Friends, your humble correspondent isn't above reproach on such matters. I found that out all too much this weekend as I traveled south on Gregson Street, towards what I've called the "railroad tracks of doom."
But I can't put all the ethical blame on myself. I was framed, see? Set up for moral failing by the web site 11foot8.com, a Durhamite's compilation of all the many tall truck-meets-low-bridge moments that have happened over the years at the railroad crossing near Brightleaf Square.
You see, I visited the site this past Saturday morning to show the footage to family in town for the weekend. Moments later, we piled in the car to head to Southpoint.
Turning off of Englewood to head south on Gregson, I look in my rear-view mirror as a driver is wont to do. And what should I see but -- o moral crucible! -- a big ol' truck hauling a massive shed on its flatbed. A truck and load that needed both lanes of Gregson to slog its cargo down the street at 5 mph.
I could see the hilarious disaster impending a mile down the road. And I? I succumbed to temptation, the fruit of schoolboy humor.
I pulled over around Knox, set my hazard flashers, and waved to the truck driver as he crawled past me, before I rejoined the travel lane.
For those who aren't familiar with it, 11foot8.com is the web site from Jürgen Henn that documents the unhappy run-ins (pun intended) between trucks and the Gregson St. bridge, after whose 140 inch clearance the web site is named.
The video compilations of the bridge collisions -- captured, it seems, by a video camera pointed out someone's Brightleaf Square office window -- have been seen 'round the world thanks to the Internet and its series of YouTubes, such as Henn's compilation, a version of which was featured on the popular web site Autoblog earlier this year.
On a rainy Saturday in Durham, that bridge was a highlight of conversation on a trip with aforementioned out-of-town family visiting Mrs. BCR and me in the Bull City. It came up once when we headed to Parker & Otis for breakfast, then again as we were driving along Main St., talking about the history of the city and its founding around the N.C. Railroad's trans-Carolina line.
When we got home, the tweener among visiting guests wanted to show off some YouTube videos of hilarious cat antics, something that inspired your correspondent to pull up 11foot8.com and its bridge collision videos.
Almost as soon as we finished chortling over others' misfortune (a bad sign, to be sure), we hit the road in my Accord to head down for some retail therapy.
That's when fate, and a large truck, intervened.
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Certain members of the party -- OK, just one, whose uxorial identity I've, er, promised to mask -- were horrified at my pull-over and wave-along action on Gregson St.
But from the reaction of the rest of my traveling companions (one of whom pulled out their cell phone to start grabbing video), I could see that my course of action was hitting the high ground of popularity, at least among those not in the demographic set of truck drivers and railroad executives.
So we creeped along at five miles per hour, watching the truck amble down Gregson, swerving its oversized load between lanes to avoid tree limbs and low-hanging utility lines.
At every intersection, my passengers and I mused aloud whether this would be the turnoff, the point at which some Trinity Parker would get their double-wide garden shed-cum-poolhouse delivered to their well-manicured back yard.
And at every intersection, when the truck's path continued down the straight-and-narrow towards the bridge, we let up a yeomanlike cheer, we happy four (joined by groans from a certain disgruntled better-half fifth.)
As we passed the Durham School of the Arts' athletic fields -- now at the head of a long column of cars stretching back blocks behind the tortoise-paced flatbed -- the curve of the road beckoned ahead, and the merely hypothetical seemed tantalizingly, and chillingly, possible: would the truck really not stop before its moment of certain overheight doom?
The fates were kind to this particular truck driver this morning, perhaps. He pulled off into a parking lot just south of Lamond, near Brightleaf Square.
Our car, like all the rest, took advantage of the opportunity to pass, though unlike our fellow autos, we pulled into the Brightleaf Square parking lot just north of Main St. to get a better view. (This, yet again, winning the support of 80% of the automobile when final election results were counted.)
As we looked back up Gregson, we saw the two truck occupants get out of their big old flatbed and walk around the curve to take a look up the street at the path ahead.
Surely they've figured it out, we thought. Surely they know their truck and load have more than eleven feet, eight inches of height to them.
A few minutes later, the truck peeks around the corner in slow motion. We wait with bated breath as it approaches Morgan St. and -- yes, YES! -- continues south, slowly, on Gregson.
It was at this moment when my moral compass started to feel twangs, like a giant magnet was waving over its face, causing my internal needle to wobble.
What if -- what if it didn't turn at Main St.? What if the drivers didn't see their impending doom? Had never seen the YouTube video, for goodness sake?
Among some of my passengers, it became a conversation point. Should we stop the car, run ahead and try to wave off the truck drivers before it was too late?
(The conversation was lost on those passengers who had their cell phones out once more, video cameras ready to roll. Hey, how much does America's Funniest Home Videos pay these days, anyway?)
As the debate raged, and as our car turned out behind the massive truck again, the flatbed heaved towards Main, and for a tantalizing, fitful second looked like it was forward-bound -- before its wheels turned achingly to the left, and the truck ambled down Main to ruin some other thoroughfare's day with its traffic-congesting crawl.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
One disaster avoided.
One set of very amused passengers, for whom the anticipation and laughter was well worth the traffic jam.
One really aggravated spouse.
Just another morning in the life of the Gregson St. railroad bridge, and the lives it touches. In so many small -- and in this blogger's case, maybe small-minded -- ways.
Somewhere in our Bull City, a homeowner is rejoicing in their new backyard shed, perhaps never knowing how close it came to a fateful, hair-raising, roof-raising (and crumbling) encounter with the Gregson St. bridge or its metal guillotine, installed ahead of the bridge to spare the rails from more structural impact.
But my passengers -- they'll know.
Perhaps the Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau should add the bridge as a tourist destination in Durham. Certainly for my out-of-town guests, the bridge was a curious choice for a high point of amusement over the fall weekend.
The moral of this morality play? The next time you're driving down Gregson, and you see an overheight truck barreling towards a dark end, ask yourself: What would Kevin do?
Then, do the opposite.