Monday of destruction

I am a fan of disaster movies. There’s nothing I like better than huge, improbable explosions, and roads crumpling up behind a moving car, giant waves pictured rolling in through canyons of steel, giant alien spaceships – or the sun – burning up cities – in fact all the best in CGI’d total destruction.

Obviously, this is for the movies. Real life is usually not nearly as dramatic as CGI. (Though I could watch this video created of the explosive breach of Condit Dam forever.)

In real life, I would never do even do anything as brutal as destroy a watermelon with liquid nitrogen.

Waste of a watermelon, and also there are actually even cooler things you can do with liquid nitrogen: like throwing it into a swimming pool. (Incidentally, when Gollum fell into Mount Doom, he would have sunk.)

This, however, is just amazing: all it is, is series of videos in extreme slow motion of stuff being dropped, smashed, shot at, or otherwise destroyed.

But oddly enough, I don’t find this funny at all. There is a railway bridge in a US town called Durham, built over a hundred years ago, that stands 11 feet 8 inches high above the road.

Many US trucks are 12 feet high. They can’t go under the bridge. The rail company that owns the bridge won’t shut down a busy line for months to raise the bridge – they put warning sides and a crash bar on the bridge. (Yellow lights flash if the approaching vehicle is too high.)

The city can’t lower the road: a sewer runs under it. They put signs on the road approaching the bridge – both warning drivers that there’s an 11 foot 8 bridge ahead and setting the speed limit to 25 miles an hour – and hope for the best.

On average at least one truck crashes into the bridge every month and a man whose office window faces the bridge has started recording the crashes on video.

I’m not that sympathetic to the drivers – one reason there are so many crashes is apparently the presumption that it’s OK to speed down this road: Pam Spaulding writes in the Durham News:

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard the now-familiar “BOOM” of metal scraping metal as the trucks speed down Gregson (usually at a rate of speed that causes crossing pedestrians to jump back onto the curb), and slam into the bridge, getting trapped. Usually this results in the top of the truck peeling back like a sardine can. More than a few employees have collected the interesting twisted pieces of metal and hung it on their walls as, well, “found art.”

I’ve actually only seen the box car carnage occur a couple of times, but I can clearly hear them from my office since my office window faces the bridge. The last crash that I recall was a few months ago while I was getting a cup of tea at Alivia’s on Main, which also faces the bridge, and we heard the familiar “BOOM!” Regulars nonchalantly turned around and kept talking.

But while the videos of the box truck disasters provide some laughs, there’s a serious issue of all drivers speeding down Gregson. Many drivers run red lights, but heaven help it if the light is green: then they don’t even bother to slow down as they barrel toward the crosswalks.

The problem – judging by the video evidence – is mostly with self-drive trucks and moving vans whose drivers are not used to thinking about how high their vehicle is, and who often have their attention primarily on the GPS telling them which way to go. (You could ask why the GPS doesn’t let them know about the height of the bridge.) Someone on Gizmodo suggested a light plastic sign that drivers actually hit that would do them no damage and warn them about the bridge, but there’s a crossroads just before the bridge and plenty of lorries make a perfectly legal right or left turn to make deliveries.

One local blogger actually followed one truck for quite a way hoping to catch in real life the moment when the bridge peels the top off the truck. (They didn’t.)

Maybe the solution is a huge sign at the crossroads warning drivers this is their last chance – turn right or left or your vehicle goes topless. I don’t like real life destruction.

But I wish I’d had science teachers like this at school:

Update, Tuesday 30th October

It may be hard for North American and Carribean readers to believe: but at the time I compiled this post on Sunday night, I wasn’t thinking at all about Hurricane Sandy. I was thinking of a purely metaphorical Monday of destruction, not the actual one that many of you on the US east coast would have had to live through. I hope you’re all okay.

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