Goodbye Old Friend Harbor Bridge Parts 1 & 2


For some reason I always thought some thing DO indeed last forever. Sunrises on Padre Island, full moon over the steps near T-head while fishing in Corpus Christi, and the ever omnipresence of the harbor bridge. She (I have always called the bridge a she) but she & I have a lot in common. We were born about same time, 1959. My family lived spitting distance from her. No matter what angle, she would command your attention. No one cars about the big buildings on shoreline, they want to see the magnificence of the harbor bridge. As a kid, we sat under her arches, my late brother Tommy & me. Toss rocks into the channel, put piece of chicken on string, and watch the crabbies grab it, stupid crabbies, you would not get caught if you just let it go. We would catch fish from either side of the channel where the big boats would pass. Some fish we save for our cats, other fish we would save for family to eat. Some fish we just throw back, sometimes line get stuck on who knows what under water, and would have to cut it. The gentle lapping of water could easily lull one to sleep though. A certain peacefulness passes thru one as you sit underneath the bridge. Looking up, you realize that men built this many decades ago. We would check out the huge nuts & bolts at the base, you could touch them then, no fence, and there was nothing in poppa's toolbox that could even come close to turning that nut. We sometimes used nuts fort fishing weights, but nothing that size. What type of tool turned these? Did they put these in first with steel beams, then pour concrete and put the light bulbs up, how did they do it? to a kid, we simply marveled at the sheer ingenuity of it. Wow! We didn't have to wait and cross on a ferry to get to North Beach anymore.

Those pigeons in the rafters, why didn't they invite seagulls up there to live with them? Maybe the seagulls didn't want to share the shrimps they stole from out Chavez bait mart perhaps. You always felt a certain sense of security under her, sort of like a momma's hug, you simply felt safe under there, even though is thousands of pounds of steel and cement. When we would sit on steps, L or T heads, or even at Cole Park, if we saw a ship coming in, you know the drill, jump in car and drive over to our friend and watch the ship come thru. Sometimes sailors from countries I could not find on a map as a kid waved at us. Sometimes deathly silence as the tug boat moved under the bridge, may with a small tug, maybe without. A few times ships hit her underneath, we watched a Norwegian tanker scrape under bridge many years ago, lost a antenna, not sure if there was damage to bridge or not, but wow, fascinating nonetheless whatever your age.

When she was opened the year I was born, I can't tell you too much about that. In mid 1960s I can however tell you we used to fill up our Rambler station wagon and cruise all over place, I guess just out of boredom. With windows open my dad would go up from Corpus side, and at top of bridge, put the car in neutral, and coast down North Beach side, seeing how fast the wagon would go, my mom would go 'Oh Homer!' like she was scared, but I bet they had been over the bridge a number of times, I was too little to know. Or maybe momma was indeed scared of heights. And on top of the bridge, I could see someone scared of heights actually being scared, but you look out across the peaceful bay and to me, that would calm nerves.

As I got into my teens and started driving, some of us would race up from the south side, three in row, my 70 Javelin, Junior's 70 Chevy Impala, and Mondo's Pinto. If no traffic we could easily hit 80-100mph. Not Mondo's Pinto, that thing would not do 100 if you dropped it over rail of the bridge. But it had mag wheels so 'looked' fast. One night in late 70s Junior & me were coming back to city side in his 1970 blue Javelin & some drunk swerved into our lane and sideswiped his fender. So off we went following the truck who obviously was trying to get away. I kept a eye on him as we exited onto I-37, then up & over Crosstown, and guy exited of all places, Baldwin, of which Junior lived on Sarita 3 blocks away! A Corpus Christi Police officer was crusing on feeder and I yelled out to him as Junior pulled near him 'that guy just hit our car!' Well, was not 'our car' but cop turned on lights, sped up and pulled guy over on feeder just past Baldwin. Guy was drunk. Junior's car was smoking, so overheated. But ok, he ended up getting it fixed from drunk's insurance, and I do not remember how far that chase was.

Going back to her though, I can remember first time I walked over the bridge. There was noting between you and ground except 3 rails. Your hand would get really dirty too from holding the rail, didn't matter if you were going up, or down, what side, when cars and 18 wheelers past you, you better hold on. Not that it would blow you off bridge, but it would push you from the gust of wind, and there was usually gusts of wind on top up there, don't remember NOT having gusts of wind when I walked over her, hundreds of times. You could get at top and wave at people below, fishermen testing the channel for something better than catfish, gaff top and menhaden, they wave back at you. Sometimes I would stand up there simply to catch my breath, other times simply to admire the sheer beauty of the view. There was no USS Lexington just north beach, and downtown one side, other side the bland industrial complex. But it was beautiful, day or night.

I don't want to really talk about the time I climbed up to the very, very top. Then there was no little fences or barbed wire or anything, just hand rail and up you go. And keep on going. At night the what I believe were mercury vapor lights guide you a point. But as a failed relationship with a girl took it's toll, I decided to climb it. And threatened to jump. I didn't really want to jump, just wanted attention. And got it. Up there you were truly touching the hand of God. And God took me by the hand and led me safely down. Well, that and a damned bullhorn CCPD had, but He got me down, CCPD arrested me, took me to jail, got out day later. Was not crazy just stupid.

As a teen my late brother Tommy & me were driving over to north beach. I had worked at Spanish Kitchen (in 70s only the print ads called it 'Colonel Larry Platt's' Spanish Kitchen, no one else did) but was headed over to I believe a shift he was giving me a ride, and his 67 Chevrolet Bel Aire had rust around back window. And if you ever have driven over harbor bridge with windows down, it is gusty! If you have not, shame on you, do it now. Twice. Anyways, a gust of wind hit car and blew out Tommy's back glass, I still remember seeing while glass fly out as rust cracked, and being tempered glass, it blew into a zillion pieces on the bridge, and cars farther back started slowing and swerving! So Tommy punched it, and hauled ass down north beach side and we hid in case someone came looking for us. Granted all they would have to look for is white 4 door Bel Air no back glass, but we backed into driveway where I had once lived, and car was face out, no one came looking. This by the way was same car I ended up taking my prom date to W B Ray prom in as my 70 Javelin engine was shot, and the lady, Lorraine, had angelic home made dress on she tore in on spring sticking out of seat in Bel Air. So much for prom. He never did replace that back glass.

Photo #1 me & my late brother Tommy in 1967, we grew up you know not far from here. You could crawl down and pick up rocks to toss at crabs. Not near people fishing though.

Photo #2, ariel view in 1959, look closely there is the 'lift bridge' under or slightly in front of it! Was fun crossing that too unless you had to wait. Still, you go to see ships from faraway lands pass you by. For the record, none of them was filled with W. B. Ray girls ha ha

Photo #3 note old courthouse off to right which (to me Thank God) someone finally doing something with. Two ladies walk up to point it is roped off and only construction workers could go, in 1959

Photo #4 central sections of Harbor Bridge slowly coming together! Just like LEGOS parents step on in middle of night, this is a facinating photo.

Photo #5 different angle of the Harbor Bridge going up.

Photo #6 North Beach straight side of pillars being laid this is 1959. I wonder if the little motel below here survived. I can tell you from living thru it when I-37 built in our front yard, you rarely slept due to noise, and had to sweep house several times a day due to dust!

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Goodbye Old Friend Harbor Bridge Part 2

HARBOR BRIDGE PART 2 We would drive over always with windows open, and that old PORT OF CORPUS CHRISTI water jug with lights shining upward on it not so tall now. We are taller than you! Higher than the seagulls and pigeons perched on you looking back at us driving down towards town again. And just for fun. Get back on bottom, yes, he is taller again, but for a little bit, we were and our trusty Rambler wagon was too!

At Bayfest, or fishing off Emerald Cove pier, Cole Park Pier, or just sitting on steps fishing or enjoying the breeze or music from the polka people & Ritters dancing that weird stuff on the T Head, you would....find yourself glancing over shoulder at her. For no reason, but a reassuring calm nonetheless. She used to be lit up simply with those old mercury vapor street lights, nothing more. Sometime in her life, someone decided to add these bright orange lights to her, that was quite cool, not sure why, maybe a shipping thing. Later in old age someone added LED programmable lights, now that was quite nice, but to me, too little too late. That would be like me going back to Ray to get my diploma almost 1/2 century later. But still looked great those LED lights, especially red, white and blue and rainbow colors.

 I know only 3 words in Japanese "Shashin burijji o toru" of which I learned in 1970s. Was fishing on Cole Park pier (where fishing sucks unless you want diet of gafftop & hardheads) but we were used to seeing Japanese tourists, large lens cameras, beach shirts their countrymen had made that they probably had not bought at Benjamins, walk past us. See them coming up pier we would wait for them, all of us had crappy piggy perch on lines already, some already dead, but when they get close to us 'oh I got a hit!' 'hey me too!!' and we all reel in our fish at once, and watch the cameras snap photos ha ha, somewhere out there in Japan is old yellowed photos of Americans catching 5-7 fish all at once in Corpus Christi, hell, they never knew some already dead. But one time, one guy kept saying loudly "Shashin burijji o toru!!" "Shashin burijji o toru" and me not knowing what he said, just smiled as he pointed in distance to the harbor bridge. This was akin to me watching a Cantinflas movie, everyone who knows spanish laughing, me I am looking around. Did same thing at Cathedral when they had Latin mass though. I asked lady 'what is he saying, what is he pointing at?' she said in broken english "take picture bridge!' 'take picture bridge!' off they would go. The old bridge has seen millions of people from around world, with her prominence on skyline, sure, the tall bank buildings and hotels are nice but you can see that crap anywhere. You can't see my harbor bridge. And at least to me, that is what everyone wanted to take picture of, whether those tourists, or even locals like me on a little bay boat tour I believe name was something like Captain D, would dock at L head, then go out to near spoil island, then into harbor, something really special about being in channel, in water, under her and she smiles down on you. Wow!

When I moved to Houston momma was battling cancer. She was given 6 months to live in 1983, but God blessed us with 6 more years of life. Since they still lived at the old crappy ghetto on Doss & Antelope I could easily just come down 59, to I-37, exist Port & well, there. But my "secret way" not to be confused with my W. B. Ray 'secret crushes' was to come down 59, and in Refugio, (pronounced ree-furiee-oooo, just like Whataburger pronounced 'wharder-burger') but turn at the last stop light near big, beautiful white church in Refugio on on 774 East, go little bit down to 2678 South which turns to 136 South & go thru Bayside a sleepy community no one ever home, to 35 near Gregory & thru Portland. There in the distance she loomed. Day or night. She was there. I drove my 68 AMC AMX then, and many times, after a tough night at the nightclub in Houston, would finish up paperwork, and off I went knowing 3 hour drive. Would take bottled water with me to hang head out window and splash face with water to stay awake, worked great. When I would get to the causeway, I knew only a short distance to what was once my home. Few cars & trucks on road that time of morning, and there was a few times that it was only me going up north side. No one else, just the rumble of my big V8 engine. And as my dad had done decades earlier, would get to top...and put in neutral and coast down! From the top the west side was beautiful, looked like a city of strange planet the cracker units, orange & white lights in the refineries, ships, just looked great. In front of me was buildings I knew from my youth and childhood, Cathedral, La Retama, and others, even Sheraton. To the east, it was usually blacker than black, with a few sparking twinkling lights in distance like Ingleside & Naval Air Station. Sometimes the humidity play tricks on eyes and Ocean drive would sparkle as far as could see.

In the day if I came down I would not put car in neutral, but would fantasize my family would be standing near the big sign on I-37 where it has crosstown intersection. All you would have to do is look to SW towards the long Corpus Christi Police tower and well, was right behind it. You could also see Coca Cola company from up here. But no one was ever waiting for me, would exist Brownlee in front of police station, go up over hill, U turn at railroad tracks and well, am there. Still would get good welcome, just no one on top of hill. You know the old girl has been thru a lot of hurricanes too. Carla first tested her in 1961. She blew off Beaulah in 1967. She took Celia's mightiest punch in 1970 & held her own thru the onslaught. Bret was a big pussy in 1999, but she needed a good bath. Harvey she was ready for & stood her ground in 2017 while he moved up & destroyed everything in his Category 4 path. She also saw some lighter moments like snowfall in 2004 when CC got it's Christmas Eve Miracle. There have been car wrecks, tanker wrecks, but thru it all, she has stood silently in the grandness she is, witness to so much.

A sad irony here is her life will end so the harbor can bring in more foreign imports on bigger boats. And her replacement will probably be built with Chinese or Vietnamese steel, and Mexican concrete. I find that sad, since when was built, United States manpower & products used.

In one of the last real conversations I had with my late brother Tommy, we talked about the Cut, the new harbor bridge, and where we grew up corner of Doss & Antelope. I told him 'in our lifetime, we will get to see a new harbor bridge' he was not too enthused & mentioned the almost billion dollar price tag. He never got to see it though. The 'new bridge' I don't care much for design, and could give a rats ass whether it is longest, highest, anything in Texas. It will never be THE harbor bridge. She has paid her dues, welcomed people from around world to Corpus Christi for decades, kept those who drove across her safe, and to me, was Corpus Christi. Seriously, no one comes to Corpus Christi to take photos of a bank ha ha. Eh, maybe those Japanese folks who knows. But she gained my respect early on, this was America at it's best in 1956-59 building her. Maybe one day I will change mind about the 'new' bridge. It is just that after all this time together all will have left is a photograph as the song goes.

Cheers to the area around the new bridge in hoping Corpus Christi elected officials develop that area, which has a lot of potential. Look up city Center in Houston, they took a run down area including mall, and place is thriving with theaters, live music, lots of bars, restaurants, million dollar brown stones, condos, townhomes, apartments all in a small area. I plan to visit Corpus Christi again before she is gone, and just might walk over her one last time. And film it. If leg holds up, might do both sides......

Photo #1 shows Harbor Bridge center section fixing to come together, of course the lift bridge (Bascule Bridge as it was known) below still getting tons of traffic if you look closely. You had to drive thru North Beach, so businesses thrived.

Photo #2. Some photos need no explanation, this is like a dream, sadly, it will be nothing but a memory (and probably in many of my dreams!) eventually.

Photo #3. Time lapse photo of Harbor Bridge at night in 1960s. This is actually a postcard and sometimes found on ebay. It adorns my office wall in Houston. Every now and then get homesick, a quick glance at it...

Photo #4, this photo is from the Route 66 popular TV show that was filmed in Corpus Christi in ealry 1960s. Bridge was spanking new, no oil spill, no trucks exploding, just clean as hell. Of course I am old car guy so can stare at this photo for hours, naming just about every year and make on here.

Photo #5. The water tower, this also from Route 66 and is the water tower that as kids we used to taunt that we are bigger than it, going down the downtown side of the bridge. If you look at previous photo you can see exact location. It used to be pretty sea blue. And at one time, had sea creatures painted on it.

Photo #6. On top of the bridge in 1959, imagine looking straight down while working ships passing under you!

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