Bridge Over Puzzled Water

Harry Drabik

A more correct title for this week’s piece would be Puzzling Bridge Over Ordinary Waters, but the connect with Sigh Moon and Garfunkle was too good to pass. To help readers get the picture I took one. But, you’ll need more.

The shot is of the new bicycle lane crossing the Devil Track River just outside Grand Marais. We had one-lane traffic for months as highway and bicycle bridge was brought to completion. I’m  not complaining. It’s a very nice; OK, it’s a wonderful bridge meeting or exceeding in every way what a bridge should do. (Don’t want to annoy the MHD, not in these parts we don’t.) The part of the bridge I focus on here is the bicycle lane adjacent but separate from the highway lanes. The pic was taken mid-January and unless I’m way off in perception I’d say it’s been plowed. Good Gosh, that’s amazing and puzzling.

The puzzle deepens because two other nearby bicycle bridges are not plowed, making me puzzle over “what’s the poor cyclist to do?” It doesn’t matter there is no bicycle “lane” other than the highway margin for any of these bridges. I’m enormously proud of a far seeing system that provides in advance for a need we rarely have and in some cases lack entirely. We are ready, including keeping one of the three open for winter use. That’s amazing; puzzling, but still quite and perfectly amazing because while summer use of Highway 61 by cyclists is infinitesimal winter cycling is many orders of magnitude less. But there no less is a safe and plowed bridge cycle lane with no further travel other than the highway shoulder. A person has to puzzle over them waters. I was tempted to go get a bike just to make some back and forth passes over the lane, but that seems to me a case where saying is good as doing. You get the picture of needless attention paid a near useless (but enormously costly) benefit to the public. This says to me, ‘mongst other things, the driving public transport industry pays enough “extra” in fuel taxes to fund things barely needed (if at all) and grossly underused.

If you said people could use that safe lane in summer to fish off the bridge you’d have an argument until someone reported back on the success of such an activity. With rare exception (special seasons) people don’t fish near the bridge now to do a form of fast water spawning season fishing where a bridge to fish from is an impediment rather than a plus. There is the possibility that in a tourist area we might attract more visitors with dandy bridges for their use. See by the photo the success of that plan. If there is a serious plus side it is in employment. Some workers and contractors benefited and soon as job was done left the area. Perhaps that’s as good as some news can ever get.

In my opinion much of the angst and turmoil in the American Body Politic rises from ordinary practical minded citizens trying to make sense of public programs. Most Americans will accept the need for public assistance to help the disadvantaged step up and out. They are less supportive when told to feel guilt that their assistance is insufficient toward the goal of making the recipient wealthier and more leisured. It’s a bridge over puzzled water when largess or excess are justified as a public good. Even if you don’t stop, sit down, and ask questions you cannot help but notice and react to many an ongoing project with a puzzled shake of head. “Gee, what’s that all about?” But having a life to live you move steadfastly on. But addressed or not the question and puzzle will stay with you as it seemingly has with much of the US public.

It may be lingering puzzlement about things such as bridges and programs that brought on the result that an impossible candidate bucked his party and the opposition to step over an anointed successor. To me this shows a much higher level of frustration over governmental and social schemes than I realized. It is a very big message when the public calls “shakeup.” If there is to be a shakeup let’s hope it will be a positive one. That’s where we all enter the picture by playing a thoughtful positive role.

Fredrick Douglas was an influential black leader during the Civil War. An accomplished and moving speaker and writer, he described his life by saying he stole himself out of slavery, which indeed he had by escaping his owner in the South. In later life Douglas was asked what advice he’d give a young person. He said “Agitate, agitate, agitate.” Now that’s a damn good answer and an even better goal; one you and I can use saying “Question, question, question.” If you do not bring a thing to attention who will? If you don’t ask constructive questions who is going to? But, Boy Scout or not, you’d better Be Prepared because the hike is long and difficult. And if you’re stalwart enough to start out questioning, questioning, questioning we have to ride herd on what we support as much (or more) than the things we oppose.

Questioning is a hard thing. Here’s an example. I question emphasis on or programs about racism. I see such things, and catch flack when I say so, as incidental and not especially constructive because we cannot change race or color or ethnicity. They is what they are. The question is not race; it’s equality under the law and in public life. If we strive for equal treatment we stand a chance of success denied when seeking equity which often led to un-equal treatment. It’s not easy or popular to kick the sacred cow. It’ll kick back. People with opinions are mean critters. I told one person ranting about Columbus that the locals would have done no better under the Aztecs. The response was not friendly, but the fact remains the same.