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Narrative history of Big Money Opening Day: I - You can have a little pork-n-beans now, and a little zucchini later... [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
You Big Dummy

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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.