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It was the first one, you know. Out of the six bascule bridges in Seattle, five of which are on the same waterway (starting from the east: Montlake Bridge, University Bridge, Fremont Bridge, Ballard Bridge, and the Salmon Bay Bridge, which is the train bridge with the huge counterweight hovering over it, and which is open unless a train goes to cross, so opposite the others in that way), the last being the First Avenue South Bridge over the Duwamish.
But Fremont was first, and this year we celebrate its centennial. It opened on June 15, 1917. It's the busiest drawbridge in the United States, apparently (although, Wikipedia says citation needed on that fact so if you have facts, consider editing). It was the home of writer-in-residence Elissa Washuta for three months, while she explored the history of the Lake Washington Ship Canal, and how its construction changed the landscape and displaced indigenous peoples.
There used to be a sign on the southern entrance to the bridge that said "Now entering Fremont, center of the universe, throw your watch away", but it's gone now. When we drive across the bridge, the sound of the grating buzzes under our wheels. If we stop, which thanks to Seattle traffic is not uncommon, you can see the water through that steel.
It raises faster than you think it should, the bridge operators, those anonymous heroes or villains (depending on if the red light flicked on before you started crossing or after) are obsessed with safety, as they should be. Bridge operator (and writer) Barb Abelhauser took the Stranger to task for cheering on a cyclist who climbed the open Ballard Bridge.
I have a friend who claims, that in High School in the eighties, he would get drunk with a buddy and sit with their backs on the straight posts of the University Bridge and ride it as it opened and closed, hanging on for dear life. We strongly recommend against such stupidity, but it goes to show that the idea of crossing that illicit boundary of the lowered barrier is not an uncommon one. Why, just look at the fantasy fulfillment of the Blues Brothers movie.
It is a busy bridge — an average of 3,108 cyclists each day ride across. In 2006, the Fremont Bridge had opened over 566,000 times, about 35 a day on average. It was designated a historic landmark in 1981.
Everybody has a favorite bridge. Montlake is cute as a button, and feels almost gothic. University has a kind of laid-back stretch, like a giant who just woke to yawn. Ballard feels like a commercial fishing vessel, functional, built for purpose more than style. But the Fremont bridge has a certain romance to it. The Fremont Bridge, if it were a person, feels like the one that would have attended all the cool punk shows, smoking clove cigarettes. It has the most sparkle of the set, like it has lived a life we can barely understand. It's the artsty-fartsy one, with the neon repunzel hanging out a window.
But isn't that silly to romanticize it? The bridge is, simply, a functional and important part of transportation infrastructure. But oh my goodness do all those people crossing it give us ideas for stories.
The bridgetender couldn't discriminate. When a boat needed to go through, she could hold them up while she made sure another wasn't coming along soon, but at some point she was going to raise the bridge to let them through. Until, she was surprised to see, the distinctive lines of her father's 45-foot sloop. Her father, who had left five years ago without saying anything. Who had taken all the money and disappeared. Who had a warrant out for his arrest.
Most cannot see the veil that hangs down the center of the ship canal. But surely you've noticed how much you prefer one side to the other? There are those that only cross into Fremont or Ballard if they must, and there are those that don't feel safe until they do. But Miranda, who had the sight, could see the veil, and she knew what it protected. And she could see the rip that was forming every time the bridge lifted and fell.
Mother mouse was a worrier, and baby boy mouse was a daredevil. But with twelve children to manage, she didn't have time to fret too hard over one. But on this day, when she needed to make sure all safely crossed the Fremont bridge, she fretted extra hard. She grouped them, surrounding baby boy with his more obedient older siblings. They had just crossed the gap that connected the two leaves of the bridge, when baby boy jumped back across and scurried up a post "I want to see the boat better!" he called. Mother mouse shrieked when she heard the horn. She knew the bridge was about to rise, and she had to get everybody off before it happened.
The job of the grosstender was to cut down the bodies, the ones hung to show the power of the bridge guard. The grosstender was sub-human to most, which was good because he was left alone. Each body he hauled by wheelbarrow to the burial site reminded him of someone from before, when the bridge was not a medieval pseudo-military asset, but simply a way to cross the water, and back then, you didn't have to pay to do it, or die if you tried to cross without payment. So he gave them names, and when he buried them, he wrote that name in the dirt atop their grave. That worked fine until the day that the grosstender came across someone he actually remembered from before.
She figured that femme-y rider was totally straight. Wedding ring, a kind of norm straight-girl vibe to her. Maybe two or three times a month, they'd converge on the bridge during their commutes, Chantel coming from Frelard, the norm girl from Wallingford. They'd taken to saying hi to each other, and sometimes riding together for a bit down the Westlake cycle track in silence, but a silence that made Chantel's heart beat fast. One day, Chantel was surprised to see her sitting on the bridge approach, holding her ankle. Chantel stopped, and saw blood. "I have a first aid kit," the girl said. "In the left-hand Ortlieb, can you please get it?" Chantel unrolled the panier, and looked inside as the girl said "No! In the left hand one!" but it was too late. Chantel had seen what she was hiding, and it made her bite her lip with excitement.