July 20, 2010 by David Gillaspie
New York has it’s Brooklyn Bridge.
San Francisco has the Golden Gate.
North Bend has the North Bend Bridge.
Everyone coming home from their travels crosses a bridge somewhere, or they haven’t really gone anywhere. Once that bridge comes into view, you relax, you’re almost there.
Home for those on the Brooklyn Bridge means crossing the East River; in San Francisco it means crossing the San Francisco Bay.
In North Bend it means crossing Coos Bay. It doesn’t mean going to the town of Coos Bay, just crossing the water to North Bend.
For some, the North Bend Bridge is Conde B. McCullough Memorial Bridge, dedicated as such in 1947. Those people are tourists who might be convinced to call it the Coos Bay Bridge.
It is the North Bend Bridge to North Bend people, or those who grew up there and moved away but still think of themselves as locals.
The bridge is locked into memories of laying in the back of a pick-up truck driving through the span and watching the light blink between the girders. For others it’s the place where they first drove a car faster than they’ve ever moved. It is the beacon of comfort for those on the home stretch on Hwy 101.
Steve Prefontaine ran over the bridge and back on his way to Horsefall Beach and back. Generations of Bulldog wrestlers ran the bridge to show they belonged on the team.
Running the bridge wasn’t a problem. About a mile over and a mile back made for easy calculations. It was the early morning training run to the bridge that stirred up problems.
One rainy morning I took off with a group for a bridge run. From the high school, past the bowling alley, weaving through town, and finally up on the bridge, we hit a pace.
On the way back I lagged behind, feeling the internal heat and the rain mix on my face. It was a special moment until a policeman in his car pulled alongside and told me to stop.
Speeding ticket? Going the wrong way on a one way? Not stopping at a stop sign?
The officer questioned me about my reasons for being out in the rain, where I came from, where I was going. This was the same policeman who pulled over high school guys to talk to the girls in their car. His career in law enforcement didn’t last long, but he had me pulled over and he was on the job.
And he was serious.
I stood accused of chasing geese around a house across from the bowling alley and jumping in the back of a parked truck. Any town with geese in the city limits is the right town. Even now I live within ten minutes of a cow pasture in my town’s city limits, which means it’s only twenty minutes to view a cow in a field from downtown Portland.
That is special. From urban to rural in twenty minutes must be a record.
Officer Friendly ordered me into the back of his cruiser. I asked if he could follow me back to the high school so I could finish my run. Instead, I’m drenched in rain and sweat in the back of his car.
We pulled up in the lower parking lot and marched right into the old P.E. office to solve the Case of the Goose Chaser. The policeman was sure he had the right guy; a high school girl in the house identified me by name.
It didn’t look good. I was headed downtown if something important didn’t happen. I’d be in the pen until they made calls to my mom and dad.
Imagine how that would go:
“Yes, Mrs. Gillaspie, we have your son in jail for chasing geese. We need you to come down immediately.”
From past experience I knew she’d come down and try to club me like a harp seal. Then the old man would show up and smooth things over with the Chief and I’d have to explain how Mom got tossed in jail with me.
Luckily my teammates, the guys I ran with, were around to tell the policeman I was with them when the goose chasing crime occurred. All of our stories matched.
The truth does that.
It turned out that someone actually chased geese and jumped in the back of a truck like the report noted, someone the girl in the house liked. I got fingered because she knew me from a class and I knew the guy she liked.
That all came out later under Coach Abraham’s investigation, which was more thorough than the cruising police officer.
In the end I figured the officer knew I dated a great high school girl. I expected him to pull us over some Saturday night like he did others and hit on her. It never happened but since I seemed to run out of gas or have car problems on dates, he would have come in handy.
Dead car on a service road by the airport? Out of gas on a hillside? Broken down under the bridge? A policeman like the Goose Chase officer would have come in handy, even though my truck seemed to cure itself all the time.
Between the police, the Chevy truck, and the region, pick the region. If you grew up in the shadow of a beautiful bridge, the image never leaves you.
When everything else changes, it still takes you home.