Getting Over It

DAN CONAWAY

Getting over the big divide.

Outside, it was a beautiful spring day. Inside, it was a dark afternoon in engineering science lab. In front of me was a pile of balsa wood, popsicle sticks, string, rubber bands and a slide rule. The assignment – design and build a bridge. At that moment – while I was trying to figure out whether the number on my slide rule was 10,000, 100,000 or 10 million, while those around me began to conquer canyons with their popsicle sticks – at that moment I knew I would not be an architect.

Bridges are magic.

They connect, enable, overcome, elevate. They make big things possible when they weren’t before. They make it reachable for the many rather than the few, doable, accessible. I can continue on a path, finish a journey.

I can get there from here. And I can get back.

They inspire, too. The bolts in their bones that master the mysterious forces of nature, the breadth of their spans that takes our breath away, the height of their towers and the might of their cables that suggest the work of giants rather than mere mortals. The very fact that they exist is a symbol of human accomplishment, testimony to the human spirit.

Come on. Tell me you don’t get a little rise every time you drive across a bridge 20 stories above the most powerful river in America. How strong is that rail? Just how many trucks are on this thing right now?

Imagine walking or biking across. Imagine a view of our skyline like no other, pausing over the churning current for the long view past the Hernando de Soto Bridge to the north and around the big bend to the south. A soaring city on a bluff over here, the oxbows and wildlife over there, and the reason we’re here at all flowing far below.

You can get a taste of the full panoramic meal while driving, but if you were to pause to take it all in, you’d find out exactly how strong that rail is and meet at least one of those trucks.

The Greater Memphis Greenline and supporters on both sides of the Mississippi are giving us reason to pause. They plan to resurrect the northernmost roadway of the Harahan Bridge, built in 1916 and shut down in 1949, and convert it to pedestrian use. Seems we and Crittenden County already own the span. Eventually, and sooner than we would have thought possible before the opening of the Shelby Farms Greenline and all the work along the Wolf, somebody in Collierville can take a bike or a hike on a dedicated trail all the way to Arkansas.

Big water, big bridges, big skylines and big vistas experienced up close and personal can provide new perspective for big problems. Sharing a trail can give new meaning to sharing views.

Providing all of that on a people scale is a trail marker for a big time city.

I’m a Memphian, and this is a big step.

Dan Conaway is a lifelong Memphian, longtime adman and aspiring local character in a city known for them. Reach him at dan@wakesomebodyup.com.