Sunday, October 28, 2012

sellwood bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down

My wife and I have a goal to walk across every bridge in Portland. One of PDX's plethora of nicknames being Bridgetown it just seems like a thing to do. We'd walked a couple by happenstance before I really formulated this goal, but once I did, I knew the Sellwood would have to be the bridge we walked first. A new bridge is being built to replace the Sellwood and there will be some sort of detour I don't really understand starting in January. This would be because the Sellwood Bridge is, in the words of a Yelp reviewer, a "deathtrap". (Yes. Bridges get reviewed on Yelp in Portland. There are probably individual trees, homeless camps, and rabid raccoons in Portland that are reviewed on Yelp.)1 

The Sellwood Bridge really is, however, something of a deathtrap. It's rated "two out of one hundred", and this is frequently repeated by people who never explain what it means precisely: "TWO out of a HUNDRED!!!" That certainly sounds bad, so I'm working under the assumption that those of us wanting to walk the Sellwood are racing against, not only it's planned demolition, but also it's unplanned collapse. Walking or driving it you just hope it doesn't fall down while you are on it. And you get the sense that, even in this most secular of American cities, the city leaders will be doing a lot of praying until January.

This is my (let's see, how pretentiously can I phrase this?) Photographic Essay about our walk across the Sellwood Bridge a few weeks ago.

If you approach the Sellwood Bridge from Sellwood Waterfront Park, as we did, you pass the Oaks Pioneer Church, formerly St. John's Episcopal Church.  The historical marker on it says that it is the oldest Oregon church in continuous use and that it was dedicated on December 10, 1851. One of the two major uses of Oaks Pioneer Church today is to say a prayer before crossing the Sellwood Bridge and, if your prayer is sincere enough, the bridge might not fall down while you are on it. The other use is for weddings. It is traditional for the entire wedding party to jump up and down on Sellwood Bridge before the wedding. If this causes the Bridge to collapse and the entire wedding party to plunge into the pristine waters of the Willamette, it foretells woe for that marriage. But if the bridge doesn't fall down, you will have a happy marriage. Actaully, I made all of that up.  It is true that about 75 couples a year get married in Oaks Pioneer Church and it is also true that none of them are allowed to consume alcoholic beverages while getting married in the Church.  It's also a good idea not to consume alcoholic beverages while or before crossing the Sellwood Bridge.  That could lead to a scenario in which the bridge doesn't fall down, but you do, and the sidewalks are very, very narrow.  You would likely fall into traffic.

This is actually the sign on the other side of the bridge, but I am putting it here for the narrative flow of my pretentious Photographic Essay.  The Sellwood Bridge has had a hard time of it ever since before it was built.  It started its life in the shadow of SCANDAL! If you've seen the episode of Grimm in which Nick investigates the murder of a bridge construction contractor who is a beaver, by a building inspector who is a troll, it was kind of like that, only in this case the bridge designers did apparently in fact pay tribute to the trolls so they could design the Burnside Bridge, the Ross Island Bridge and the Sellwood Bridge.  These particular trolls, three county commissioners called Rankin, Rudeen, and Walker, were eventually charged with  "graft, bribery and malfeasance". Also, there is, according to the Sellwood Bridge website an "ancient and active landslide which is gradually pushing eastward from the West Hills." This should not have been a surprise to anyone, on account of the landslide being ancient and all, but apparently it was, and they kept having to shore up the structure and remove pieces from it to reduce stress almost from the beginning.  
Rankin, Rudeen, and Walker.  Seriously, don't these guys look like trolls?
This suicide hotline sign has been defaced.  I'm thinking that whoever
defaced it understood that those on the Sellwood Bridge are pretty
much suicidal by definition and probably had the number memorized.
In this picture, you can see underneath the bridge, where
the trolls live.  I didn't take a picture of it, but behind me is
an apartment complex that looks as if it will be partly
underneath the detour bridge or the new bridge or both. I'm
very confused about the construction process, but maybe
the trolls demanded nicer accommodations?

Damage to the Sellwood Bridge like this adds
to the thrill of crossing the bridge!
Why it's worth it: There are some great view of Downtown
Portland from the Sellwood Bridge. Nevertheless, I don't
plan on walking, or driving on it until the new one is built, and
buses aren't even allowed on it.

Here as everywhere, however, only malcontents review on Yelp. What they have to be so malcontent about here is often beyond me and I frequently daydream about sending the lot of them to Hobbs, New Mexico or Anthony, Texas. Those are places one can really work up a good malcontent about.

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Upside Down on Mars by Barry J. Cochran is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.