Leave the tragedy aside for a moment; I never liked that bridge.
It was the product of a dismal age in bridge design, when the Interstate Highway system’s philosophy for bridges was “you shouldn’t know you’re on a bridge”; among all of downtown Minneapolis’ bridges, it never really fit in with its surroundings architecturally; it was like a delivery van in a parade of Dusenbergs.
But on the bridge?
One of the most piercing memories of my life was my first winter in Minneapolis, in 1985-6. I was driving home down 35W from a friend’s place in Forest Lake one bitterly-cold evening, after midnight. For the first time, I crossed that bridge late at night going south over the river. The view was, literally, breathtaking; the lights of the city, looking sharper than normal in the cold, were gemlike in their brilliance; the light reflected off the water and dimly outlined the gorge below, by the Falls and the lock and dam, sparkled off the parts of the river that weren’t frozen.
Minneapolis looked beautiful. And it was one of those moments when I first felt like I really belonged here.
The view has stuck with me; every time I welcome a friend or relative or newcomer to the Twin Cities, one of the stops on my night-time tour always involved driving south across the bridge, after dark (and thence to Saint Paul, driving into downtown from the south over either the Lafayette or the High Bridge, which is equally stunning).
The loss of that view is the least of today’s tragedies. But it’ll stick with me, too.