The three-mile bridge is open both ways, y’all. Can we just sit and ponder that for a moment? I guess we were so busy with heart givin’ and bead catching and ash markin’ that we let this big ole grand occasion go by without much fanfare.
But this is special, honey. Get out your clackers and blow horns and shake your groove thing in a little circle in the driveway, because we need to celebrate.
When I was a little girl, I thought that bridge just went on forever and ever and ever. It was the longest bridge in the world, I was certain. Do you know who else thinks it’s the longest bridge in the world? People from Pensacola who moved to Gulf Breeze. It ain’t but three miles, but don’t ask ‘em to cross it more than once every two weeks or you’re liable to see an episode.
I had a friend one time that moved from Pensacola to Gulf Breeze. Everyone was gathering around to say, “goodbye,” like she was headed out for the Oregon Trail. I said, “this is ridiculous, y’all; it’s not but three miles. We’ll still see you all the time.”
And we never saw her again. That’s a true story.
Did you know that the first bridge opened in 1931? Gulf Breeze wasn’t founded for another four years and didn’t become incorporated for another thirty after that. Now, more than 60,000 cars travel that bridge every day, all day long. I guess the saying, “if you build it they will come,” rings true.
That first bridge was named after Thomas A. Johnson, the Secretary of Florida’s State Road Department. We owe Mr. Johnson a round of applause for removing the toll that once existed. You know if he hadn’t done it, we’d be paying a nickel times sixty, one way.
The one built after that was named for Florida State Senator Philip D. Beall. It had no shoulders until 1987 and a guardrail shorter than your car. No wonder they threatened to send out the Wicked Witch’s flying monkeys if you ran out of gas.
We went from no shoulders to bike and walking paths. I mean, if you’re one of those people that just stand around looking for things to do, you can walk all the way over it and back across again. If you stop at one of the little covered stoppin’ places and wait long enough, you’ll see dolphins. I see ‘em all the time not far from The Bridge Bar in Gulf Breeze.
This new bridge is named in honor of U.S. Air Force General Daniel “Chappie” James. General James, a Pensacola native, was the very first African American four-star general in U.S. military history. Thank you for your service, General James. We’re proud to call you a Pensacolian.
Today, let’s be grateful for the General “Chappie” James bridge across Pensacola Bay. It’s caused a bunch of problems, but in and of itself is a big ole solution.
I, for one, am sure glad it’s open.