I see it first, an hour before night’s descent can cloak the behemoth rising from the swampy grassland. We didn’t choose to come down this two-lane road—Kitty told us to.
Kitty is my GPS (named after the car Kit, from “Knight Rider”). In her monotone drone, she commands: “Exit I-95 for Route 17 toward Savannah.” But see, Kitty lacks a must-have feature – the ability to program a trip to avoid big, bloodcurdling bridges. Like the Talmadge Memorial Bridge. Memorial. Great. So now I am contemplating some dead governor, and mortality, as I approach the 1.9-mile divide between us and our vacation destination.
I am driving because my boyfriend, Cliff, could not risk facing bridges on our first vacation together and let an anxiety attack rob him of his manhood. If I drove, it would be a breeze. But fear is as contagious as cooties when a 46-year-old man freaks out in the seat next to you.
Kitty reminds us that we have two miles to fret about the crossing, to stare at its arc, which looks as though it will launch you into outer space rather than gently cruise over a river.Savannah is just on the other side, and I did not drive nine and a half hours so we could hyperventilate on the side of Route 17.
My Irish-pale knuckles somehow turn whiter as I clutch the wheel. Cliff grabs the “oh crap” bar above the door. He starts – well – it sounds like a pervert’s deep breathing.
We ascend toward the bridge’s 185-foot center, high enough to see only road, concrete walls, steel cable spokes, and sky. High enough for ocean vessels like large floating malls to pass under and deliver goods to the Savannah River distribution centers for Target, IKEA, and Heineken. Boy, will I need to pop a cold one after this.
“You’re doing fine,” Cliff whispers.
I crank the radio, The Who’s, “Baba O’Riley,” and sing. Scream-sing. As if the noise will drown the panic.
We start to ascend. I am sweaty-palmed, making it tougher to grip the wheel. The road leaves the earth and begins to cross the water. I’ve driven over bridges larger than this dozens of times. What’s wrong with me? I start to imagine myself losing control and plummeting off the side, which kickstarts my heart into a frenzy. It pounds as if I were running a triathlon, even though my body is planted in the car’s seat. We crest the top and now I’m staring down into road and water. I worry my racing heart will cause me to get lightheaded. There’s nowhere to pull over now, and I am terrified that I will pass out behind the wheel. Cliff is silent, and seems incapacitated. I want to check if he’s okay, but I dare not move my dead-ahead, frozen stare.
Wait! Is that… land! Flat road! Blood surges to my head and I exhale.
“You did it, honey! You’re awesome!” says Cliff, still not letting go of the “oh crap” bar. In our relief, we scarcely remember getting to the hotel.
We spend four days reveling in St. Patrick’s Day festivities—especially the city’s permission to drink in public—and we take snapshots of ourselves along the riverbank, with the bridge in the background. I put up both arms in a victory sign. Cliff intersects his fingers to make the sign of the cross.
Before we leave Savannah, we spend a half hour mapping out a ten mile detour around Talmadge for the return trip. We pick I-95’s flat, piece-of-cake bridge. Along the way home, when the interstate is about to split near Washington, D.C., Kitty robotically addresses us, “Turn right onto Route 301 North.”
Route 301. Which has a bridge almost the size of Talmadge. She repeats her instructions: “Turn right onto Route 301 North.”
I look at Cliff, then veer left to stay on I-95, and hit Kitty’s “off” button. We’ll trust our human instincts. This time.
About Beth: Beth Lefebvre is currently finishing a M.A. in writing at Johns Hopkins University. She is a former newspaper reporter and editor, and she currently works as a writer for the Department of Justice. She resides in Halethorpe, Maryland.