THE Bay Bridge across the Chesapeake Bay and the Channel...

salmagundi

June 08, 1994

THE Bay Bridge across the Chesapeake Bay and the Channel Tunnel, across the English Channel, have at least three things in common. Both are engineering marvels, both provide a fixed link between two regions that have not always been on the best of terms and both replace ferries -- the Claiborne-Annapolis and Matapeake-to-Sandy Point ferry in the case of the Bay Bridge and, 42 years later, the Dover-Calais ferries in the case of the "Chunnel."

And so both of these engineering marvels, one over water and one under it, cross frontiers that had been physical and psychological when the crossing was only possible by boat. Reducing the Eastern Shore-Western Shore trip to six or seven minutes and the Dover-Calais trip to 35 minutes takes much away from the psychological experience of the transition. We thought about this while reading Julian Barnes' article about the Chunnel in the June 6 New Yorker.

"Frontiers are . . . useful," Mr. Barnes, a British writer, said. "It is good to be reminded that over here is the place you are leaving, where you come from, while over there is the place you are going to, where you don't come from, and where things are done differently. It's one thing to know this, another to be made to feel it. There wasn't much to be enjoyed about border crossing in the old Eastern Europe, but one thing they always did well was make you feel alien. You do not come from here, the men in strange uniforms implied, and because of that we view you with suspicion . . ."

From all accounts, people on both sides of the Bay Bridge felt much that way in 1952, when the bridge wiped out the invisible border and made Maryland one state, indivisible.

The huge advantage the Bay Bridge has over the Chunnel is that from it you can see the bay stretching out north and south and the approaching Eastern Shore. It's still a thrilling ride, one that's strangely liberating eastbound. In the Chunnel, by contrast, you can see nothing. You can't even smoke. It's like a 35-minute elevator ride.

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