The Mackinac Bridge
Connecting Mackinaw City and St. Ignace, Michigan
“Hi. I’d like someone to drive me across.” The tollbooth operator doesn’t flinch. This sort of thing happens pretty often here. “Here” is the Mackinac Bridge, which turns fifty this year, and spans the divide between the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan. “This sort of thing” is drivers needing someone to drive them from shore to shore, a free service that the Mackinac Bridge Authority has offered for as long as anyone there can remember.
I pull over just past the tollbooth and wait for the Drivers’ Assistance Program to kick in. It’s a routine event for the staff, all of whom are on call to help. They have commercial vehicle licenses, so they can drive semis, and some have motorcycle endorsements to assist bikers.
A maintenance truck pulls up behind me, a husky man with a spectacular walrus moustache at the wheel. His passenger, Paul, becomes my driver, and the truck follows us to take Paul back afterward.
Paul has worked at the bridge for thirty years, and he’s seen all types make use of the program. “Oh, any Joe Lunchbox. There’s no profile—you get just as many men as you get women.” Mostly solo drivers? “No, lots of times, they have people in the vehicle, but they just feel like—they’d feel more secure if one of us drives ’em across.” When I ask for his best stories, he demurs. “A lot of nice people, honestly. Some of them are just terrified. You know, lay down in the backseat, say, ‘Let me know when we’re on the other side.’”
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