Span saga is portrayed in verse
WEST ADDISON — When the Champlain Bridge closed on Oct. 16, 2009, Crown Point resident Jean Breed found herself among the legions of New Yorkers lining up at 4:30 a.m. for the For tTi Ferry, or driving 1,000 miles a week through Whitehall, N.Y., to get to her job at Goodrich Corp. in Vergennes.
She channeled some of her frustrations into writing — including letters to area newspapers and a cornucopia of poems summing up the angst of weary travelers and the economic strife suffered by local businesses after the key transportation link between Vermont and New York was snapped.
Breed began e-mailing her poems to some commuters, merchants, friends and officials planning a new Champlain Bridge. Her words soothed them, to the point where more than a few of them gave Breed some advice.
“They said, ‘You need to write our story,’” Breed, 66, recalled during a phone conversation on Tuesday.
So she did.
Breed on April 14 released her book, “The Loss of the Lake Champlain Bridge,” featuring 67 pages of poems, letters, news accounts, photos and her own impressions of the bridge’s closing, its impact on the communities it served, and the often frustrating but sometimes heartwarming experiences that followed the closure.
It is a book about a work still in progress; Breed hopes that history writes a happy ending with completion of a new bridge, tentatively scheduled to open on Oct. 9.
“We needed a keepsake to make sure we never forgot what happened,” Breed said of her book. “I never wanted to forget this.”
For those who lived through it, the first six months of the Champlain Bridge closure is sure to remain a vivid memory for a long time.
Closure of the span sent commuters scrambling to suddenly overwhelmed ferry systems or to detours around the lake. Meanwhile, businesses such as the No Bridge Restaurant, Pratt’s General Store, West Addison General Store (WAGS), Frenchman’s Restaurant and Sagan’s lost a lot of drive-by traffic and therefore thousands in revenues. Addison County employers, like Goodrich and Porter Medical Center, saw many of their workers put in a traveling bind.
“January was the worst,” Breed recalled of a period when the Fort Ti Ferry stopped operating, forcing her and many others to detour through Whitehall. “My commute took almost two hours (each way).”
It was a commute that Breed desperately needed to make during the winter of 2009-2010. That’s because she had to maintain her job at Goodrich in order to complete her 25 years to qualify for retirement. She had been making that almost daily trek across the bridge to Vergennes for 30 years, as Breed had previously worked for five years at Kennedy Brothers.
Things began looking up in February of 2009, when New York and Vermont set up a new ferry system near the site of the former bridge.
“We were crying,” Breed recalled of the travelers who queued up for the rides during those first few days. “We were so glad to have some semblance of order.”
One can see a change in the tone and outlook of Breed’s poems as the months lapse between bridge closure and start of construction of a new span:
“If only the bridge inspectors had done their jobs.
If only the bridge fund hadn’t been robbed.
If only the preparedness man had written his plan.
If they were just honest, we wouldn’t blow up that span.
While Lisa goes broke, George sleeps in his truck.
I don’t see any panel or committee set up.”
“THE TI FERRY”
“That long, long line of cars just about broke my heart.
All those people just trying to survive and that was the horrible part.
The winter was long and cold that year, the roads were icy and wet.
They were building a new ferry landing but it wasn’t ready yet.”
“Welcome to our valley; we’re glad that you could come.
We need some help to build a new bridge, and you can get that done.
We’ve been through hell and back again but now we have such hope.
Now you’ve come to make it better, to help us all cope.”
Breed has donated copies of her book to area libraries and has placed them at businesses such as the No Bridge Restaurant, WAGS, and Amy’s Hair Design in Vergennes.
It’s not a coincidence that these are some of the businesses that lost trade during the bridge closure.
“I wanted people to go into these places of business. They are such good people,” said Breed, who put together the book after she retired last April. Breed will also sign copies of her book for sale at the Bixby Library in Vergennes on Thursday, May 5, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
She’s already sent her second book — another collection of poems — to be published. She is now working on her third book, about her experiences as a newspaper delivery girl in Moriah, N.Y. People can log on to www.bloatedtoe.com to find out more about “The Loss of the Champlain Bridge.” The first printing was for 1,000 copies.
“Right now, I’m kind of wishing I had had more copies printed,” Breed said with a chuckle.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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