We drove down to the river, my father and I. It was muggy outside and there were people milling around, a couple of tents set up and some booths selling food. A group of people were sitting together playing Irish music. We started to walk down to the shore, only two bateaus had come in so far. As we go down to the river’s edge we saw some people from church sitting on the lawn waiting. My mother was on one of the bateaus, The Lady Slipper. They were late coming in and we had time to kill. As I sat there with my Dad, sharing my skittles with the women of my mother’s church I looked out over the river. There was a large bridge that crossed the river, but right next to that bridge, a little lower down were the remnants of an old bridge. It no longer went across but it was beautiful, just sitting there on either side of the river covered over in ivy.
I asked my Dad if there was a way to get up onto the old bridge, he told me where to go, and then said that I should be careful because the bridge has a bunch of rotting boards across it and there is the potential to fall through. I thought about it for a second. I would hate to fall through and be the person to ruin everyone’s evening by getting hurt or dying, but I would also hate to deny myself the experience of seeing this old bridge up close and personal. So I decided to go. There is something magical about manmade structures that have been reclaimed by the natural world. The bridge looked secure enough so carefully and slowly I walked out onto the bridge. The red rust cross beams contrasted the surrounding greenery nicely. There were a few holes in the wood floor, and it was certainly rotting, but overall it seemed pretty sound structurally.
I walked out to where the bridge fell away, just over the edge of the river and I sat down. I must have sat there for over 2 hours. One by one the bateaus started to come in, they each had their different ways of announcing their arrival as they came around the river bend. A couple of them blew horns, one blew a conch shell, another fired a flare gun. I watched and in between boats I examined the bridge. I looked at the rusted nuts and bolts; I examined the pealing metal and green wood underneath. I marveled at the crossbeams up above me and I stared across at the matching ruins on the other side of the river and I wondered what the world looked like from that angle.
At one point I was joined by two ‘bubbas’. They walked up loudly smoking cigarettes and drinking beer. These guys were the epitome of the southern white trash stereotype, it was as if they fell straight out of a B movie. There was Bruce the loud joker, whose accent sounded like an imitation of itself, and there was his friend, I honestly don’t remember his name, but he had a more serious quality about him. At first he seemed to be less of a caricature than his loud friend, but then I saw the “white power” tattoo on his forearm and I realized that he too was a B movie character but instead of the drunk uneducated bubba, he was playing the part of the angry white supremacist.
Needless to say I did not feel entirely safe sitting with them on that quiet bridge, but I decided it would make more sense if I were to stay there and let them leave first. I did make sure to point out, when they asked if I was there alone, that my Dad was right down there by the side of river, not very far away at all. And when they asked my name, and upon hearing it exclaimed “Shireen! That’s a weird name.” I decided it would not be a good idea to tell them where it comes from (Iran). When Bruce remarked that it sounded like “Charlene and Irene mixed together” I said “Yes, it’s a combination of both those names.”
Eventually they decided to leave. My only regret is that I didn’t get their picture, but being up their alone I did not want to encourage them in any way. I know, I know, they probably didn’t mean any harm.
After my two new friends left I continued my river reverie until finally I could hear the voices of women in the distance. It was The lady Slipper. They came in singing Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz”.
And that was that, my James River Experience.
This is one of the Bateaus coming in to port