Bridge disaster a taste of routine Iraq reality

Think of how many bridges and buildings have been bombed to smithereens in Iraq.

If you went over that bridge once, perhaps you went over it a thousand times. If you live, work or attend college in the Twin Cities, it is your bridge and a routine part of your reality.

Excuse me. It was your bridge. We are all still adjusting to a sense of past tense.

But once the mental adjustment is made, it will be permanent. Decades from now, Twin Cities residents will recollect where they were when they heard the news and how they were impacted by the bridge collapse. I suspect everybody will be able to recall the last time they crossed that bridge, whether it was minutes or days before.

Those of us who were nearby during or right after the bridge collapsed saw plenty, but there was also a sense that the magnitude of the disaster was not only impossible to grasp, but quite difficult to see, unless you were in a helicopter, circling above.

One is left with the sense of being a disoriented ant, scurrying around the perimeter of a gigantic boot print, never able to see the whole picture and comprehend how the hand of God (or, for that matter, God’s size-13 army boot) fits into the grand scheme of things.

I saw a crushed rail car not far from apartment complexes. I saw a white automobile teetering near the edge of disaster, and I wondered who had performed the brake job on that car and if they could possibly work on my brakes. Emergency vehicles bore the names of numerous cities, and it reminded me of a parade I saw recently in Alexandria, Minn., to welcome troops home from Iraq.

The final toll in lives and financial cost, the inevitable rebuilding, the ultimate sense of healing and renewal, will one day become our routine Twin Cities reality, instead of this warped and torn reality. But for the next few days, some of us will wake up and have to think for a moment to recall for sure: Did it really happen?

Yes, it really happened. Now prepare for a lengthy investigation into precisely why.

In several days or a week, most of us will incorporate the unthinkable into our routine reality.

But, for now, the fabric of mental normalcy is torn. While this condition of topsy-turvy reality exists, it might be good to think about the fact that this is what routine daily life is like in Iraq. Twisted steel, fire, random death and worrying about loved ones are commonplace.

Dare to contemplate that as you look at pictures of what’s left of the bridge you personally crossed a hundred or a thousand times. Think of how many bridges have been bombed to smithereens in Iraq, not to mention, well, buildings.

And why is it so? Well, because of the Republicans, my dears, and their bone-headed selfish policies. Examples would include, of course, neglecting infrastructure so badly that such disasters as the collapse of a levee during Hurricane Katrina become possible. If infrastructure was neglected and that led to the present bridge disaster, you can be darn sure Republicans were involved.

In June of 2008, Republicans will be driven around by limos in our wounded city for their loathsome national convention. No doubt these Republicans will extend fat, hairy hands and congratulate us for that indomitable Midwestern spirit thing, citing rebuilding of the I-35W bridge as Exhibit A.

Maybe the rebuilding of the bridge will be nearing completion by that time, and our governor will welcome a few of the Republicans to waddle across, in a sort of ceremonial way.

Yes, June of 2008 was supposed to be Minnesota’s moment to shine, as the spotlight of the nation would be trained on our city. Now that spotlight will constantly highlight the bridge disaster and how recovering from the event fits into the scene set for the Republican National Convention.

Well, tell the Republicans to pick a different city, I say. Maybe Avista Capital Partners (those fun yet mysterious folks who bought the Star Tribune) can arrange for the Republicans to use an offshore oil-drilling platform for their convention.

Yes, as much as I’m eager to try out the new gas mask promised me by my friend Carleton (not his real name) I have to wonder: Can the Twin Cities get ready for yet another expensive disaster so soon?

It appears our urban infrastructure collapses all by itself, by accident. So what’s going to happen when determined radicals are actually trying to shut down the city?

But look at me, whining. Iraq. Think about daily life in Iraq.

When I heard about the bridge, I was in a Burger King near campus. A bald, portly man came in and blurted out the news. My first thought, besides checking to see if it was a sick joke, was that help might be needed from volunteers to, for example, move rubble in bucket brigades. So I thought it might be good to begin moving toward the bridge, toward the four or five circling news helicopters and smear of smoke across the sky.

In fact, it seemed there was a massive collective impulse to assist or, at the very least, solemnly bear witness. Words might be said about the crowd as a group of mere gawkers, but often the so-called rubberneckers are just people who wish they could be of some assistance. Police might complain of a crowd being in the way, but from what I saw, individuals who made up the crowd got the heck out of the way as soon as they were aware of the official request.

If there had been a need to help, a need to move mountains of rubble, then hundreds and even thousands of people would have been transformed from gawkers with cell phone cameras to sweating crews of willing workers.

We’re now left wondering what is next. It appears the impulse to help should be channeled into acts of citizenship like donating blood and giving money to reputable charities involved in assistance. But another necessary act of citizenship is to question, or put forward opinion, about why this happened. And what does it mean for the future?

John Hoff welcomes comments at [email protected]