Thirty-five years ago today, a portion of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge fell down after a freighter nudged a piling during a violent storm. I write about the incident in my unpublished memoir, Sex & Drugs & Real Estate: Coming of Age in the New Age. In honor of the anniversary, here’s that excerpt:
“Seven-thirty Monday morning, back on the Sunshine Skyway heading south to Fort Myers. The sun splintered off the slippery metal grate at the top of the old bridge, one lane in both directions because the newer span collapsed three springs ago when a tanker hit it during a violent storm. I was at school in Memphis when I saw the surreal headline. The bridge I could see down the street from where I grew up. Gone; or half of it, anyway.
The tenant in my parents’ garage apartment in St. Pete taught school on the other side of the bridge. Terry the Tenant was on his way to work when the bridge went out. He nearly went into the abyss, saved only because of a man who was waving his arm from his window, which was down in the blinding rain. Terry the Tenant didn’t want to stop, but the previous Sunday he’d heard a sermon about the Good Samaritan. The Good Samaritan would stop, especially in the pouring rain. Terry pulled over and the man shouted that the bridge was out, feet from his front tires. Jesus saves, literally.
Even before the bridge collapsed, driving over the Skyway made me think about death. It was the favorite local spot for suicide dives. I’m going to jump off the Skyway was a threat flung by distraught teenage girls who would never do it. The people who jumped didn’t boast; they just parked their cars and left the keys in the ignition.
I’d had a near-death experience just about a year ago. When mine happened, I didn’t see Jesus, a tunnel, or even a light. But I did get a small taste of what it feels like – or what it doesn’t feel like – when you get the tiniest bit out from this side . . .”
Bill DeYoung wrote a marvelous book called Skyway: The True Story of Tampa Bay’s Signature Bridge and the Man Who Brought It Down. Bridge enthusiasts will not be disappointed.