In watching/reading news coverage of Wednesday's bridge collapse, and e-mailing back and forth with friends, I have been reminded of the things that endear me to the state and area that I am wont to call home.
On this side of the water, more often than not when something happens in America, news crews manage to find the dumbest person in town and talk to him. If this were one's only exposure to the United States, it would make sense that some people don't like the Yanqui -- seemingly Americans are incapable of putting together coherent sentences. So it was refreshing to see so many Twin Cities residents speaking coherently and without the sense of melodrama we've come to expect in these sorts of things. If you watch this video clip of survivors, you'll notice a lack of "Oh my God!"-type exclamations. By and large this is how Minnesotans are. They're not comedy stoic as Garrison Keillor portrays them, but there is an overall tendency to take things in stride.
It's something that often manifests itself in the Minnesota sense of humour. Eric's response to my e-mail yesterday was simply: "Want to come over tonight and grill some meats? Don't take 35 to get here."
Post tragedy, that appears to be the biggest concern for Twin Citians at the moment -- how to get around. The core road network (the Twin Cities is deceptively named; it actually consists of dozens of cities stretching out across 13 counties and two states. So when one speaks of "the core" they are generally speaking of the 15- to 20-mile radius with Minneapolis-St. Paul as its centre) was established in the mid- and late-1960s, when the Twin Cities were more aptly named. According to Sara's dad, who has worked in a municipal function for some time, when 35W was first laid out some people suggested making it bigger than necessary, so as to deal with any growth in the city's population. The general response to such a plan, however, was something along the lines of: "Who the hell would move here?"
Back then, the population of what is now the core was just a bit over 1.2 million. These days, the same area holds some 2 million people, with an additional 1.5 million in the surrounding areas. Good times.
The road network as it runs through Minneapolis appears to have been drawn up by a drunkard. And for people commuting from north or south of the city, at least once a day they think to themselves: "Cripes, is this really the ONLY major north-south route? Who the hell thought this was a good idea?"
Or, rather, they used to think that, because now that route is gone. It's not completely gone, but it is seriously disrupted at a key point and it's going to be that way for years. The thousands of people that used to travel across the 35W bridge will now be dispersed to other routes, all of which were frustratingly slow and outdated before the collapse.
Unfortunately, lack of investment in public transportation (the whole of the Twin Cities area has only a single 12-mile light rail line*) means that there isn't really any alternative to driving and sitting in traffic. Add to this the fact that the Twin Cities has the second highest rate of congestion growth in the United States, and you're talking happy, happy fun time for all. Suddenly Arriva trains don't seem quite as bad.
*Before the collapse, optimistic types were hoping to see a second line built by 2014. That will almost certainly be pushed back as money is diverted to inspect and improve the state's bridges.