Wednesday, August 1, 2007

A bridge fell into a river

I'll be in Boston on Friday, and in South Africa next week. So I'm moving everything into storage. Every -- single -- thing.

I spent the entire day moving boxes, washing dishes, sorting clothes, and sighing. Around 5:00 p.m. I was ready to deliver a load at the storage unit my sister had picked out. I drove, following her directions, through stop-and-go traffic.

But after I took the exit, the storage place was not immediately visible. After a minute I saw a sign off in the distance -- not at all where she'd said it would be. I drove to it, and pulled up to the electronic gate. I typed in the numbers she'd given me.

CODE NOT VALID. I tried again. CODE NOT VALID. Well, she's dyslexic, maybe she mixed up that 1 with a 5; CODE NOT VALID.

With no cell phone, and with the office closed, I drove away. You can imagine the thoughts running through my head at this point, and every one of them contained a word I wouldn't say in front of my grandmother.

On my way back toward the highway, a sign caught my eye. STORAGE, it says -- right about where she'd said it would be. I must've driven right by it.

I pulled in. The code worked, and I pulled around to my spot. I went up to my door and used the key on the lock. But I couldn't open the door. It doesn't pull out, and these little levers don't move left or right or up or down... I stand there, helpless. Maybe if I really pulled -- my God, is everyone who stores there stuff here 6-5, 300 pounds? It wasn't moving an inch.

Again, I was ready to leave, and you can imagine my frustration. On a whim I tried sliding the lever one last time. Success. I was in.

I piled up boxes of books and DVDs and dishes and a bag of clothes. It wasn't a lot, but it would have been annoying to have made the trip back home surrounded by this crap and with nothing to show for my evening venture.

I began the drive back, and only a minute later that a voice broke into National Public Radio.

"We've got breaking news. We have a bridge collapse in downtown Minneapolis on 35-W, at the University exit."

I'm sure you've seen the pictures, and if not you could find them easily. "Collapse" is the right word. A bridge full of cars fell into a river.

My frustration subsided.

If I had seen the storage garage right away, if I'd figured out the door, if I hadn't circled the entire compound looking for an exit. . . I'd have been on or damn close to that bridge.

I found out later that my sister had been crossed it about 10 minutes earlier.

If, if, if.

So what do you do when you've come close to something like that?

Do you think about all of the times you'd been on that bridge? Do you think about a life of bad luck with cars, a paralyzing fear of heights? Do you think about how since you were 15 you've always been 20 minutes late, for everything? Do you think about the time when everyone was talking about death, and how they might die, and you said, "You know, I've always had bad luck with cars, and I'm afraid of water..."

You think about all those things, and you look for some larger meaning. It's not there.

Instead you go out and buy ice and bourbon. You pour a drink with an unsteady hand. Then you sit down and write it out, and you hope that someday it makes more sense.

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