My cycling team put on a bike race on the campus of the U of M yesterday. The timing of this event was unfortunate since this particular part of the U of M is near the 35W bridge over the Mississippi River- click here for a map (the race course is highlighted in blue/purple).
So the race course turned out to be gawker central and volunteering for our race turned out to be a stressful exercise in crowd control. Gilby (a teammate of mine) has a good blog entry about trying to keep gawkers off the race course.
East River Road, the back stretch of the race course, is also one of 2 -3 access points on the east side of the river for "official vehicles" to get to the collapsed bridge site. Since the roads were blocked off for our race, it was weird to see the "Special Investigative Unit" and the "Dive Team" vehicles having to turn around - it felt a bit disrespectful, but they all seemed understanding and cooperative which was much appreciated.
The most surreal part of my day was when I actually did my race - (a) there were helicopters hovering overhead which made it difficult to hear and concentrate on anything but the collapsed bridge, (b) there were more spectators than usual but all of them were facing the river rather than the race course so I was constantly watching for oblivious people that were about to step in front of me as we traveled anywhere between 20 - 25 mph, (c) during my race, thoughts of disrespect floated through my head since there are still people trapped in their cars, and here I am racing my bike in full view of the collapsed bridge, and (d) I couldn't help but wonder why so many parents had brought their young children to view the collapsed bridge. I'm not a parent, so I'm not sure how I would handle that situation and I'm guessing it depends on the age of the child, but I can't help but think there will be plenty of 5 - 8 yr olds who will be scared to cross bridges in a car during the formative years of their lives. I'd love to hear from those of you who are parents - what age is appropriate for viewing the collapsed bridge and what explanation goes along with it?
There wasn't a shortage of photographers at this race, although most of them were not there for cycling photos. But the local cycling photographers were there as well, so if you go to the Skinnyski website and look for the headline "Campus Criterium Coverage", you can find photos of my race under the heading "Women's Open" - it will give you a feel for what the day was like (if you want to know).
I've always found that when tragic events occur, it feels like time should stand still - it always feels strange to just move on with your life as if nothing happened. But yesterday was just a reminder that "normal" life goes on, whether it feels like it should or not.
After the race, I was pulling down all of the caution tape we had used to try to keep people off the course. Three college-aged gawker guys were walking by and one of them asked me if he could have the caution tape. I pictured him using the caution tape for some frat party purpose, and I asked him if he was serious. He said "yes", so I gave it to him. As he was walking away I heard him say that he was going to try to Ebay it. It took me a few seconds to realize what he meant. I felt sick for giving it to him.
I think I understand people's need to see the bridge - after seeing it with my own eyes yesterday, it definitely makes the situation seem much more real. So I don't necessarily have a problem with the fact that there were so many people there to see the bridge yesterday - I'm sure everyone has their reason. But for every story the media has told about the community pulling together in this time of tragedy, I now have a conflicting story about the selfish assholes in our community who get pissed off at something as simple as asking them to stay on the sidewalk for their own safety. It was a bit disheartening.
I'd like to thank everyone who volunteered their time yesterday to help our team keep everyone (gawkers, respectful viewers, photographers, bike racers, assholes, etc.) safe. We were able to hold races from 8 am to 5 pm without a single incident which was no small task.
On a much lighter note, for my high school friends, I'd like to direct your attention to photo #48 in that set of Skinnyski photos - nevermind my ass, but note that I've finally grown some calf muscles (and you thought it wasn't possible). And no, I'm not doping.