Wednesday, July 29, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale XIV

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor


To improve is to change, to be perfect is to change often." -- Sir Winston Churchill

Rupert Zimmerman first laid eyes on Siberia through the window of a Boeing 747 400 bound for Osaka. He asked the flight attendant what he was looking at and she gave a sly smile: "We can send you there if you like... it's SIBERIA!" Snow covered ragged mountains passed beneath the plane. At first there was only wild beauty in black and white... then a little village would appear. Surely this was unconquerable country. Indeed this wilderness would prove to be the greatest challenge in building the Bering Strait Bridge.

Zimmerman, at a time most men would retire, still had the insatiable desire to build. A real estate developer, he had made his fortume in the lower 48 anticipating trends and building economically. When his daughter Elizabeth married Martin O'Malley, he found a man to match his mountains. O'Malley knew the difference between true economy and cheap. As most people in the industry turned out badly built product, Martin learned how to rethink building so that craftsmanship was still present. He partnered with an innovative Swede to pre-manufacture his houses. With no weather delays and craftsmen organized in one shop, Martin and Zimmerman delivered quality and value in a world that was starved for it.

Martin's background was civil engineering and now the two men turned their attention to a work of epic proportions. Zimmerman and Elizabeth produced beautiful renderings of what could be called nothing less than one of the great wonders of the world. Martin's calculations brought about the realization that the bridge was no more impossible than the Chunnel or the transcontinental railroad had been in their day. He studied the building of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-tunnel in Virginia. He'd essentally have to build two Bay Bridge-tunnels to link Siberia to Alaska.

The main reason England and France took so long to be physically connected was not possibility, but politics. Since the Norman Conquest the English Channel was seen as a deterrent to invasion. In World War II, the channel was an important barrier, far more non-negotiable than the Maginot Line. The Bering Stait had served as a similar divide between the world's two superpowers. In the end it was Elizabeth, assistant to her father, and not Martin or Rupert that bridged that barrier. Elizabeth deftly managed Zimmerman's meeting with the cash-starved Russians. Zimmerman simply wanted a right-of-way, Elizabeth saw the opportunity for more.

Taking quite a risk, Elizabeth suggested the creation of the Siberian Autonomous District, a self-governing entity to administer the Siberian approach road. Russia would receive a percentage of the profits from oil and development in the district, but Russia would not administer it. Realizing his daughter's brilliance, Zimmerman cut her a percentage that would ultimately make her richer than her father. One unusual trait Rupert possessed was the ability to be comfortable with people on his team who outperformed him. Indeed, he didn't consider himself all that brilliant. He would always ruminate on the wonder of having Martin and Elizabeth's dynamic energy at his service... and he loved them for it.

How many times he'd seen it. A man like Zimmerman would assemble a brilliant team, the venture would flourish. Then, the super-ego of the man in the big chair would say: "That salesman is making TOO MUCH MONEY!" Commissions would be cut, brilliant people would move on to reestablish themselves with a competitor. The brilliant venture would wither at the hands of its creator. Zimmerman always credited much of his success to knowing how to get out of the way. He'd once worked for a man who couldn't let go of his great work. The man had thrown himself into building his great work, neglecting his wife and daughters. He proclaimed himself too important to bother with the affairs of family. He ended up divorcing his wife and marrying his secretary!


(to be continued) [click to read]

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale XIII

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor



Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold I do a new thing, Now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert." Isaiah 43:18-19

When peace like a river attendeth my way..."

Kris' beautiful soprano voice carried the old hymn as it filled the little church on Big Diomede. The memorial service for Rupert Zimmerman had begun. After successfully building and operating the twin spans across the Diomedes that linked Siberia to Alaska, Zimmerman had embarked on a venture to build a more Southern crossing across St. Lawrence Island. Though the day of the groundbreaking dawned with a chill and an icy rain, the old man had insisted on turning the first spade of earth. He returned to Wales and took sick, never to leave his bed again. At ninety-three years of age, Rupert Zimmerman succumbed to pneumonia.

His wife Pat and daughter Elizabeth were by his side as he passed away, Elizabeth's husband Martin and the next generation of children came in and out of the room quietly, but constantly. The loner who had fought all odds to build what had never been built before now basked once more in the joy of family! Pat tried to keep him on a healthy diet to the very end but Kris sneaked in a big dish of macaroni and cheese anyway. The aroma carried Zimmerman back to memories of big dinners with extended family in the big white farmhouse in Virginia. His eyes closed for the last time after a grandchild had done something naughty in the room... prompting a scolding from her mother, while reminding Zimmerman of a similar incident of shared complicity with a favorite cousin! Pat saw through her tears, she thought, a smile... no, was it a mischievous grin?, then the old man was at last at peace.

Kris fought tears as she brought the hymn to a close. Her husband rose to give, or so everyone thought, the eulogy. Though his eyes were red, his face had a look of mischief upon it as he produced a letter. "We are here to remember Rupert Zimmerman, a man who always had to have the last word. Well, true to form, Mr. Zimmerman handed this to me a few days ago." Some people chuckled quietly. Greene continued: "Rupert Zimmerman's story is an unusual one, to be sure. No doubt he will go down in history for his foresight and perseverance in building one of the great wonders of the world. That, Mr. Zimmerman felt, would be a gross oversimplification."

Dear Friends, and those who would never call me friend, dare I say you who will never find it in your heart to forgive me,

I do not want to be enshrined as the hero I am not, nor do I wish to be simply reviled as the monster I indeed was. Please humor a dying man and listen to my story:"

Zimmerman began with a description of the day he and Martin O'Malley had camped on the mountain at Wales, having secured the capital and commitment necessary to build his great bridge. They'd brought a large quantity of Guinness along to toast their new venture. Staring across the Strait at midnight, they began to raise their glasses in salutes, both lofty and unprintable, to the great work they were about to embark on. They succeeded in getting terribly drunk and setting their tent on fire, destroying their provisions. Ashamed to drag themselves back into Nome early, they slept under the stars and ate the flora that they'd learned about in survival training. They'd concocted a story about getting very sick but Elizabeth knew her father and her husband too well to buy it. To her credit, she'd let them keep it.

Elizabeth was the Zimmerman's youngest daughter, but she was the one who was kindred spirit to her dad. Pat rolled her eyes thinking of how they'd conspired to bring ice cream into the house time after time during her girlhood. Rupert and Elizabeth had hiked some of the Appalachian Trail together and they had formed a bond that had carried well into their working life. Zimmerman had gone though a slew of assistants before bringing Elizabeth in saying: "Try this and see if you like it, if you do we'll make a job for you here." Elizabeth had the uncanny ability to read her father. She could call him on a questionable decision but knew him well enough to tolerate his seeming to follow rabbit trails. More than once she'd 'reconstructed' documents that he'd misplaced or simply forgotten rather than make a scene demanding them.

She and Martin had both put their foot down when Zimmerman had demanded the Big Diomede Ship Crossing Suspension Bridge not run over what he'd originally budgeted. Cost overruns were threatening to stop the project and investors were ready to bail, but the cheaper span resulted in a short suspension span that rose and fell rapidly, creating a 'blind hill' for drivers approaching the top of the arc. Zimmerman was never much for saying: "I can't afford it.", but his clear proclamation: "Bad bridge or no bridge." was something even Zimmerman's closest colleagues, his son-in-law and daughter couldn't argue with.


(to be continued) [click to read]

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale XII

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor


Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." -- John 14:1-3

The BSBS investigators swept the young Turk away. He had leapt from his cab after he jacknifed and took off running. A tunnel spotter saw him sprinting toward Big Diomede and tackled him to the pavement. He turned out to be no terrorist at all, but a man woefully out of his familiar world. Hitting a bit of slick pavement at a faulty tube seal, he had over-corrected for the slide as he was running a bit too fast over the 'hump.' Joe felt compassion for him, a young man who was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. He felt badly for the initial rage he had directed toward him.

Joe regretted his emotional outpourings long after he felt them... he seemed so often to fail as the solid personality he admired in others. Yet now the words of his old Pastor in Virginia came to mind... that doing something new and badly was far better than perfect repetition that advanced nothing. Joe may have loved those around him poorly, but at least he sought new heights in loving them. Could he have advanced some Divine design in doing so? He thought of Willa and Katie. He had indeed abandoned them to 'find himself' in the wilds of Siberia, yet the devotion he saw in their eyes on SKYPE testified to a different reality.

Joe handed off his rig to a relief driver who was flown to Big Diomede. They would fly Joe out when he requested, but he would have to make the call. Some guys would take a deep breath and get right back to driving after a wreck. Some needed to step away. Joe felt like he needed time and space. Kris' husband was the pastor of the litte church on Big Diomede and like Priscilla and Aquilla of old, they welcomed the old driver into their home and 'showed him a more excellent way.' Like Bilbo Baggins in the house of Elron, his countenance relaxed and he wore a mantle of peace.

The hollyhocks were blooming in Kris' garden now, and Joe spent hours in their colorful company. They were for Kris a connection to her Great-grandmother, planted from pods taken from her garden, but for the old trucker they took on a different meaning. He longed to snip a few discreetly and carry them to Willa. She'd accuse him of stealing them, like she did when he first brought her daffodils during their courtship. He found himself idly drawing their blossoms on a piece of printer paper. The little garden nurtured more than flowers. It seemed to nurture both contemplation and reconciliation. The old man had sought something staring out a windshield into the vast tundra. It found him in this tiny but well-nurtured plot of ground.


Slowly Joe's thoughts became clear again. He even scribbled in a notebook under the title "There and Back Again, " collecting his thoughts. But the line of the map had a sure direction now. Sitting in a bit of Virginia recreated on Big Diomede, his heart was drawn ever stronger to the REAL Virginia. He SKYPED Willa for hours now. They had wracked up huge phone bills during their courtship and now Joe feared he was wearing out his welcome on the parsonage computer. He felt bad about it, and left a 'donation' discreetly under the mouse-pad.

Still, it was Willa who had stood together with him through the good times and the bad. They had shared caring for Willa's aging parents and nurturing little Kate. Joe had made her little cards with illustrations of a little gardener. Together they had nurtured two children, weathered the failure of Joe's businesses and found new purpose looking into the deep blue eyes of their Granddaughter. They were, together, the kind of spirits that nourished those around them. Alone in the cab, Joe was but a man of thoughts, thoughts devoid of action.

Joe had to admit he'd been running. The big checks from Intercontinental Logistics were a poor substitute for what Willa needed now. 'Discovering' some colored pencils and deckle-edged paper in his room, he drew a little fellow with a watering can. A garden now flowed from Joe's hand. The flowers filled the page with their vivid forms. Opening the card, his eyes grew moist. "Dear Willa," the words flowed from Joe's hand. "Please forgive me." The wanderer was coming home.


(to be continued) [click to read]

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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale XI

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor


I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me, seemed insufficient for that day" -- Abraham Lincoln

What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly and walk humbly with thy God" -- Micah 6:8

Approaching Big Diomede, the BSB rises on suspension cables for another ship passage. On the old Eastbound span this suspension span was fairly short, resulting in the only blind descent in the whole system. Engineers calculate such features to save money and regret doing so for years afterward. Chris geared down as he climbed, but kept momentum. Surely the lead truck was on the island by now. Once clear of the big spans, convoy restrictions were eased. Chris and Joe bantered about a coffee stop and dinner when they hit the end of the safety restriction corridor.

Chris was caught up in elsewhere thoughts when he topped the rise. DAMN!, the fertilizer hopper appeared suddenly. The young driver must have jackknifed. His rig filled both of the lanes. No time to stop! all reaction. 'Joe, STOP ! BRAKES!!!,' Chris screamed into the phone as he slid out of control. Metal ground upon metal. What happened in seconds seemed like an eternity. As Chris' rig folded the two masses collided like pool balls, the ricochet sent the collected mass through the wall of the suspended tunnel, tumbling over the guardrail into the inky blackness of space.

FALLING! Falling into blackness! A blanket of blackness rushed up to meet him. Cold blackness!, a flash of light and then darkness! Funny, Chris had always dreaded drowning. He could work himself into a weird frame of mind and keep awake just by contemplating it. Now he was enveloped by the deepest darkness. But it was more like that of a womb, there was no gasping for breath, no swallowing of cold saltwater, but an eerie calm. Chris seemed to be floating effortlessly.

A light shined above him. Chris seemed to float toward it, upward. Light rippled as he remembered swimming under the surface as a child! in fact, wonderful sensations, suppressed in adolescence began to fill Chris' soul. There was that feeling, like the night before a wonderful anticipation of Christmas, where some wonderful expectation would soon come to be reality that one could hold in one’s hand!

Chris found himself lying on the bank of a small pool in a lovely woods. Light now filtered through the leaves of majestic oaks. It was a morning light, rich in it’s goldness. He could have rested there for hours, days even, he thought. There was no desire he felt compelled to fulfill. Chris pondered: "So this is what contentment feels like." Yes, he'd peered into the eyes of a few people who seemed to know the secret of this place. A lone figure moved silently toward Chris. Here was a man who made no sound as he walked. Here was a Man so lovely it did not seem odd to want to fall prostrate before him.

It seemed like a long time that Chris lay speechless in the soft grass. Then a hand touched Chris on the shoulder: a wounded hand, and then a voice, kind and gentle,, yet firm as a mountain said: "Come see what ‘I’m working on!"

Joe had ground his rig to a quick stop, painting black stripes on the pavement with his tires. He came to rest, his trailer awkwardly jackknifed across the now clear highway. A few pieces of wreckage lay about and there was a gaping hole in the side of the structure, the slab below Joe still oscillated from the force created by the impact. The tube's lights flickered and died as a conduit bent beyond its design limitations. A sea breeze rushed in through the wounded travelway's shredded wall. Joe quickly punched the in-cab button that would activate a warning system. Traffic would stop now. Soon the BSBS would arrive to secure the scene and perform their investigation.

Joe peered into the inky void in the wall of the tunnel. Chris was gone. There was the overwhelming rush of deepest sorrow. He lost track of the next minutes, but found himself being held by a man who had apparently driven up unseen. Joe always had a hard time letting go of those people he deeply loved, yet there was a profound feeling of peace. He sobbed unrestrained tears, wanting to get that out of the way before the tough BSBS team members arrived to investigate with their steely eyes and sabre mustaches, but inwardly he sensed a rejoicing; odd, but it seemed that this was not a blind hope, but a sure knowledge that Chris was in the hands of one who could finally answer his questions.

All the late-night arguments and coffee conversations seemed now to have been directed by an unseen hand. The investment of time was not wasted. The predawn light was splashing a bit of rose lightly over the grey sea. Gulls called to one another. Morning was waking at the end of the world.


(to be continued) [click to read]

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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale X

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor


Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind" -- Dr. Seuss

God's Exellency, his wisdom, his purity and love seemed to appear in everything; in the sun, moon and stars; in the clouds, and blue sky; in the grass, flowers, trees; in the water and all nature; which used greatly to fix my mind" -- Jonathan Edwards

Rupert Zimmerman sped his Porsche 911 Classic across the BSB in the soft light of the midnight sun. With Elizabeth and her husband off cutting the ribbon on a new school in Zambia, Zimmerman had dared to swing a 'road trip' to Big Diomede earlier the previous afternoon. Though he never attended the church he'd funded there, he looked forward to the intellectual sparring with Pastor Greene he might find in a dinner invitation. The lure of Kris' homemade cookies and the possibility of homemade macaroni and cheese (her mother's recipe), often sealed the deal. The man who could buy everything, save the love of a family, was drawn to the table by the trappings of that which those who are rich in money often miss. While around the word at many a poor table the laughter of children and the smells of familiar dishes mingled deliciously, men like Zimmerman were fed by personal chefs in a sterility that no spices could dissipate. Kris was starting to show and soon there'd be another life at their table. Zimmerman cherished these visits, knowing that the baby would probably mean an end to the leisure to visit.

Zimmerman had indeed been blesssed with homemade macaroni, and the conversation had gone deep into the night. "What do you think is your purpose in life?" Greene had asked. "To build that damn bridge!... Sorry Reverend!" was his lightning retort. Greene deftly turned the conversation: "Who gets the glory from that bridge?" Zimmerman had stepped too easily into the trap. "Damn..." If he said "I Do!" it would be an arrogant assertion of the surface truth. If he thought of all the unseen hands and inventiveness behind it, the "modest" answer, but indeed the truer one, he would swerve solidly into the realm of Divine Inspiration. Though he sternly resisted it, Zimmerman was beginning to believe in it. Inwardly he knew that it had taken far more than his own cunning to create a Bering Strait Bridge. Elizabeth's husband, the engineer, had as much as told him that nature itself had provided answers to the seemingly insurmountable challenges faced in actually building the bridge.

Martin O'Malley had once related to Zimmerman the story of R. G. LeTourneau, who's company had been awarded a contract to build a machine to lift airplanes by the government during the great war. No one had ever built such a machine before, and the engineers were stumped. Wednesday evening rolled around and LeTourneau announced to his stunned team that he was going to a prayer meeting. "But, sir,... We've got a deadline on this thing!" The great industrialist replied: "But I have a deadline with God." LeTourneau went to the prayer meeting. He sang praises and poured out his heart in earnest prayer. He said that walking back to his office from the prayer meeting, he 'saw' the design he was seeking for the machine clearly in his head!

He was trapped anyway, so Zimmerman recited the LeTourneau story for Pastor Greene. It was easier for him to state the obvious in third person anyway. But state it he did. It was the first time Greene had actually ever heard Zimmerman acknowledge God's hand. Surely it was a milestone for him of some sort. Zimmerman wondered aloud to the young Pastor how Letourneau or Martin O'Mally could pray almost as if conversing with the Divine?... was it possible for a hard, faithless man like Zimmerman to pray like that?

There was a man, I believe more heartless than you..." Greene began. "His name was John Newton and he traded in the souls of men..."

Newton's story, Greene concluded, could be summed up in the great hymn he had written:

Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound; That saved a wretch like me..."

Greene and Zimmerman, for the first time ever, prayed together. Intellectual discussion that leads nowhere was something Zimmerman never had time for. Kris had long since retired, but Zimmerman saw the supper dishes and offered to help Greene clean up. Greene tried to decline the offer but Zimmerman found himself barking as if to one of his bridge superintendents: "I'll load the dishwasher." If God's heart was seen in service, and Zimmerman had seen plenty of examples lately, the least he could do was return the favor.

The newer Eastbound span was closed for cleaning and maintenance work. The hazmat schedule was light that evening and security waved Zimmerman through even though it was a violation of protical for hazmat hours to let him through without permits. Once before a guard had stopped Zimmerman from doing the same thing... he'd entered hazmat blockout without his identification badge, and the guard turned him around. The man, realizing too late who he had denied access, feared for his job. Indeed was called into Zimmerman's office the next morning... where he received a raise and a promotion. That was in the early days when Zimmerman was not as well recognized. He suspected he'd been tagged by facial recognition software this time anyway, so he drove onto the bridge resolving to forget the matter. If, and he still had his doubts, God could indeed forgive a ruthless industrialist, the ruthless industrialist could surely extend the favor to one of his staff.

Driving up the suspended ship crossing of the old BSB leaving Big Diomede, something didn't feel right. Was it the relaxed security? Zimmerman's least favorite part of the span was the ship channel crossing on the old span. He and Martin had fought viciously over the length of the suspension span. Martin wanted a longer, more gradual rise but Zimmerman was seeing serious cost overruns and overrode his engineer to demand the shortest span allowable. That led to the notorious 'blind hump' that truckers cursed continually. The newer span had been built longer to correct the problem, but tonight traffic was diverted to the old bridge.

To compensate, a driver activated warning system had been installed to stop traffic if necessary. It had been tested but never actually deployed. Zimmerman's thoughts wandered to the potential killer he had unwittingly created... A blast of an air horn burst his ears... two 53' trailers were flying sidewise in his direction over the hump! They seemed captured in an eery waltz as they turned, scraping and sparks filled the tube! Zimmerman thought he saw the silhouette of a man running, but he might of imagined it. The warning lights came on! One of the drivers had been able to hit the in-cab button. Releasing from their death-dance, the two trucks exited through the wall of the tube with a loud crash! Zimmerman ground his brakes, bringing the 911 to a halt. A third trailer had jacknifed as well and blocked all the lanes.

The overhead lights flickered, then there was only darkness! The wind from the wound in the tube wall filled the bridge with a salty sea air. Zimmerman was transported by the smell to family beach trips where he was the avid sand castle builder. Once he'd jokingly dug a hole in the sand, added approach ramps and created the "Tunnel to France." They'd laughed. It was a ridiculous idea, but now, you could indeed drive to France... but what was the cost? Was this an act of terrorism thwarted?, or still in the making. Terrorists always struck when security became complacent, and Zimmerman's being on the span now was due to just such a lapse! The trucks piercing the wall had resulted in communications dropping out. Zimmerman tried to call his security office... silence!

With all of the BSB communications created as phone apps, there was no service. Zimmerman picked up his cell... he caught a faint signal from the phone tower in Wales. Unable to raise anyone on his staff, Zimmerman feared the worst. His bridge might just become his tomb! How thankful he was for his timely lesson in prayer! He was not afraid of dying, as he feared he would be in a situation like this. Still, a sense of unfinished business gnawed at him... not a great work to be built, or quest to be won, but a lady's heart. Tonight he had indeed tasted undeserved love... but he had known it once before, deep in his past. It would be a decent hour in Virginia he thought as he pushed the phone button to call Pat.


(to be continued) [click to read]

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