Thursday, January 07, 2016

Coronado Bridge

An old Sepia Saturday post here that I never published. But, in keeping with my New Year's resolution to write more, I'm going back through some 250 posts that didn't make my own editorial cuts and re-working them.

The beautiful Coronado Bridge, 2.1 miles in length, linking San Diego to Coronado Island, opened August 3rd, 1969. Why wasn't it designed to cross directly across the span; why does it curve like it does? To allow ships out of the nearby Naval Base to pass under it, there had to 61 meters of clearance under the bridge. The best design solution to achieve the required height was to build in the curve.  The first person to cross it after the official opening was Ronald Regan, then governor of the state.

Here's the bridge cloaked in our friendly San Diego fog. Coastal fog is our companion on many mornings but it quickly retreats giving way to sunny skies. Do I sound like the weather lady?

The bridge has inspired artists for decades. Here's a few examples:
Christopher Rooney 2011
Photo by Grant Pecoff
The bridge curving over the water with it's mission-inspired stanchions inspired great art, but wait, there's more! What happened under the bridge during and after it's construction is equally interesting. From wikipedia:

"The pillars supporting the bridge on the eastern end are painted with huge murals as part of Chicano Park, the largest collection of Chicano art murals in the world. This neighborhood park and mural display were created in response to a community uprising in 1970, which protested the negative effects of the bridge and Interstate 5 on the Barrio Logan community. Local artist Salvador Torres proposed using the bridge and freeway pillars as a giant canvas for Chicano art at a time when urban wall murals were rare in the United States, and he and many other artists created the murals when permission for the park was finally granted in 1973. " Chicano Park is home to the largest collection of outdoor murals in the country.

I live in San Diego County and have crossed the bridge many times, but I didn't know about Chicano Park until I wrote this blog. I can hardly wait to grab my camera and spend a couple of hours looking at these brilliant murals. My list of sights to see in my own backyard grows longer and longer.

Finally the sad part of the bridge's history: Like many iconic bridges around the world, Coronado bridge has been the scene of suicides; in fact, it's considered the country's third most "deadly" bridge. The first is the Golden Gate in San Francisco; the second Aurora Bridge in Seattle; and then comes the Coronado.  The first suicide on the bridge occurred three years after it opened and the sad event turned out not to be a suicide but a suicide at gunpoint

"After conferring with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, San Diego police determined the deceased was Jewell P. Hutchings, 52, and charged her husband, James Albert Hutchings, with murder. From their Cerritos home, the couple had driven to the bridge, where Hutchings threatened to shoot his wife unless she jumped. Their daughter and daughter's friend watched from the car, according to criminal records at San Diego Superior Court. Hutchings first told police his wife wanted to kill herself, but he later pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. He was convicted of that charge, incarcerated a few years, and then released on probation in 1974. The court's records end in 1976 with Hutchings's violation of probation resulting in more prison time.

The Hutchings case may be the only murder on the Coronado bridge. With the exception of one man in 1992, the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office has identified all 202 people known to have committed suicide there. Each year the number varies: from none in 1985 to 16 in 1980. About 25 percent of the victims are women -- a breakdown that roughly approximates national statistics for suicide. Most people drive on the bridge, but some walk.

"As with other suicides, there's no common thread for bridge-jumping," said Lt. James E. Barker, commanding officer of the San Diego Police Department's emergency negotiations team, which, in its role of diffusing crises, has talked some people out of leaping. "We used to think it was during the holiday season, but during the last few years, we've had zero activity during the holiday. You can't say it's young versus old, successful people versus unsuccessful people, educated people versus uneducated people. It covers the whole spectrum."

I wrote myself into a box here...ending with such a downer I didn't have the heart to send it to Sepia Saturday. Suicide by gunpoint - such a happy family outing!

By way of antidote, here's an anti-suicide piece if there ever was one:

The morning after I committed suicide

The morning after I committed suicide, I felt the body awaken to a thousand vibrations. It left behind the many, many yesterdays in favour of a lifetime of naturalness. The ugly scars and bumps faded away with the mental clarity that ensued. The body felt at ease again, as if there were many, many tomorrows to come.

The morning after I committed suicide, I saw the mind take form in front of my eyes. I witnessed the despair melt, the hopelessness die, and the loneliness leave. Fear, which it had known so well, fell into a bottomless abyss... gone forever. What remained was a shapeless, nebulous mush with which I could have created beauty, wonder and belief.

The morning after I committed suicide, I rose at the touch of my mother's cold hands. The body, which had previously felt so empowered, became still. There were no tears, no cries...she looked into the coffin for a sign of life, yet refusing to see my face that would tell her otherwise.

The morning after I committed suicide, I watched my father from outside the window of our home. He sat alone, looking into the distance, with a cup of coffee on the table. Tears dropped into the mug, making the coffee bitter, but I don't think he cared. The man of the house, as my mother called him, was shivering on a hot summer day.

The morning after I committed suicide, I found my brother sitting on a tree in the garden. He was holding a piece of paper. It was an essay on his role model in life – me. 'Coming back home from school is fun because I know my sister will be around'. He is now an angry young man. He tore the paper up and threw it away.

The morning after I committed suicide, I wished I could tell my family how much I loved them, and how sorry I was for letting them down. I wished I could tell myself that flowers still bloom after a storm.

The morning after I committed suicide, I wished that I had lived.

1 comment:

  1. I love that bridge. It's beautiful. And I love the little town there. Time for a visit once the weather warms up a bit.Definitely going to have to check out Chicano Park.