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A Bridge to Nowhere
“Freddy! Slow down!”
The ’59 Chrysler station wagon barreled inbound to the city of Pittsburgh on the Parkway West at breakneck speed, and no, thank you very little, Freddy was in no way, shape or form, slowing down.
He snapped repeated glances at Margo, cords standing out on his neck, as the muscles on his taut arms twitched and writhed. “Aw, c’mon Margo! I told you that going out with me would be like no other date you’ve ever been on.”
The wagon jostled over rough pavement, forcing Freddy to focus on the drive, such as it was, while Margo simply could not find a good grip on much of anything, which terrified her even more.
Whatever nonsense Freddy was spouting was ancillary as panic and terror overrode everything except for the fact that Freddy was hell-bent to mangle and kill them both in some horrific crash where her mom and dad would only be able to identify her by her teeth. “I said FUCKING SLOW DOWN!”
Freddy laughed, then dramatically stomped his foot on the gas and she felt the huge car surge, spiking that terror up just a little bit more as if that’s what she needed.
“You’re either in or you’re out, Margo.”
The station wagon was beginning to shake, but still that crazy-assed smile was plastered all over Freddy’s damned face and she wanted nothing more than to just stop this damned car and get the hell away from this lunatic. Far away—
“In? Or out? Which is it? Step up for your pony ride now before it’s too late.” He looked at her, eyes wide, teeth flashing in the night, V-neck tee shirt flapping in the late spring breeze, and Margo’s panic blazed.
“Watch the road—”
“Oh shuddup. I got it.” And yet, maybe he didn’t ‘have it,’ because the car was creeping slowly to the left until it was blustering along at over 70 mph mere inches from the dividing wall.
“Looks like you’re in, Margo. You’re in like Flynn.”
“You’re scaring me—”
“That’s the thrill, babe! Ain’t no thrill if you ain’t scared.”
The ponderous car crested Greentree Hill and Margo could have sworn the car went airborne. A tiny scream slipped out.
That just seemed to egg Freddy on as the car began the three-mile descent to the Fort Pitt Tunnels; a steep downgrade and all twisty and windy four-lane concrete, and as Margo wrestled to hold her skirt down (and hold her suddenly aching bladder), Freddy whipped past a cop car; their mouths opened in a comical ‘O.’
In a heartbeat, the car swung out into the left lane behind Freddy, lights and sirens blasting.
Freddy laughed again. “Can’t make this fucker go no faster, babe!”
“Stop the car, Fred! Stop it now. I want out.”
“No can do, babe. Looks like you’re in.”
The car took a sharp right turn at speed; Freddy nosing the car into the turn to cut down on fishtailing. The cop was right on their asses. “I hate bumper-riders!”
Freddy stomped on the brakes and the racing police car slammed into the butt-end of the wagon. The impact threw Margo forward so she bumped her noggin on the expansive dashboard, flapping skirt a distant memory.
Freddy steered the car out of a slide as the tailgating police car peeled off away from the bludgeoned rear end of the station wagon and turned straight into the retaining wall of the highway. Freddy whipped the station wagon back on the highway.
“Woo HOO! Now THAT was some fancy-assed driving!”
“I’m gonna barf.”
“Suck it up, babe, we got some more fun in the sun tonight!” Freddy’s eyes locked on a significant portion of exposed female thigh. “Nice wheels!”
The car shot out of the steep turn onto a straightaway that finally leveled out. The speedometer’s needle was quivering somewhere between 80 and 90; rattles and clanks clattered from the ruptured rear end of the wagon, while the front of the damned thing twitched and shook like the entire thing was going to fly apart.
“Freddy, please. We’ve got to stop.”
The car rocketed into the maw of the tunnel, headlights bouncing and playing over the tiled interior as the roar of the blustering 450 eight-cylinders of happy horses echoed back at them. It was utterly deafening, and Margo just knew this was her time. Freddy was going to kill them both and there wasn’t a damned thing she could do.
Her eyes roamed around the dark interior of the car (thankfully she managed to clamp off the disgusting barf) for some kind of weapon she could use to slug the fool with, but there was nothing she could see, and the car was jouncing around so much, there was no way she wanted another bout with that dashboard.
“Now ya wanna be hanging on there babe, cuz we got a tighty righty to be making just on the other side of the tunnel. If I screw it up, we’re taking an early swim in the river.”
Margo stared at him as if he were speaking Swahili or something. He threw another frenzied glance at her. “Hey! Snap to, doll. You hear me? Grab hold of something. End of the tunnel is coming up fast.”
And indeed it was, the gape of the other end growing larger by the eye-blink, and yet all she could think of to say was, “Which river?”
“If you miss the tighty-righty and we end up going for a moonlight swim, which river will we be swimming in?”
“What the fu—” The car burst out of the tunnel and Freddy began nosing right, nudging past other traffic, and suddenly the tighty-righty was THERE and Freddy battled the massive car and Margo felt herself being thrown over toward him, toward the maniac, and she scrabbled to clamp onto something.
The car lunged into the 90-degree turn with a hefty fishtail; the rear whacking off another retaining wall, but Freddy got it aligned and it blasted down a ramp onto Fort Duquesne Boulevard.
In the Year of Our Lord 1962, just before the nation was stunned at the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the City of Pittsburgh was in its industrial hey-day.
It was the Steel Capital of the World, and as the city grew and population expanded, the city’s infrastructure followed suit, leading to a surge in highways and byways and bridges.
Pittsburgh thrived, and its neighboring city — Allegheny — grew commensurately, sharing in the wealth by providing a home to the metropolis’ workforce.
The two cities were separated by a river. City planners on both sides felt a merger of the two would serve everyone’s best interest, and so work on a new bridge would begin, and after much haggling and ado, everyone agreed to name the bridge the Fort Duquesne Bridge, except…
Developers were unable to secure access rights for approach ramps, and the project sooner rather than later ran out of cash, leaving the project partially completed.
There were no northside access ramps or primary roadway continuation, and so the bridge just… ended. In mid-air, with the connecting point on the northside almost 200 feet away.
And so, the Bridge to Nowhere was born.
Fort Duquesne Boulevard bordered the north side of the city, running between the city proper and the Allegheny River; largely level and densely traveled, but on this night, Freddy found no other vehicular obstruction as he raced unerringly uptown.
Margo was huddled into a ball on the floor, her arms wrapped around her drawn-in knees, facing the maniacal Freddy whose head was hunched forward, jutting jaw, as if daring someone or something to get in his way. His eyes were slits that he turned to her as she sobbed. “What the hell ya doing, Margo? Get up in that seat. You’re gonna wanna be sitting your pretty self in that seat.”
“N — No.”
Freddy shrugged. “Suit yourself then. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.”
“Fuck you, Freddy.”
“I’m guessing you’re not liking this date?”
“Well, the best is yet to come, doll. You sit tight, this is gonna end with a bang!”
The car was reaching the upper end of Fort Duquesne Boulevard; speedometer still holding around 80 or so. Margo rested her head on her arms and silently said goodbye to her mom and dad.
“Hang on!” Freddy instructed, and the car immediately went into a hard left turn, the side of the wagon bounced off a guardrail before the car righted itself and churned forward. Margo looked up, saw the warning signs and her stomach clenched in terror.
“Freddy! What are you doing? Did you see the signs?”
“Screw the signs.”
“Tonight, my little bird, we fly!”
The car rocketed up onto the bridge pavement and Margo jumped into her seat and stared straight ahead, watching the wooden warning signs approaching with stunning speed; the car crashed through them, seeming to pick up speed and then there was no more road.
December 14, 1964
“In a moment of youthful recklessness, Frederick Williams and his companion Margo Wheeler displayed the sheer foolish short-sightedness of Pittsburgh city officials when Mr. Williams drove his car off the end of the partially-completed Fort Duquesne Bridge.
Miraculously, both were unhurt.
Mr. Williams’ car — a 1959 Chrysler station wagon, landed on the shore of the Allegheny upside down. It flew 190 feet.
What was Mr. Williams trying to accomplish with this potentially tragic stunt? Was he sending a message to Pittsburgh city officials to finally finish this absurdity-of-a-bridge?
Well, according to Mr. Williams, he was trying to give his companion in this stunt a once-in-a-lifetime dating experience that she would never forget.
It’s a pretty good bet that in that regard, Mr. Williams was successful.”
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