Heading south on 99, I thought back to a time when I got into the car for fun—no destination, no rush, the impact of traffic was insignificant. It was partly the spaciousness of the Arizona roads that enticed me—the gargantuan intersections that encouraged wide turns on fresh, black asphalt—the wastefulness of which now makes me shudder.
I couldn’t remember the last time I had even made it over to West Seattle for a cruise along Fauntleroy to Beach Drive with its stretch of colorful wood-sided homes and small span of dunes that recalls summers spent with my family in Redondo Beach.
Weaving through the Viaduct’s re-route, a Burton-esque journey from Belltown to the West Seattle Bridge, I realized how much I liked looking at its guts. Politics aside—or perhaps because of the past decade’s passionate, lurching debate—driving through the wreckage of this faltering dinosaur was worth the trip itself.
I thought of all the years that it stood silently mouldering before the Nisqually Quake, an effective albeit ugly passage between Shoreline and Burien. Ugly, that is, unless you were headed north on the upper deck, taking in sweeping views of the city and the Sound. The possibility of that unimpeded view is what has kept it around this long, though some might not admit it.
As my lane became the middle deck, the Viaduct seemed to personify a faltering relationship: outwardly functional with growing cracks in purposefully unexamined joints, waiting for a cataclysmic event to bring to light its overwhelming flaws.
Until confronting its failure was unavoidable, we distracted ourselves with its beautiful vistas, safely complaining about how it severed our waterfront from downtown, like a wife kvetching about her husband who never picks up his dirty clothes. Complaining is a safe habit, and we are nothing if not creatures of it. Like asking for a divorce—a serious move—we only sent out the guys with hard hats and measuring equipment when we were forced to.
Tossing a glance towards the water, I caught sight of the next section scheduled for demolition just past where the road now gently veers left, sloping down to First Avenue South with the guidance of orange barricades. Continuing straight is the road to nowhere. A few hundred of feet of Viaduct is all that remains after the wrecking ball: crumbling concrete skin broken open, jagged rebar skeleton exposed, wire cabling hanging out like overstretched tendons, altogether spent before it becomes invisible.
Still in its infancy, the new road rises again to give clearance to the train tracks below. A rich rusty copper patina wraps large pipes on the left while a series of skinny gray posts destined for an unforeseen purpose stand alertly to the right. Without a hint as to their final form, they reference structures of the past while allowing us to see inside whatever will stand in the future.
What will we have learned, I wondered: what will we jettison and what lessons will we carry forward from the Viaduct when it’s all gone? Like the analysis of any failed relationship, the investigation into its faults and the celebration its faltering beauty seems as important to note as its impending destruction.
Lately, similar thoughts have taken me from considering my tenure in the Pacific Northwest to the lamplit streets of Paris, where they are wise enough to build Metro tunnels instead of viaducts. It seems a non-sequitur until I reveal that I submitted an essay this week to Hugo House’s 2012 New Works competition whose theme is “The End of the Line.” My entry detailed a journey to Paris with my husband in 2005, which —in hindsight— I identify as the end of the line for our marriage.
I’ve spent the past few weeks walking the cobbled streets of the Rue Cler, drinking delicious yet inexpensive red wine, examining bones in the catacombs with my fingertips, tip-toeing through Père Lachaise Cemetery to visit Jim Morrison, eating coq au vin, browsing bookshelves at Shakespeare & Co.—and feeling it all unravel with every footstep.
Looking back, there were warning signs roiling under the skin of our outwardly functional relationship long before the earthquake in the spring of 2006. Those months before were a prelude to the pinpoint of failure—a moment impossible to ignore or recover from. Like the meeting of the Nisqually and the crumbling of the Viaduct, once Paris was behind us, there was only room for decisive forward movement—any triage would only delay the inevitable.
Both the Viaduct and we were destined to end eventually, no matter how many patch jobs one might have applied. In each case, the necessary dismantling was more the result of inherent flaws than a degradation of things designed for historic greatness—we were neither the pyramids nor the Pantheon.
Every time I return to that thought, I realize why I have never regretted my decisions to get married or divorced; it’s also why I don’t see those ten years as a waste of time. While most relationships don’t last forever, the brevity of their duration doesn’t indicate a diminished impact or significance on our lives.
Like the Viaduct, there’s beauty in our failed and flawed relationships, in both their functionality and obsolescence as much as their role in helping to make us who we are. While riding those roads we often found smooth stretches lit by sunsets and festooned with birds dipping in and out of ocean breezes before any road blocks appeared. But, with only a single route from north to south, we’d never veer off into side streets or discover our capacity for navigation by heading off course. The roads of our past must be demolished to make way for those of the future.
As we wait for them to appear, getting lost and discovering dead-ends helps us slow down and occasionally pause, discovering moments which I consider to be found time, not lost.