Friday, February 19, 2010

The Bridge Story

My grandfather was a very patient man. He had to be.

My grandmother had two sisters, both older than she was. They never learned to drive, and they always sat in the back of the car - probably because even when combined they were still significantly less than ten feet tall. My great aunts had a number of fine qualities to them, but patience, calm and nerves of steel were not among them. And when my grandmother was with her sisters, well, it just snowballed.

This is the bridge story, as it has come down to me.

One night my grandfather, after an evening spent with his sisters-in-law, was driving them home. It was dark and fairly late by their standards, and he got turned around somewhere in center city Philadelphia - this is why he found himself heading over the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, crossing the Delaware River into New Jersey.

Two things you have to know about this bridge. First, there is no toll on the bridge that way. The iron-clad rule of tolls is that you always have to pay to get out of New Jersey, never in. So it was fairly easy to wind up heading out of Philadelphia, since once you got into the wrong lane there was nothing to stop you. And second, the bridge has no median - no wall, no barrier, nothing. This is a feature rather than a bug, as it allows the Port Authority to change lanes from incoming to outgoing, depending on traffic flow. There's a sign overhead where they let you know how many lanes you have to work with at that moment. They usually remember to leave one lane blank in the middle, just for separation, but if you're new to the bridge this can be rather unnerving.

But it was late, and there was no traffic other than their car, and by all accounts my grandmother and great aunts went into their standard disaster-response mode, which translates more or less as high-volume, high-speed panicked chatter powerful enough to strip paint from the walls.

So there he was, halfway across the bridge in a car that was probably bulging at the seams from the impact of the sound waves, headed into New Jersey - a state where you cannot turn around on any major highway for at least thirty miles in any direction, no matter where you are. It's a law or something. So he made a decision.

The cop who saw him make the U-turn across all ten lanes of the bridge pulled him over before he got back over dry land. He got out of his police car and began walking up to my grandfather, and at that point the wall of panicked chatter got bigger, louder and more panicked, as my great aunts were convinced that they were all going to jail, which was even worse than going to New Jersey.

The cop took in this scene, went back to his car and processed whatever information he had to process (license, registration, whatever), and then walked back up to my grandfather's car, where if anything the volume had only gotten louder. And he too made a decision.

He handed my grandfather back his information, told him he wouldn't give him a ticket, and said in his most weary and commanding voice, "You're not going to do that on my bridge again, are you, Tony?"

And then he let them go.

I'm guessing he had great aunts like mine.


Katherine McKay said...

Thanks for a great memory and a good laugh on the day after what would have been Nana & Pop's 71st anniversary.

Unknown said...

Are those great-aunts or GREAT aunts? You did intend the pun?

David said...

They were my grandmother's sisters, so they were my great aunts. I have never put a hyphen in there, though, so I wasn't aware there was a pun to be made. Given the many meanings of "great," the fact that they were a combined 9' 9" and 180 lbs (maybe) is also ironic, I suppose.