CRAWFORD COMMENTARY | Reflections on a first crossing - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD COMMENTARY | Reflections on a first crossing

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Over the years, whenever I saw news stories about road rage, I’d shake my head. I couldn’t relate. Working from home, getting to ball games early, leaving late, I knew the meaning of rush hour but never felt it in my gut.

It’s only when I came to work at a television station and needed to come downtown every day -- and leave work at about the same time everyone else does -- that I began to have dreams of ramming the guy blocking the intersection and winding up in the wrong kind of news story. Now I am beginning to see what it is all about.

So it was on a whim Monday at rush hour, on my way home to J’town, that I broke off I-64, got on the new Abraham Lincoln Bridge, and headed north to link up with Indiana 265 and the new East End crossing, The Lewis & Clark Bridge, for my maiden crossing.

Within 10 minutes, I was driving in wide-open spaces, heading east through Clark County, and distracted from whatever had distracted me a few minutes before.

It’s good to look at the world from a new road once in a while. To look down on an old river from a vantage point you’ve never held.

“The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels,” Henry David Thoreau wrote, when he returned to Walden Pond to see a path he'd worn years before kept bare by the feet of others. “How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity!”

And Henry David never had to battle bridge construction.

***

As I looked down at River Road from a new perspective, and I remembered that Thoreau passage, my memory took an off-ramp toward a little cloth-bound copy of Walden that I used to throw into my bag on road trips, because it weighed next to nothing and fit easily into a pocket, and made for good reading on airplanes in the days before e-readers or in-flight WiFi.

It reminded me to be patient.

For a while, I couldn’t get onto a plane without expecting to return to Walden Pond, usually the second chapter, where a man was rich in proportion to the number of things he could let alone, but especially where Thoreau annually carried off what the farm’s landscape yielded, “without a wheelbarrow.”

The application for me was to leave every place with something, hopefully having told whatever story I was there to tell, yes, but something more, not in my luggage, but in that same place where Thoreau smuggled away his harvest from the farm.

***

I flipped on the radio, having passed into Kentucky and through the tunnel, to learn that the Electoral College had confirmed the election of a new president, and that the bridge I’d just crossed had indeed opened successfully and will begin tolling soon.

Having completed my little detour, I got to thinking about how easy it is never to try new roads. Like the folks who followed the path Thoreau wore down, we get into our grooves and we go. 

We listen to the people we agree with. We shut out (or shout down) the people who don’t believe the way we do. We seek out those who validate what we believe rather than those who challenge it. We’re tired. And angry, many of us. And there are so many voices with so many agendas.

A columnist I've often read for a newspaper I’ve nearly revered recently wrote a column about why he wouldn’t even sit across a table from the President-Elect during a recent visit to his newspaper. I found myself frustrated with the whole operation. If, as a writer, that’s the message you give your readers, then the only ones you'll ever reach are the people who only feel as you do. Your influence will be forever limited to those who already believe as you. Perhaps that group will grow or decline, but it will not be because of your words. You have lost everyone else. Your back has been turned to them.

A great many of us have our backs turned to each other these days. It’s how a man who spent much of his life writing about building bridges to each other can refuse to cross one, even for the purpose of confronting the subject of his disapproval face-to-face.

The building of a new bridge in a new place, though, reminds me that we have to keep changing our vantage point. And perhaps now more than ever we need to examine the world from as many perspectives as we can.

Walt Whitman lived in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge construction. In his poem, “A Passage to India,” he wrote:

The earth to be spann’d, connected by network,
The races, neighbors, to marry and be given in marriage,
The oceans to be cross’d, the distant brought near,
The lands to be welded together. 

It just seems to me as a year draws to a close, and this new path opens, it’s a good time to stop and think about how we interact with each other and about the effect of all these voices upon us.

***

Words do matter. They helped build this new bridge.

Those of us old enough know how long it was in the "discussion" stages. When the Ford plant was first built and the first section of the Jefferson (now Gene Snyder) Freeway completed in 1969, they thought a span in Eastern Jefferson County was on the way. That was the year after I was born. Frankly, I'm surprised I was able to drive across it in my lifetime.

Actually, the first specific mention I could find of an East End bridge in Jefferson County in The Courier-Journal archives was in 1952, but even that referenced a wartime recommendation of an eastern span of the Ohio.

Whatever the case, there were a lot of words spilled on the way to that bridge, a lot of studies, a lot of political battles, a lot of newspaper clippings littering the route.


* * * 

I suppose my peaceful drive means the end of the peace for some folks along this route, and I hope they derive some benefit from all this beyond just more traffic hassles for themselves.

I won’t be diving this way to bother them too often. It’s not practical, nor, once the tolls begin, will it be cost-effective. I'll spare you the Walden-esque accounting.

Whatever the case, by the time I hit my driveway, the road rage was long gone. 

And, at least for a while, I could hear the sound of my own voice.

The voices coming at some of us are so loud -- and so many -- that the human tendency is to respond to them out of our own beliefs, and quickly. Unfortunately, this means many of us spend more time arguing than thinking.

Or, as Thoreau put it, "There are many fine things we cannot say if we have to shout.” If Henry were writing today, he might substitute "Tweet" for "shout," but either way, whether by volume or by vehicle, our communication is streamlined, often leaning toward the extremes to convey meaning, and to gain attention.

It's a real issue in my profession, and in the media in general. The way to the top is the "hot take," the provocative bite. There isn't much time for nuance or thought.

That, I think, is what Thoreau was getting at. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson, who taught Thoreau a thing or two, said, "To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

I don't know if getting out and crossing a new bridge, taking a new way to work or just stepping outside your door to walk will help you accomplish that.

But as evidenced even in this little piece, you never know where a new road, or a new bridge, might take you.

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