A Really Sad but True Story

I wanted to get another photo of me and my hand hat in front of that bridge. As I rode up, a shirtless young man and a bikini-clad young woman climbed up from the river bank, where they had parked kayaks. One of them, Thomas, said he intended to jump off the bridge. I didn’t ask the girl’s name. She was my height, curved in the right places, barefoot, pale-skinned, freckled, dark-haired, with a pretty smile and friendly eyes, wearing a tiny black bikini. If you like ‘em like that, she was a beauty. She assured me she was not jumping.

This happens a lot in the spring and summer, especially around high school graduations, little groups of scantily dressed teenagers daring each other to jump. Any time I see them, I ride up and say, “Do you want to hear a really sad but true story?” This always gets their attention, and they all turn to listen. “This was 1974. I was 18 years old, here with a group of kids like you, just hanging out. Some of us started jumping off the bridge. I wanted to impress this girl, so I climbed up to the top.” I point to the top of the bridge, far above the railroad track below where the other guys were jumping. They are impressed. “I climb up there, balance myself, then dive. Not jump, dive, from right up there.” I pause long enough for them to register, you know, just how cool I was. While they are nodding and admiring the distance, I say, “By the time I got out of the water, climbed up the bank, and got back here, this girl was sitting in the back of my car making out with some guy named Herbert.” The girls always feel sorry for me, and a lot of the guys give the girls dirty looks, like, “that’s what you’re going to do to me, isn’t it?”

Now, the kid’s name wasn’t Herbert, but his actual name is equally nerdy. Unless, of course, your name is Herbert, then forget I mentioned it. Although I haven’t seen him in decades, Herbert likely would not appreciate being reminded of that day. I have seen the girl a few times over the years, and I always walk away feeling just a little grateful to Herbert.

After listening to the story, Thomas noticed a buzzing swarm of bees about 10 feet away, swirling low around the creosote-smeared railroad ties. He hesitated, more concerned about getting stung than by jumping 25 feet into water where he did not know the depth. Finally, he quickly scooted to the center of the bridge, past the bees, then stopped. Turning, he motioned for the girl to come. It took her longer to decide the bees were more afraid of her than she was of them, then she ran, in that comic, careful way girls run barefoot on closely spaced sticky railroad ties while wearing a bouncy little black bikini.

I watched them half a bridge away as Thomas tried to work up the nerve to jump. I figured that might take a while, so I got back on my bike and rode away.