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How a bridge is like government

July 20, 2006|by TIM ROWLAND

Since I have to be jabbed with a pointed stick like a cornered raccoon before I will scurry out of the dark safety of my basement batcave into society, it shouldn't be unexpected that I had not been to Shepherdstown, W.Va., for a few months, and hence had not traveled across the new Potomac River bridge.

It's a nice bridge.

Pretty lampposts, a scenic overlook on the Maryland side. And we made it across the Potomac River without once getting wet. So if anyone asks me what I have over Robert E. Lee, I'll have something to throw back in his face.

And yet, I am always disappointed at the trend in modern bridge building that employs high walls of solid concrete that do not permit viewing of the river below.

It's on purpose, I suppose. They don't want you staring dreamily off into the scenery below oblivious to the fact that your car, like your mind, is drifting, in this case not into the cool waters, but into the path of an oncoming semi.

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But I don't recall hearing about too many head-ons in the middle of a bridge, so once again we have an ingenious solution to a problem that didn't exist.

Of course, I'm not privy to bridge-design methodology. Perhaps there is some other reason for the high walls. The rivers, probably, are just crawling with terrorists in canoes with RPGs and the visual obstruction makes it harder for them to pick off passing motorists.

But - in keeping with my well-documented decline into creeping grumpy old manism - in my day, bridges were light and airy, made of steel girders or graceful, sweeping cables that enhanced the view, instead of blocking it out altogether.

And it got me thinking, here, in the inanimate personification of a bridge, we have the perfect metaphor for what government once was and what it has become.

For isn't it so, that bridges were once open, aesthetic and helpful, allowing the practical conveyance of the vehicle while furthering the experience by accentuating the wondrous nature of this great nation of ours?

Sure, we had to use a little self-reliance and common sense, by evenly dividing our attention between river and road so as not to end up underneath a bus. But we understood that, we accepted it and we learned to conquer the risk.

But today, bridges are high, dark enclosures, government's attempt to control our minds' focus and constrain our ambitions and creativity into a tight little shell that funnels us robot-like through life. Efficient perhaps, but a girdle around the belly of human imagination and a straightjacket about the arms of the soul.

Today's bridges are government's way of saying, you people are such children, you must be tethered and led every step of your way through life.

Yes government will assure you of a long, safe incubator-like existence unexposed to the risks of river-glancing or snacks filled with trans fat. But I ask you, at what cost? At what cost!

You hear me out there. I know you do. I can sense it. I can feel it. You are all standing up as one right now and saying to me in a loud, united voice: "What have you been smoking?"

Well, the answer to that is, a lot of things. But that is not the issue at hand. The issue is that we, as a nation, must take back what is ours! We must take back our bridges with a view! And we must take back our government, which was once artful but has become stifling. Who out there is with me?

No one?

Hmm. It seemed like a good idea, mid- tirade.

Somehow though, now that it is there, it seems a little stupid, even. Oh well, let it go, at least it is not as stupid as the actual news that Wal-Mart is hiring a 65-year-old former nun to, according to The Washington Post, "help steer the company's policies on the environment, health care and labor relations - three areas where Wal-Mart's public image has suffered."

Which is what I started to write about today before I became filled with my own hot gas. Come to think of it, I'm not even sure how I got distracted from the important comedic issues of the day and wound up on some full-frontal assault of some poor defenseless highway project.

Maybe the government is right; I do need some blinders so I can stay focused.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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