Less than twelve hours after the August 2 editions of the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press hit stands with banner headlines announcing the I-35W bridge collapse, fifteen copies found their way to eBay. The first fourteen were packaged in seven mint-condition (presumably, unread) sets—one each of the PiPress and Strib—and available for the "Buy it Now" price of $19.99 and free shipping. The auction listing included a photo of the two newspapers, as well as a soft portrait of blue poppies, with italicized text above that read, "Heartfelt wishes to all who have been negatively affected by this tragedy." The seller, medusasfineeye, has an impeccable feedback rating and only identifies as living in the United States (he or she did not respond to interview requests). The listing quickly drew comments from viewers, which were dutifully responded to:
Q: "Your (sic) a real piece of work. Trying to make money off a tragedy. You should be ashamed of yourself. What comes around goes around."
A: "Dear andysgraphixcom, Your (sic) opinion has been posted. Customer Service Department"
Q: "For Shame!!! you obviously need help. i hope you get what is coming to you
A: "Dear deputyhiro, Your opinion has been posted. Customer Service Department
Q: "You are sick. Period."
A: "Dear trickangle, Your opinion has been posted. Customer Service Department
Q: "I am from Burnsville MN and I think even selling these newspapers is wrong!!!! … You must have no pride as a minnesotian (sic) to have purchased so many papers and trying to get 20 bucks off of each one!!! How much are you trying to make on this tradegy!!! (sic)"
A: "Dear panda471, Your opinion is understandable and respected. Customer Service Department"
Q: "You are heartless. I am from MN and to see someone actually try and make money off this tradegy (sic)…. I am speechless. Open a Bible and pray to God that he forgives someone who would think only of himself during this time."
A: "Dear hermantown14, Your opinion is understandable and respected. Customer Service Department"
Q: "will you go a buck?"
A: "Hello Tomthetech, Sorry, we do not sell to Minnesotans. This service is for those who live out of state and desire what is being offered. You could fetch yourself a copy by going to the main offices in the Twin Cities. customer service department"
When the auction closed August 12, it had two successful bidders.
The second auction, for a single, pre-read Strib, made a less conspicuous debut at one dollar. The seller was Karen Smithberg, on behalf of her young daughter. They both live in northwest North Dakota and got the newspaper from a friend of Smithberg’s who lives in Savage, Minnesota, and brought it along when visiting the day after the collapse. Smithberg has a brother who works in downtown Minneapolis and family in southern Minnesota, and the friend figured she wanted to see, in print, how the local news handled the event.
After she and her daughter digested the news, they photographed the unfolded paper and listed it on eBay. "Rather than throw the paper away, (my daughter) figured there may be someone else out there with ties to (Minneapolis) who would want to have a copy of it to read themselves," Smithberg said in a recent email interview. "We started it at one dollar because we hoped that some other person who is missing ‘home’ would have the opportunity to have the paper."
"After all, we didn’t pay for it," she continued. "If it goes for much money, well, that would be a bonus for my daughter."
The Smithbergs’ auction, which drew no comments, was scheduled to close August 14. By the morning of August 13 the price was up to $2.25, plus $4 shipping. —BV
Gawkers, Geraldo, and Segways
While most of us gaped at television sets in the hours following the Interstate 35W bridge collapse, some Minnesotans took to the streets, determined to get a first-hand glimpse of the calamity while the dust was still in the air. For the neighborhoods near the bridge, the increased traffic—emergency vehicles, rescue workers, and in their immediate wake legions of reporters, recovery vehicles, and most of all gawkers—created a new series of challenges for residents and businesses trying to proceed with their day-to-day affairs. For residents, the real trick became finding a parking space and maneuvering though crowds roaming the streets freely, not to mention dealing with the tragedy looming right outside their bay windows. For some businesses, of course, there was money to be made … or not.
“We were offered money, but we declined that opportunity,” Lucy Minn said with a sigh. Minn works for Lupe Development Partners, the company that manages the Stone Arch Apartments, which sit in the shadow of the bridge, and some student housing at the corner of University Avenue and the 35W entrance ramp. Rumors flew that parking spots at the latter building cost $10,000 a space for television crews—the location offers the best views, hovering right over the north side of the bridge. Instead, the media was allowed to use the space—absolutely free—but had to leave in the morning so that Minn’s tenants could get in and out.
For residents of the Stone Arch Apartments, the situation initially made for logistical headaches. “Driving down Main Street to our parking was like driving down Judson Street during the Fair,” Minn said. Once the Stone Arch Bridge reopened, thousands of people began to show up, from six in the morning until well past midnight, to stare at the destruction downstream. People buzzed to get into the complex, ostensibly to see an apartment, but would use the restroom, grab some free water, then race back out to gawk. It was worse on the street. “People were everywhere,” Minn said. “They’d yell at you, and I’ve had people toss things at my car and shout out the ‘F-enheimer’ because I’m trying to park my car.”
Dale Eidun, of Frank Plumbing Sales, said that his company has had problems getting customers access to his shop. His big blue building is on the corner of Second Street and Eighth Avenue S.E. “After the bridge, our customers couldn’t get to us. They’d call and say ‘How do I get to you?’ For a while we had to tell ’em ‘You can’t!’” Before the collapse, Frank Plumbing was already doing a brisk business offering monthly student parking after the shop’s 5 p.m. closing. When the bridge fell, they opened the shop to the media hordes that descended on the area. “Geraldo [Rivera] even came here,” Eidun said. “He was getting all set up, but as soon as that mine in Utah caved in, he scooted out of here.”
A week after the disaster, business had for the most part returned to normal in the area surrounding the bridge. Parking was abundant during the day, and the gawkers had thinned out considerably, though a couple hundred people on the Stone Arch Bridge at 2:30 on a Tuesday afternoon certainly wasn’t the pre-collapse norm. The Magical History Tour, a Segway ride around the Minneapolis riverfront, hadn’t attracted many morbid curiosity seekers, either. “We are not emphasizing the bridge at all,” said Bill Neuenschwander, who owns the tour company. “Our business hasn’t changed at all since then—we had four cancellations the night it fell.” Local coffeeshops, convenience stores, the Guthrie Theatre—none noted any discernible impact on their business. Restaurant Alma, just a few blocks removed from the action, also reported business as usual. “Emotionally, it’s been difficult,” said James Harder, a manager at Alma. “We closed early Wednesday night, as soon as we heard the bridge had fallen. It seemed the right thing to do. But in terms of business since then, there really hasn’t been any difference.” —PS
In the aftermath of the Interstate 35W bridge collapse, commuters trying to reach downtown Minneapolis faced a number of detours and decisions. For a trip from the Victoria Street exit off Interstate 694 in Shoreview to the corner of Third Avenue and Third Street downtown, the Minnesota Department of Transportation offered three alternative routes. We took it upon ourselves to test all three.
1. At 7:40 a.m. on Wednesday, August 8, we hopped on 694 and were able to drive 65 mph in the “slow” lane. We raced down 35W to the University/Fourth Street exit, just before the site of the collapse. On the drive down Fourth to Central/Third Avenue, however, traffic came to a complete stop. A traffic officer guided us around Fourth and onto Central, but this took time. All in all, it took thirteen minutes to get from Shoreview to the Fourth Street exit, but twenty-one minutes to finish the trip into downtown. Total time: 34 minutes.
2. Same day, same starting and ending points: at 8:40 a.m. we took Mn/Dot’s recommended route, the Highway 280 to Interstate 94 West detour. There was a brief slowdown at University and 280, a slight bottleneck at 94, and we reached Third and Third at 9:04. Total time: 24 minutes.
3. The big surprise was the third option: 694 to 94 East, and then into downtown. We’d never in our lives driven so fast or encountered so little traffic on 694. Total time: 20 minutes (barely enough time to absorb the news on the radio).
Mn/Dot’s Kevin Barnard credits this lack of congestion to cooperation … and summer vacation. “When the University of Minnesota resumes classes it’ll take some time to get traffic patterns set,” he said. Nonetheless, Barnard admits he was impressed with the way commuters have taken it upon themselves to find alternate routes and avoid clogging any one route into downtown. “People have been patient,” he said. “They know it won’t be easy.” —PS