly abutted onto an expansion joint. From the other side a white ribbon of concrete fairly leapt outward, made a graceful curve, and rose out of sight behind the overpass. One hop over the joint and we no longer stood on the ground, but we couldn't tell the difference.

It was some 200 yards later, when we passed out of the shadow into the broiling heat, that we finally saw the two towers. Good thing we parked in the east side, we realized. The bridge was built on a line running roughly east-west, so that it could lie athwart the channel, which was north-south. So the sun was at our backs and could reflect off of the towers and cables before us. It made it all the easier to understand what they meant by the "sail motif" that the architects (Parsons Brinckerhoff and, specifically, Riyad Ghannam of Donald McDonald) had been talking about. More to come on that later.

As is the case with most suspension or cable-stayed bridges, the towers are what everyone notices first. Many are shaped like the letter H or a pair of Is. The Sunshine Skyway in Florida features towers that come up through the deck, not around it. The Pont de Normandie's towers look like upside-down Ys. The Ravenel's towers don't really look like any of these.

At water level rests two artificial islands, made of giant Newfoundland boulders. Only an acre of rock breaks the surface but at the bottom of the river each island takes up five acres. It is on these rock islands that the towers seem to rest, but in reality the tower bases are surrounded by the rocks. The purpose of these is to force a wayward ship to set ground long before reaching and possibly damaging the towers.

From each two beams spring upward and outward, reaching their widest point at the deck crossbeam, and then gently converge to a point 575 feet above mean high water. At the apex of each a "beacon of light" was to have been placed, but after everyone slept on it that idea was scrapped; Joe Riley said the things looked like Pez dispensers. (Look carefully at that famous computer rendering of the bridge made around 2001; they are there.)

At a distance the towers look as if they have been carved from one single block. Up close one notices that the tower beams are composed of segments. This is actually an illusion. The towers really were built as one solid piece: the dividing lines of the "segments" were added so that the eye could more easily digest the largeness of the towers. That the move didn't make the structure any bigger or stronger, nor saved any money, shows us that designers really do appreciate bridges as works of art nowadays.

From deck level each tower describes a triangle; that fits in well with the many triangles formed on one side by the cables, on another side by the towers, and at the base by the deck. So the towers don't really stick out oddly, as vertical or H-shaped towers might. They blend in with the rest of the structure nicely. But your eyes are still drawn to them.

Even better that way, because each set of cables is in the same plane as its respective tower beam, so, when the approach begins, the towers and cables seem to "line up." When closing in each plane of cables, one on the left, one on the right, seems to widen a bit, but that the cables are separate from each other can not yet be discerned. So from certain points on the bridge, when the light is just right, a faraway group of cables looks almost like...well, a sail.

Such an effect could work only if there were a hell of a lot of cables spaced not far apart from each other. Guess what. There are 16 on either side of the bridge for each of the side spans and each half of the main spans, 128 in all. The cables do not go into the tower and come out the other side; each cable is anchored in the tower. As these actually hold up the bridge and its traffic, the cables might be the most important part of all. But getting them there in the first place led to what might well have been the tensest moments of the entire construction process.

Each cable is composed of several strands of wire sheathed in a polyethylene pipe. A French company called Freyssinet erected the cables. The process began when a master strand was threated through its pipe and anchored to the deck. The other end was hoisted by crane to its proper anchorage in the tower and there attached. The rest of the strands were wound through the pipe about the master strand. The wire itself was made by Georgetown Steel, just an hour up the coast. For this project the plant manufactured the wire through a special process that had never been used in the United States. About half of the specially made wire had been shipped to the bridge site by 2003, and then Georgetown Steel went bankrupt. There were plenty of wire makers in Europe that made the special wire, but Freyssinet was under contract to buy American. After frantic searching the cable erectors asked a company in Texas to learn the process in a hurry and start shipping out cable as soon as possible. There were poor test strands sent out at first, but eventually the manufacturers got it right, and the months of delay that no doubt would have resulted otherwise were avoided.

It was circumstances such as this that the builders had in mind when they promised to finish the bridge in five years; the work was done in four. The "extra year" was basically saved for a rainy day, where a rainy day meant a hurricane, an earthquake, a supply shortage, a strike, or anything else that could lead to delays. Looking back, the only other thing that had a chance to cause the bridge to open after July 2005 was the threat of hurricanes in the late summer of 2004. At that time parts of the deck were already hanging by the cables, but were still vulnerable to high winds. The builders strung up temporary lines leading to anchorages in the harbor or on the rock islands. A couple of storms did brush the coast, but the bridge held.

And so on 11 March 2005 the last slab was placed, and the record for the longest cable-stayed span in the Americas had been broken. There followed months of paving, as well as erecting barriers, signs, and street lights, after which the bridge was, finally, declared ready for business.
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Narrative history of Big Money Opening Day: III [Jul. 22nd, 2005|02:39 pm]
You Big Dummy
You know parking in Charleston costs three bucks? In some places it costs five. Good thing we knew this to begin with. When the Grace bridge comes into Charleston it lands right on the corner of Lee and America streets. Most cars plow right through this intersection and take the up ramp to 17 and I-26. We took a quick left, passed under the expressway, and somehow found our way out of the tangle by way of a ramp up to the Pearman, which we crossed for the final time into Mount Pleasant. The Pearman was the first of the two I went over as a kid. Eighteen years later I drove off of it forever, and most of my thoughts were devoted to finding a parking spot and not paying for it.

The solution appeared off our starboard side: a Huddle House on a frontage road by 17. (The VIP got to park on the bridge itself.) The food place was hard by a motel, and it didn't seem any more full than a motel parking lot would early in the morning before check out time. There were still maybe half a dozen spots left, facing the highway. In the grass between the highway and the parking lot were a group of people picnicking and a TV crew preparing to go on live. That most walkers were using another ramp to get up on the bridge, and there was no foot traffic using "our" ramp, was a source of worry. On the other hand, we didn't see any police or other authority figures "blockin' the market," so we blessed our good luck, turned in, and dropped the anchor at about 8.20. Mid-span was two miles away.

It was hot, sticky; the heat index at 9.00 was 98. In my state of idiocy I had on a shirt and tie, olive pants, and college bowl shoes. No breeze, but then again we were on the ground. 200 feet above a wide expanse of water should always enjoy a benevolent wind. We couldn't get there fast enough. Through some shrubs, over the grass, ducking the TV crew, and we were on a deserted stretch of freshly paved, black road that in six hours would become a U.S. highway. Ahead lay a tangle of ramps, railings, and curving viaducts. This was all we saw; we couldn't see the bridge.

In Mt. Pleasant were five ramps. When the bridge would open to traffic around 3 in the afternoon, three ramps would be in operation; two more would open later. One leading up from 17 would be open next week. Another, leading up from a residential street called Wingo Way, was still under construction but not absolutely vital. That meant only one ramp led up the bridge, the one from highway 703 (Coleman Boulevard). This would prove to be a pain to us later.

The other two ramps led off the bridge. One went to Coleman, the other went to 17. This was the ramp we chose to get on the bridge. That afternoon thousands of cars would be tear-assing down the ramp; we were going up. So we were walking the wrong way.

Over on the Charleston side things were more complicated. The bridge ended right on what was I-26 farther north than did the old bridges, but the part of 17 in Charleston had to connect with the part of 17 going over the bridge. So I-26 was shortened by a mile. Two ramps connected the old I-26 to the bridge and carried 17; two other ramps connected 17 to I-26. Two ramps led to and from Meeting Street; two more led to and from East Bay Street. The last pair of ramps did not connect to the bridge at all, but were built for the convenience of the motorist: one led up from Meeting to I-26, the other led down from I-26 to Cypress. That's a sum of ten ramps in Charleston and fifteen ramps total.

In the public eye those interchanges were subordinate to the bridge, but they were engineering achievements in themselves. Each were considered by the contractors as separate projects. In fact there were five separate projects being worked on at the same time: the Charleston interchange, the Mt. Pleasant interchange, the Charleston approach viaduct, the Mt. Pleasant approach viaduct, and the bridge itself. This was almost a neccessity in order to get such a large construction job finished on time.

The primary contractor was a consortium between Tidewater/Skanska, the Virginia branch of the Swedish construction firm called Skanska, and HBG Flatiron. When they submitted bids years before they named their consortium Palmetto Bridge Constructors. So it was the PBC logo that was on all the hard hats, vests, trucks, and newspapers.

Palmetto Bridge was officially "primary design-build." Design-build was a lot like shooting a film without a finished script, except when you make a mistake on the movie set you can just shoot again. An error in building this bridge could mean months of delays and millions of dollars lost. But Palmetto Bridge did not move at a reckless pace, just a very, very brisk one. Cables were hung before towers were finished. Much work was done at night. Interchange work over existing roads blocked traffic for short periods only. Ground was broken on 2 July 2001, and the bridge was finished 50 weeks ahead of schedule. The cost was something like $631 million.

But for figuring out how to finance infrastructure as huge as this, a new bridge might have been built years earlier. Upstate politicians did not want to pay for a bridge to be used mostly by Charlestonians. Lowcountry politicians did not want to pay for a bridge owned by the entire state. Charleston County did not want to pay an extra gas tax. Meanwhile the State Port Authority kept on demanding a larger channel clearance. There was a decades-long deadlock which finally ended when a former U.S. Congressman ran for and won a seat in the state Senate for the express purpose of creating a fund to finance a new Cooper River bridge. This man was Arthur Ravenel, and in the minds of most he did more than anyone to get the new bridge.

The immediate result of Ravenel's efforts in the Senate was the State Infrastructure Bank, passed by a narrow margin a few years ago. The SIB would finance transportation projects statewide, such as the Conway Bypass. As a result the DOT could brag that it was tackling 27 years worth of construction and improvements in only seven years. As for the Ravenel bridge, the SIB would pay for half the bridge; the FHWA, one-sixth. The rest of the money came from a federal loan to be repaid in annual installments over 25 years. The money for the installments would be put up by the SIB, the DOT, Charleston County, and the Port Authority. Everybody grumbled, especially the county, but agreed that this was the best solution to the money problem. And on Opening Day everyone realized even more that it was all worth it.
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Narrative history of Big Money Opening Day: II [Jul. 20th, 2005|07:52 pm]
You Big Dummy
The Pearman climbs 135 feet over Town Creek, dips underneath the new Ravenel bridge, and turns right, whence it rises again to the Cooper River span, 150 feet above MHT. Then it deposits the driver hard on the eastern bank of the estuary, where he has two options: exit into downtown Mt. Pleasant, or take the bypass. We took the bypass, crossing over a small viaduct. Years ago, this small overpass was the highest point half a mile ashore from the bridges, but now it is literally shadowed by the approach ramps of the new bridge. The reason for this is that the Ravenel bridge was built under newer standards calling for a less steep roadway, and the roadway rises to a higher point above water anyway.

So that complicated things on the ground for us. The old road had actually moved--replaced with temporary pavement to avoid work being done on the final ramp to the bridge, which should be finished in two months but is not urgent. We turned about in a Holiday Inn parking lot and once again rose above the river, this time courtesy of the Grace bridge.

The Grace was built and owned by a private corporation, Cooper River Bridge, Inc., as part of an effort to promote the islands north and east of Charleston as resorts. The fifty-cent toll for car and driver was not just for profit, but for funding maintenance of the bridge, having no taxpayer dollars to work with. The bridge was opened in August 1929, directly before a time when not many folks could afford to spend time at a luxury resort--much less own a car. At the same time, ferries were still plying the harbor, and charged less. So money was tight from the beginning. At first, scheduled maintenance projects like painting and minor repairs were half-assed or simply skipped, in order to save money, but this didn't stop the company from going bankrupt in 1935. Eleven years later the bridge was bought by the state and the tolls were removed, but already by then the Grace Bridge was, well, obsolete, having only two lanes and insanely sttep grades (almost 18 feet per up per hundred yards forward). Thus the Pearman.

On this Opening Day the Grace bridge wasn't easy on the eye. For years people had been wondering aloud how such a rusty hulk, built on the cheap and poorly maintained, could still stand. Three-quarters of a century earlier the bridge was adored and revered as an engineering marvel. Ten years ago the bridge was examined and, on a hundred-point scale, was rated a four. That report, more than any other one thing, provided the impetus to building a new bridge.

Crossing the bridge gets more adventurous every year, as cars get bigger and the narrow lanes on the bridge do not. I didn't straddle the lane markers, but damn near scraped the railing. The crossing seems to me more depressing each time, too. The bridge just seems to get rustier and dirtier and fewer people seem to care about it. And once the bridge ends, you have to deal with the labyrinth of the Septima Clark again. this time partially from street level. So the journey doesn't have much of a reward, nor does it seem as much fun anymore. That was on my mind the last time I crossed the Grace bridge.

We weren't the only ones trying to get in one last crossing, maybe developing one last story. I thought traffic would have been thick, as much as Charlestonians love the past, but it just seemed another Saturday morning on the bridges. Still, there were stories of folks crosing eight times or more, taking plenty of rolls of pictures. But whereas before the bridges dominated the skyline and provided an unobstructed view, the eyes of every driver in the past several months--including my own--were more interested in seeing the brand-new bridge being built right next door.
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Narrative history of Big Money Opening Day: I [Jul. 18th, 2005|06:02 pm]
You Big Dummy
"The work which is likely to be our most durable monument, and to convey some knowledge of us to the most remote posterity, is a work of bare utility; not a shrine, not a fortress, not a palace, but a bridge."
--Montgomery Schuyler, 1883

For some reason Cliff, Greg, and I woke up sometime between four and six a.m. on a Saturday morning, met on a street corner in Oakdale, and drove 130 miles behind the rising sun to Charleston. I guess the reason, intially, was to say goodbye to several million tons of steel and concrete, and more than a little bit of wood. But some hours later the several million more tons of steel and concrete (and not nearly as much wood) slated to replace the other material mass made those pangs of, well, I'll admit, sadness, turn into mere nostalgia.

This was our last chance to drive over the old John Grace and Silas Pearman bridges in Charleston County, which would close forever at 8.30, and we had to haul some tail to get there on time. I wanted to leave Florence at 6 so as to have a twenty-minute cushion; we left at exactly 6.03. With a breakfast stop we made it to the foot of the Pearman in two and ten.

Actually the Pearman doesn't really have a foot. We exited off of I-26 onto a highway known as the Septima Clark Expressway, which is as ghetto as the name sounds. I don't know how many deals go down underneath this skyway, but it's a lot, I is sure. And up "above" Charleston, that highway is a pain in the ass to drive. At least it only lasts a minute or so, and I'll admit I'll miss it as much as the old bridges, but most of me is glad for the folks underneath and the regular daily drivers above that it goes.

The expressway splits into two ramps. One leads down to East Bay. The other one is the approach of the Pearman itself, which ascends 135 feet above Town Creek. This was supposed to be one more chance to savor the experience (the adventure) of crossing, but our eyes were trained on a huge new bridge crossing over, the one that would replace the Pearman and her older sister. I feel almost guilty.

I don't think the Pearman ever got a fair shake. When opened in 1966, it was already inadequate to relieve the traffic pressure between Charleston and Mt, Pleasant, having only three lanes. (The DOT actually heard bids for a four-lane bridge, but they were too high.) The third lane was supposed to be reversible, but in 1979, when the Grace's weight limit was cut in half, the lane was fixed in direction toward Charleston. That meant that only two lanes led out of Charleston toward the eastern suburbs, making the afternoon rush a bitch. And if a wreck were to happen, it wasn't as if they could pull it over to the side of the road.

When I was a kid the Pearman was older than I am now, and to my young mind it spanked of modernity. I had never seen a bridge that big. I always did like crossing it better than the Grace, not because the lanes were wider but because it seemed more majestic of a ride. Plus it wasn't as noisy. That the Grace had such a celebration during its opening, and even before the dedication of the Pearman folks were already bitching abuot how they needed a third bridge, is unfair. I guess the Pearman just came along at the wrong time.
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(no subject) [Jun. 21st, 2005|10:53 pm]
You Big Dummy
[mood |happyHot holy hell!]
[music |RVW: 6th (Epilogue: Moderato)]

You won't believe this!

You know about all this Greatest American stuff going on. Well, listen, know what some people voted the most accurate portrayal of life in the old West days?

F Troop!
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For Elizabeth, as copied from a fantasy baseball message board [May. 12th, 2005|08:03 pm]
You Big Dummy
[music |Bartok: Music for Strings, Percussion, + Celesta: And. tra'q]

The name of this poem is called "Kissing."

A man may kiss his wife goodbye,
The dew may kiss the butterfly.
The wine may kiss the frosted glass,
and you, my friend, may kiss my ass.
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