Sunday, April 25, 2010

Driving into the Lake: Fear of Falling into Lake Ponchartrain is Real

There's something about riding for more than a few minutes over a wide body of water that can scare you if you let it. While I'm not one of the people terrified to ride over water, I can attest that if you focus on how easy it would be to have an accident and fall in, you could unhinge yourself. People who live in the New Orleans Metropolitan area and have good reasons to go back and forth across Lake Pontchartrain may know what I mean.

North of the New Orleans-Metarie area are two growing areas, Mandeville-Covington and Slidell, La. If you're headed from New Orleans to Mandeville, most likely you'll go from Metarie over the Causeway Bridge, one of the longest bridges in the world. If you're headed to Slidell, it's more likely you'll go through New Orleans east and take the Twin Span Bridge. Both these bridges take you over our great Lake Pontchartrain, which is relatively shallow with the exception of a few holes estimated to be 80ft deep. Crossing the Causeway takes about 22 to 25 minutes, while crossing the Twin Span takes maybe five.

Everytime I hear of car accidents that send drivers into the lake (in the last week there have been two), I think of different relatives who dread the drive over Lake Pontchartrain. There's a story in my family about my grandmother waking up in a car that was crossing the lake and nearly losing her mind. The family was returning to the city from a vacation and apparently took a different route back than they had going while she was asleep in the backseat. She awakened, looked out the window and became terrified, cussing and yelling at the driver, "You had no right to put in the middle of all this water!"

I imagine my grandmother never liked the waters nearly encircling New Orleans. She grew up in Notasulga, Ala., not surrounded by water, and moved to the city after she married my grandfather, a Louisiana native. I don't think she had any kind of general fear of water, just fear of being in the middle of a large body of it. I do have a cousin, however, who used to wig out even driving across a canal.

The Amtrak train, the Crescent, which travels from New Orleans to New York City, takes passengers over the lake. When I was younger, I took the Crescent relatively often, going to visit friends. After I was married, I took the train from Virginia with my daughter, who was a toddler, and for the first time, perhaps because I was mother, I considered the terror of the train going off the tracks and plunging into the lake.

I shared this fear with my father, a World War II veteran and good swimmer, when he picked us up from the station. He was probably in his early sixties then, and was not rarely showed fear. He also used to travel on trains a lot when he was a young man working for the United States Post Office.

He laughed when I told him about the train possibly going off the track over Lake Pontchartrain. He said, "Well, if that happened, all you'd have to do is stand on top of the train car. The lake's probably only 12 feet deep around there."

Another drive that rattles some people is travel across the Bonnet Carré Spillway. If you live down here, you'd be wise to learn to swim and swim well.


Reggie said...

Not that long ago.....well 12 years ago; I used to live on Division Street in Metairie. I've driven over this span over Lake Pontchartrain at least a couple of times. The only times I wouldn't have driven over them were during a fog....when a lot of accidents happen or during a storm. Anyone foolish enough to even attempt to drive over it during those times is a damned fool. I feel sorry for those people that live on the north shore and have to travel to "Nawlins daily. I used to have a friend who had to make the trip daily........ouch!!!

Wouldn't have been me.

Can-Can said...

I was on a bridge similar to this just once - I belive it was somewhere in Norfolk, VA and it scared me to death. It's funny, my sister and other family members didn't like driving through the tunnel coming from the airport in Boston. We all have our fears.