Most writers will go to great lengths to tell a good story. When paying tribute to the George Washington Bridge, author Michael Aaron Rockland went to great heights.
Rockland, a professor of American studies at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and a longtime contributor to New Jersey Monthly, has revised and expanded The George Washington Bridge: Poetry in Steel, a definitive history and cultural study of the span, originally published in 2008.
For his book, Rockland went deep into the Palisades rock anchorage below the New Jersey side of the bridge and all the way to the top of the 604-foot-tall steel tower on the New York side. Yes, you can get to the top by elevator, but Rockland, no daredevil, climbed to the peak on a barrel cable, strapped in a harness and accompanied by four Port Authority policemen. The wind-blown climb took 40 minutes and ended with a rude surprise I won’t reveal here.
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Looking back, Rockland is amazed he made the ascent. “Every time I drive over the bridge, I look up there and go, ‘Holy mackerel.’”
The climb is the literal high point of a narrative that is both personal and fact filled. Rockland describes the design, engineering and construction challenges that resulted in the 4,760-foot span. He walks the bridge and chats with fellow strollers and bicycle commuters. For the updated version, he adds, among other elements, a chapter on the 2013 Bridgegate affair and its aftermath.
The bridge has long been special to Rockland, who grew up in the Bronx and has spent most of his adult life in New Jersey. “I’ve always thought of it as my bridge,” he says. But, he adds, “I take special pride in the fact that the American flag flies from the Jersey tower.”