Oregon officially opened what I like to call its crown jewel of New Deal socialism, the Yaquina Bay Bridge in Newport, on Labor Day, 1936. Any 75th birthday is worth celebrating, but a 75th birthday of something iconic and still incredibly useful for Oregon is definitely worth celebrating in grand style.
I drive across the bridge at least a couple times a day, mostly on my way to Newport High School where I teach English and journalism. It wasn't too long after I began this commute three years ago that I formed a unique romance with the bridge, or Green Lady as I nicknamed her, and have since taken about a thousand photographs of the bridge, usually while driving across it at 40 miles an hour. There isn't even remotely a view this awesome driving across another bridge in all of Oregon. The McCullough Bridge in Coos Bay and the Astoria-Megler Bridge in Astoria come in a distant second for the chief reason that they don't offer the intimacy to the ocean the Yaquina Bay Bridge does. I swear sometimes when I'm steering the truck through the arch I feel like I'm riding a chariot up over the ocean, into the sky, and living one of the classic bridge metaphors (my favorite — water under the).
Since I moved to Newport, I have also come to appreciate the bridge's mastermind, Conde McCullough, for designing such an elegant feat of engineering. Really, after several thousand trips past the obelisks and under the green arch, with the ocean so close, I think I've had my entire aesthetic redefined.
For 75 years the Yaquina Bay Bridge has stood magnificently as a monument to excellence in architecture and how a partnership between state and federal government in the throes of an economic calamity can produce something practical, beautiful, and lasting. It is nothing less than an Oregon landmark and a powerful reminder how to build a great bridge. Is it too much to suggest that the engineers currently involved in the planning of the new I-5 bridge over the Columbia River be ordered to walk to the middle of the Yaquina Bay Bridge and stand there in silence for an hour? (They can take notes.)
Thus, I was in complete shock to learn, after making recent inquires to the Oregon Department of Transportation, the Oregon Coast History Center, the Newport Chamber of Commerce, and the Lincoln County Commissioners, that not a single large public event is yet in the works. And the birthday is four months away! Perhaps some local civic group or business has something cooking, but I haven't heard anything.
I made this discovery during my teaching unit about the bridge where I have my students walk across it, take photographs, and write up their best bridge poems and stories. On a lark, I had my seniors brainstorm ways to celebrate the bridge's big birthday. Here are some of the more interesting ideas they came up with:
- Fireworks, sparklers, tons of balloons
- Close bridge and let people walk across
- Float parade on the bridge
- Boat parade under the bridge
- Fly over with F-16s
- Family-appropriate party/ family-inappropriate party
- President Obama gives a speech about the merits of socialism
- Contest to see how many people can cram into an obelisk
- Historical reenactment of the original bridge opening with lots of vintage cars
- Marching bands
- Bicycle race with 75-year-olds as the only participants
- Bungee jumping off the bridge
- Fit as many people on the bridge as possible
- Seventy-five-foot-long cake
- Whole cast of Jersey Shore. Lil' Wayne can come too
- Disco ball hanging from the arch
- Mega fondue fountain with chocolate pouring from the arch into people's mouths
- Decorations, streamers, and confetti
- Cables enabling people to climb the arch
- Conde McCullough look-alike contest
- Poetry slam on the deck.
- A bonfire in the middle of the bridge
- Roller skating on the bridge
- A rave on the bridge
I think the last suggestion is my favorite — a free rock festival under the bridge's south approach (throw in the cake too). Just think of all the cool bands from around the state that would kill to perform there and play a historic part in the commemoration. Bridgestock is a long shot I know, but we have to do something to celebrate, even if it amounts to nothing more than closing the bridge for an hour and letting people walk across. I would sprint.