Mulhall column: It’s just a bridge, but if it could snicker …
In a recent Roaring Fork Swap post, a local proposed an idea: On the morning of Aug. 14, valley residents gather on the north side of the Grand Avenue bridge and walk across together one last time — never mind demolition may have already commenced.
It’s hard for me to get that sentimental about a functionally obsolete structure built in 1953. If I consider the years between ’66, when my parents drove us across the bridge to start a life in Glenwood Springs, and now, the bridge is no more than a passive bystander.
It certainly was no active participant. Among the hazier memories of my youth, during the time of ping-pong ball drops and fishing derbies, one guy kept a dirt airstrip west of town. His reputation as a gadfly preceded him, but even before the days of strict FAA oversight no one took seriously his boast that he could fly his plane under the bridge.
Until he did.
The story fascinated me whenever I overheard it. Parents would assume hushed tones and drop the subject if we came around, perhaps to avoid planting bad seeds.
No one blamed the bridge.
But the bridge’s indifference to questionable pilot judgment was perhaps outdone by its agnosticism toward pre-adolescent child development.
Sometime later, as if to take on the square peg through the round hole challenge, CDOT converted the spacious two-lane bridge into the cozy four-lane thoroughfare we enjoy today, and in so doing significantly extended the perimeter of my childhood independence. My bridge crossing ticket got punched when the “new” cantilevered walkway made vehicle/bicycle encounters less probable.
With this freedom, I spent a lot more time with a north sider buddy of mine. When we weren’t building forts on Iron Mountain, we were learning to stick throwing knives into trees, biking the marauding black bird gauntlet on Sixth above the Hot Springs — shielded by tennis racquets and catcher’s masks — or camouflaging fresh neighborhood dog turds with grass to trick unwary passersby.
One day my friend’s neighbor, a boy some years our senior, gave us a prophylactic along with a self-aggrandizing speech on its intended use. Puzzled by his presentation, we did what any industrious pair of 10-year-olds would do: We made it into a water balloon.
As soon as we strapped the contraceptive to the garden hose, we discovered to our mutual delight that a rubber holds more water than any ordinary balloon — by gallons, so many in fact that despite our best efforts, we couldn’t lift it. Undaunted, we drained it, got a wheelbarrow from the garage and filled it up again, this time in the bed.
As we tied it off, we quickly realized we could not throw what we could not lift, even if we had overcome immobility. After considerable chin rubbing, we developed a plan that marshaled gravity to solve propulsion.
It took us both to wheel the blubbering payload along the alleys between Laurel and Pine with several rest breaks along the way. In those days, traffic was sparse enough that we were able to make it to the crest of the bridge’s walkway unimpeded if not unnoticed.
Once there, it was all we could do to tilt the massive projectile through the walkway railing and watch it splash down unceremoniously in the Colorado. We thought it cool, even if no one but us had seen it.
As the ’60s gave way to the ’70s, Glenwood’s muscle car era commenced, and the bridge stood through that epoch without so much as an approving grin or snide remark.
High schoolers drove Camaros, GTOs, Challengers and Firebirds. It wasn’t “American Graffiti.” It wasn’t even close. But it was growing up in Glenwood Springs.
Pizza Inn became the de facto south-side turnaround, while on the north side you had two options: go under the bridge via Seventh and get back on Grand, or go over the bridge and circle the Hot Springs.
My initial foray into the driving fray was short-lived. I started driving my parents’ ’66 Ford Mustang, a feisty white coupe with a red interior and a 289 V8.
About three months into my sophomore year, I mashed the accelerator turning south on the bridge. As the dutiful little car hit 40, I spotted a GSPD cruiser coming at me headed north.
I learned that day it is possible for a trained professional to make a U turn on the bridge, and for the next six months I drove the green Schwinn 10-speed I got for my 13th birthday.
Looking back, I drove over the bridge on my way to work at The House of Nine Dragons. I drove over the bridge on the way to my first prom. I drove over the bridge when I left for college, and again when I returned from graduate school.
The bridge has been around for all our comings and goings, really, and for those of our parents and children, as well.
But it’s still just a bridge.
It makes me wonder about what all the new bridge will be around for before it comes down.
Mitch Mulhall is a longtime valley resident. His column appears on the second Friday of each month.