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Engineer's Notes from Afield

SUN SEP 22, 2013. Brooklyn Bridge, New York City, NY

A few years ago, my Mother called on a Sunday evening and asked if I would like to visit New York City and she had already bought my airline ticket and hotel and the flight departed Seattle that coming Wednesday. So, I said, "Yes! Of course."

I’ve wanted to do this for (30) years - walk over the Brooklyn Bridge.  Now that I am really here, it is hard to put my feelings into words.  The first impression I got was “The Ages Past.” I was feeling like Indiana Jones out exploring the world.  There were the cables, the feel of the massive stonework, and the steel framing with laced columns and all fashioned for a purpose by one of the Icons of my own profession, German immigrant, John Augustus Roebling.  

I walked the 1.3 miles over the Bridge with my Mother who is in her late 70’s and has an arthritic foot. I asked Mother if she thought she could make it. I received a cold stare and pursed lips and with steely German determination was told, “I’m walking over this bridge with my son!” 

So we walked along with half of Brooklyn, people speaking dozens of different languages, and a contingent from the Hasidic Jewish community. Along the way we met a Jamaican couple selling Gatorade and water. They kindly offered Mother a chair to rest.  We also passed an Italian man and woman taking wedding photos with the Bridge in the background.  An American Experience!  “E Pluribus Unum!”

To me, this place is a shrine to the Life’s Work of a Great Engineer, the vision of our Civil Engineering Profession, and the History of America.  As a fitting monument to civil engineering, whose vision is Service; this bridge is still used every day by thousands of people.

I stood at the first pier and looked up at the archway.  My little picture might give a hint of the scale of this place.  But it does not capture the immensity or grandeur. I image it would be like being at the Temple of Karnack in Egypt.

Arch at the Brooklyn Bridge, NYC 

Every civil engineer has heard about this bridge. And like everyone else I have seen movies and studied the design and construction.  Yet, nothing prepared me for the experience of being in this place. It may sound crazy, but I was in a state of Wonderment when I realized I was touching steel and stone that Roebling worked.  And I realized something.  This isn’t just a trip to take when you can.  This is a place we should take our young people in order to inspire them to become civil engineers.

At this beginning of 2017 Engineers' Week I encourage all those who dream of becoming a civil engineer to pretend to be Indiana Jones for a day and...

 get out and experience the world of engineering.

"You call him Dr. Jones, Lady!"

There is something about being out in the sun and feeling the stonework in a structure that has worked since before any of us were born. That something can't be found in books, given in a story, or seen in a documentary video. That something connects with the human soul! 

 In terms of neurological science, as I understand it, a strong experience creates an experiential memory which links our senses of touch, sound, smell, taste, and sight in a neural nexus. This creates an experiential base for higher mathematical concepts.  And for me, without that experiential base, the higher mathematical concepts are always missing something. And I have found that those types of memories have given me a something that makes my understanding of engineering transcend beyond mere mathematics and mechanics. And that makes civil engineering not a mere profession, and a way to earn a nice living, but, if you take a chance now and then, it's an adventure!    

We had a fantastic time and I enjoyed sharing this experience with the person who inspired me to become an engineer by waking me up at 4:30am to watch the Moon Landing - my Mother.

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Brooklyn Bridge. View from NYC.


Brooklyn Bridge. View of Cable stays.