So, here I am, back in Entwistle. It’s amazing how little my hometown has changed in the year that I was in Japan. I already find myself slipping back into old habits. I can pick up right where I left off. The only thing is I really didn’t leave off at a good part. I was living in my parents’ basement making slightly more than minimum wage. I mean, I left because it wasn’t a good part. And now I’m back and very little has changed. Well, there has been one significant change.
There is an old highway that connects Entwistle to its neighbouring village of Evansburg. Highway 16A. Way back in the old days – 50 years ago or so – it was the official Yellowhead Highway 16. But then, a new one was built and it was left in place as it had become an artery of sorts between Entwistle and Evansburg. The locals know it as “the river road” as it dips down rather close to the Pembina River. Crossing the Pembina River was an old one-lane bridge. Have you ever had the honour of driving across a one-land bridge? It works like this. As you come up to it, you slow down. If you see a car heading your way, you stop and wait for it to go by. Once it’s gone, you sail across. If it’s already clear, then feel free to charge across. This was a cause of great inconvenience to many of the locals. Many people in Entwistle and Evansburg often complained about the number of car accidents that such an arrangement caused. Ever since I was a child, one of the grand urban legends was the Alberta Transportation would tear down that decrepit old one-land bridge and replace with a nice, new two-lane bridge. Yes sir, it was a collective wish of the twin communities.
When I was in Japan, that wish finally came true.
My parents informed me of this back in August, after I had been in Kumagaya for roughly one month. Alberta Transportation, or whoever the Klein Government has sold them to, took out a full page ad in the local papers to inform people of the impending highway closure. The plan was to build the new, two-lane bridge right next to the old one, open up the new bridge, then tear down the old one. It couldn’t have been a simpler plan. It opened up to the public shortly after I returned to Entwistle.
And you should see this new bridge! Two lanes of new blacktop sailing high over the bed of the Pembina. Shiny new aluminium guardrails. A pedestrian lane. A handsome silhouette of a person in a canoe moulded into the concrete pillar. The deck of the new bridge was as high as the top of the old bridge. The old bridge, you see, was made completely of steel I-beams, painted a bright green. The beams extended up from the sides of the bridge and even covered the top, providing a 3.5m clearance if I remember the old sign. Its single lane of weather treated plywood had a very distinctive brown colour to it.
Of course, this wasn’t the only construction work that was done. New aproach-ways for the new bridge had to be built. Dirt was trucked in. The riverbanks themselves were re-sculpted to accommodate the new roads. Pristine rocks were brought in to line the re-sculpted riverbanks. Grass had to be reseeded. Only now is the green starting to poke through the brown splotches. The whole affair looked like something you’d find out west.
(See, the Yellowhead highway was twinned in the late 80s, so new developments like this tended only to happen west of Entwistle.)
The old bridge has been slowly demolished over the past week. I tend to walk down everyday just to see what new developments there have been. It’s a short 1.5km hike, and a good excuse to get out of the house. I must admit, whenever I walk up to it, I am a little disconcerted at first. It just looks so…new. It’s like it’s been plucked from some other wilderness area and dropped into the middle of 16A. It looks like it doesn’t belong.
And that’s the way I’m starting to feel during some of my days back in Entwistle. It kind of feels like I’ve moved on, but the town hasn’t. I recently ran into a friend who observed that, now that I’m back from Japan, I walk differently. “What the hell does that mean?” I asked her. She says I project more confidence.
Even though Entwistle hasn’t changed, I’m starting to think that, maybe, I have. I lived overseas for a year, that’s got to change a person on some level. That could be why it feels so weird to be home and seeing that nothing else has changed.
Then why does the new bridge shock me so? Is it because that we all expect home to be one of the few constants in our lives? This town was pretty much the same the whole time I was growing up, so even in that aspect, a little change could be off-putting. The old-timers in this community tell me that the old bridge stood for 70 years. Things have to change after 70 years. The thing is I don’t think I’ll need 70 years to do it.
Be it ever so tiny, I think that maybe I have changed. And I like some of these changes. I’m starting to slip into old habits, so let’s stop doing them. I don’t want to pick up where I left off, so let’s start some place new. Let’s hop in the car, drive out of town across the new bridge, and only come back once in a while to visit the folks. The bottom line is: things are different. How much longer are they going to stay that way?