Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day

When the weather is warm and the sun bright, we all love three-day holiday weekends that are marked by the tastes of cold beer and grill-burnt hot dogs. Memorial Day, the fourth Monday of every May, is know for producing such weekends and is often thought of as the unofficial start of summer.

However, we should always remember the reason we don't have to go into the office today, for it is a sacred reason that has nothing to do with beer and franks. With that in mind, it is worth reflecting on these words that were spoken at Arlington National Cemetery 30 years ago:

It is, in a way, an odd thing to honor those who died in defense of our country, in defense of us, in wars far away. The imagination plays a trick. We see these soldiers in our mind as old and wise. We see them as something like the Founding Fathers, grave and gray haired. But most of them were boys when they died, and they gave up two lives -- the one they were living and the one they would have lived. When they died, they gave up their chance to be husbands and fathers and grandfathers. They gave up their chance to be revered old men. They gave up everything for our country, for us. And all we can do is remember...

There is always someone who is remembering for us. No matter what time of year it is or what time of day, there are always people who come to this cemetery, leave a flag or a flower or a little rock on a headstone. And they stop and bow their heads and communicate what they wished to communicate...It's not so hard to summon memory, but it's hard to recapture meaning...

We're surrounded today by the dead of our wars. We owe them a debt we can never repay. All we can do is remember them and what they did and why they had to be brave for us. All we can do is try to see that other young men never have to join them. Today, as never before, we must pledge to remember the things that will continue the peace. Today, as never before, we must pray for God's help in broadening and deepening the peace we enjoy. Let us pray for freedom and justice and a more stable world. And let us make a compact today with the dead, a promise in the words for which General Ridgeway listened, "I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee."

In memory of those who gave the last full measure of devotion, may our efforts to achieve lasting peace gain strength.

  Ronald Reagan, 1985

Friday, May 22, 2015

Interim Puck Talk

Though I intended not to publish another hockey post until after the conference finals are over, I am finding myself unwilling to wait, so here goes:

How's this for a strange fact? Three of the four teams in the conference finals have no Russians on their roster.

The starting goaltenders for the four finalists hail from four different countries:  Henrik Lundqvist from Sweden, Ben Bishop from the United States, Corey Crawford from Canada, and Frederik Andersen from Denmark.

Speaking of the goalies, I like that Andersen's mask pays homage to his country's most famous export by showing images of Legos. However, I don't see how anyone can deny that Bishop's mask, complete with glow in the dark lightning bolts, is the coolest of the four starters.

Coaching prediction: Guy Boucher will once again be a head coach in the NHL when next season starts. He was reportedly contacted by the Maple Leafs before they secured Mike Babcock's services, and he is now reported to be in the running for the New Jersey job.

Coaching opinion: Since Buffalo lost the Mike Babcock sweepstakes, it seems like Ken Hitchcock would be an ideal choice to groom the Sabres' talented young roster into playoff contention. He would bring Stanley Cup credibility, but could Buffalo fans bring themselves to overlook the goal that gave him that credibility?

Speaking of the Mike Babcock sweepstakes, what can be made of them now that they are over? My initial reaction is: Not much that can be called good.

You gotta give Babcock credit for playing his hand well, but when you look back at how he played it, it's difficult to believe that he cared about anything other than money.

Immediately after his Red Wings were eliminated from the playoffs in the opening round (again!) he started lamenting that their best players are in their thirties, and that there are no suitable replacements for them on the roster or in the farm system... This fed the perception that all he cares about is winning championships; and thus, it led many and sundry to deduce that he wanted to leave Detroit so he could coach a team that gave him a better chance of winning another Stanley Cup... In turn, that perception led the many and sundry to speculate that Buffalo was the perfect place for Babcock to go because of its talented young roster, high upside, passionate yet reasonable fan base -- and because its deep-pocketed owner would not underpay for his services... Taking that speculation, and the fact that Babcock was known to have been contacted by both teams, and combining them with Toronto's lack of young prospects and its reputation for organizational dysfunction, the media reported that Babcock was about to sign with Buffalo as soon as a few minor wrinkles were ironed out... Babcock allowed those stories and rumors to circulate and used them to his advantage, getting Toronto, the deepest-pocketed team in the entire NHL, to offer a salary far beyond anything anyone has ever imagined -- a salary he was, of course, happy to "accept."

Today, Mike Babcock, with all of one Stanley Cup (seven years ago) to his name, is under contract for $6.25 million per year. The next highest-paid coach is Joel Quenneville at $2.75 million. Quenneville has two Stanley Cups to his name (both of which are more recent than Babcock's) and his team is still playing for this year's Cup while Babcock's is hitting the links. Do I really need to do anything more to explain how the Toronto Maple Leafs have just fucked up the coaching market for the entire NHL?

There is no doubt that Mike Babcock is one of the best hockey coaches on Earth, but there is also no doubt that he has never coached anything other than a loaded roster. If he brings the Stanley Cup back to the city on the lake for the first time since 1967, his deal with the Leafs will prove to be a daring move of genius by the organization. If he does anything less, it will prove to be a foolish boondoggle. For the long-term good of a league that has franchises and fans in smaller, far-flung places such as Winnipeg and Columbus, I hope it proves to be the latter.

The Triplets
I don't care for the "triplets" moniker -- it makes Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat sound like toddlers -- but I love this line that plays for my Tampa Bay Lightning.

And I daresay that every hockey fan on Earth (even those who cheer for the Red Wings, Candadiens, and Rangers) has to love this line.

Since they have been playing on one line for less than a year, I am not about to say that Johnson, Kuch and Palat are the greatest line of all time. Nor am I about to say that they are in the top five of all time. But I am going to say that they are one of the most dazzling ever to watch, and one of the best in my 44 years of walking the planet.

One of the most impressive things is that they all play at the same level. Sure, the Legion of Doom was fearsome to behold, but Mikael Renberg was obviously the third banana behind Eric Lindros and John LeClair... Yes, Gretzky and Kurri torched the record books, but we all know that Esa Tikkanen (my favorite of the three) lagged far behind them in skill level... The Brothers' Line was imaginatively named, but Anson Carter had nowhere near the talent of the Sedin twins... The JAM Line gave us Joe Sakic -- plus two guys whose only contribution was that their names started with A and M... The Espo Line had goal machine Phil Esposito, but who has ever replayed highlight reels of Wayne Cashman and Ken Hodge in their minds at night?... The Sky Line featured Mario Lemeiux, Jaromir Jagr and Kevin Stevens -- but who exactly is/was Kevin Stevens?

When you watch the Triplets, you quickly see that they are all producing at about the same level. Johnson leads all NHL players in points during this postseason, with 18, while Kucherov is tied for second with 16 and Palat is tied for fourth with 13.

You also see that they improvise like jazz musicians, always knowing by intuition where their linemates are on the ice. Johnson need not look for Palat before passing to him, all he needs to do is pass and Palat's stick will be there waiting for the puck. Kucherov need not watch the puck reach his stick before redirecting it, all he needs to do is flick his wrist when he wants to and the puck will go wherever he desires it to go.

These players are the hockey equivalent of Dizzy Gillespie pushing his trumpet to a billion consecutive eighth notes while Max Roach bangs his snare drums into a percussive tizzy. Their hockey moves converge to create points in much the same way that Gillespie's and Roach's instruments converged to create great music. It is wondrous to behold.

They (we) are a weird bunch.

When a team loses, its fans blame it on its mistakes, not on the possibility that the opposing team was simply better. When it wins, its fans credit the superiority of its players without considering that vagaries such as odd bounces or suspect calls may have contributed to the final score.

In Round One of this year's playoffs, Detroit fans were outraged that Niklas Kronwall was suspended for clearly targeting the head of Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov. They claimed that Kucherov should have been prepared for the injury-intending headhunt. Apparently, those fans forgot how they felt and how they reacted back in the the 1990's, when their own Kris Draper was headhunted by Claude Lemeiux.

Right now, in Round Three, New York fans are calling for Henrik Lundqvist to be benched without bothering to watch the replays of the goals he surrendered the last two games. If they did review them, they would see that in most cases there was little he could have done to stop them.

And Tampa Bay fans are livid that no penalty was called when Steven Stamkos took a stick blade to the face on Wednesday, which means they must be blind to the fact that no penalty was called when he committed a fairly obvious crosscheck during the same game.

But whatever
This game is great, and the schizophrenia of sudden changes and human nature is part of the reason why. There is a round and a half of playoff hockey left to play. May it be schizophrenically awesome, and may (hopefully) it end with the Tampa Bay Lightning hoisting the silver chalice!

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Day The Earth Roared

Image result for mount st helens eruption 1980

Today is the 35th anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens, an event I remember vividly even though I was 9 years old and lived 2,500 miles away. I was already fascinated with mountains, so the images that appeared on the news -- of a beautiful peak blowing itself up and raining catastrophe on everything in sight -- made an indelible impression.

A series of steam eruptions had already occurred in the two months before the big one. They had opened a new crater and generated two fractures on St. Helens’s north flank. Between those fractures, the mountainside expanded outward in a visible bulge. In other words, it was obvious that St. Helens was waking up and that a bigger eruption was possible; but still, nobody expected anything like what eventually happened. After all, the frequency of steam eruptions had decreased from March to April.

Then, at 8:32 on the morning of May 18, 1980, St. Helens exploded with the force of five atomic bombs. Its summit was blown off (lowering its elevation from 9,677 to 8,363 feet) and its north flank was ripped out, leaving an immense gap and ruining the perfect symmetry for which the conical mountain had been famous.

The eruption’s ash cloud reached 80,000 feet high within 15 minutes, and as the ash fell back to earth, an area of 22,000 square miles was covered by measurable amounts. Borne by wind, St. Helens ash particles spread across the United States in three days and circled the globe in two weeks.

A landslide buried the North Fork of the Toutle River beneath debris that averaged 150 feet deep.

Lahars destroyed 185 miles of roads and 15 miles of railways, and reduced the depth of the Columbia River’s channel from 40 feet to 14 feet.

Trees snapped like matchsticks, as you can tell from this picture. The area around St. Helens was instantly transformed from a forested wilderness to a barren moonscape, as evidenced by these before and after photos:

Image result for mount st helens before and after

Sadly, that day's greatest tragedy is often overlooked:  57 people were killed.

Most people thought it would be many decades before life could return to St. Helens’s blast zone. However, greenery began to reappear on the slopes within a couple years, and that was after spiders and beetles ventured in. Eventually elk returned to feed on the new growth, and today the St. Helens recovery is an ongoing marvel.

Modern people often think that nature is fragile, but Mount St. Helens shows the opposite to be true. In reality, nature is powerful and resilient beyond our ability to comprehend.

To see some news footage from the time of the blast, go here.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Two Rounds In

Some thoughts about the Stanley Cup Playoffs, now that the first two rounds are in the books:

MVP Talk
We've seen enough to start speculating about which players are making a case to win the Conn Smythe Trophy, and since it goes without saying that the Cup-winner's goaltender often has the inside lane, here are my thoughts about which non-goalie from each team is most deserving so far.

Anaheim:  Corey Perry. He leads all players in playoff points with 15 (seven goals, eight assists) despite his team having taken the fewest games to get this far. After appearing to play injured for much of Game Five against Calgary, he scored the OT goal that clinched the series and propelled the Ducks to the conference finals for the first time since they won the Cup eight years ago.

Chicago:  Patrick Kane. It might seem too easy to pick a team's highest profile and most glamorous offensive star, especially when the roster includes quite possibly the NHL's best defenseman of the last five years, but Patrick Kane is absolutely the correct pick. He has notched 13 points and sparkplugged the 'Hawks to an average of 3.2 goals per game, despite the fact that Game One of the opening round was the first game he had played since breaking his collarbone two months before.

New York:  Dan Girardi. If you've watched a Rangers game this post-season, you have probably noticed how often Girardi's name gets mentioned, for it seems like this scrappy defenseman does something effective every second he's on the ice. He has racked up 48 blocked shots and 29 hits while going +5 -- a crucial number when you consider that all 12 games have been decided by a single goal and that his team is averaging only 2.0 goals per game. Plus, he has chipped in offensively with four assists and been to the penalty box only once. 

Tampa Bay:  Tyler Johnson. He lit the league on fire with six goals in the first round against Detroit, including the one which sparked a late comeback in Game Four, plus the OT winner in that same game... Oh, and he also assisted on the tying goal which forced that game to OT... In the second round, he set the stage for the Lightning's Game One win by redirecting Matt Carle's shot past Carey Price for the opening goal; then, in Game Three, set an NHL record by scoring the winning goal with just 1.1 seconds remaining.

The Goalies
Of the four netminders still standing, only Corey Crawford has won a Cup yet it feels like he's the least reliable of the bunch. The Eastern Conference seems to have a distinct advantage at this position, with Henrik Lundqvist being Henrik Lundqvist and Ben Bishop having skyrocketed his save percentage to .931 after it being only .904 at the start of Game Seven versus Detroit -- which is to say, I am sticking with my pre-playoff prediction that this year's champion will come from the East.

Something about Lundqvist: While it would be easy to say "the king is the king" or "he is the calmest goaltender I've ever seen" and leave it at that, I cannot resist the temptation to point out some of his sickeningly good numbers. In elimination games at Madison Square Garden, he is 10-0 with a .969 save percentage and 0.87 goals-against average... and he has now won six consecutive Game Sevens -- a feat that no other goalie in history has managed to accomplish... and, eerily, Wednesday night marked the third consecutive May 13th on which he made 35 saves, with each of those 35-save performances coming in a Game Seven victory.

Something about Bishop: He might not look like Ron Hextall out there, but his stick-handling is every bit as good as the old Flyer who made stick-handling by goalies acceptable. Bishop often triggers offensive rushes by completing tape-to-tape passes to his forwards as they turn to head up the ice; and by handling the puck so well, he keeps opposing teams from forechecking and thereby makes it harder for them to establish themselves in the Lightning zone. 

The Defensemen
Defensively, Chicago's Duncan Keith is, like I said above, "quite possibly the NHL's best defenseman of the last five years." Offensively, he has put up ten points during these playoffs, which is more than all but seven forwards have put up. When it comes to plus/minus he leads every player in the playoffs with a mark of +10, the next closest being Perry and Kane at +8.

Although Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman does not get as much press as Keith, PK Subban, Erik Karlsson, et al, he has been almost perfect this post-season. The second overall pick in 2009, this 24-year-old Swede has owned the blueline, made no mistakes that I can remember, and also contributed mightily on offense. Hedman assisted on Johnson's overtime winner in Game Four against Detroit and on Johnson's buzzer-beating winner in Game Three against Montreal; in both cases, he carried the puck down the ice and passed it directly to Johnson's stick blade, in stride.

Coaching Contrast
I do not have a problem with Type A coaching personalities. When it comes to sports, I am Type A myself. However, reflecting on the Tampa Bay-Montreal series, I can say with absolute certainty that I would rather my team be coached by someone like Jon Cooper than someone like Michel Therrien.

I'm sure that Cooper's pulse rises during games just like mine and every other fan's does, yet he keeps his keel even and does not lose composure. He keeps his focus. And by osmosis, his players do the same.

Therrien, on the other hand, fulminates and throws tantrums and makes excuses. He loses his focus and forgets what he needs to do. And by osmosis, his players do the same.

Marketing people should be drooling over the many prisms through which they can present the Eastern Conference Final.

For starters, each team has several players that spent part of their careers with the other. The Rangers have Martin St. Louis and Dan Boyle, both of whom won the Stanley Cup when they played for the Lightning in 2004 and are now in the twilight of their careers. The Rangers also feature Dominic Moore, a centerman who played a starring role for the Lightning when they made it to the ECF in 2011 and pushed the eventual Cup champions to a seventh game before being eliminated by a single goal... Meanwhile, Tampa Bay has former Rangers Ryan Callahan, Anton Stralman, and Brian Boyle... There is the interesting matter of St. Louis being Tampa Bay's captain and Callahan being New York's captain when they were traded for each other hours before the trade deadline in 2014... And there is the "don't keep me off the ice" matter of Callahan returning to this series after an emergency appendectomy forced him to miss the decisive Game Six against Montreal... Plus, most movingly, there is the tragic human interest story of Moore having sat out a season to care for his wife Katie, who passed away from liver cancer in January 2013.

But all that is mostly soap opera. On the ice itself, this series features two teams that are based on speed and skill rather than clutching and grabbing; and both made it this far because their speed and skill are spiked with grit, complemented with physicality, and blessed with composure. This has the makings of a good series.

A Bad Rap
Let me first say that I am not an Alexander Ovechkin fan. He dishes out way more than his share of cheap shots and never rarely gets sent to the penalty box for them. When the Lightning played the Caps in the 2011 conference semi-finals, my dislike of him was so strong that I yelled countless F bombs and started calling him a "Soviet."

Nevertheless, I am starting to feel some sympathy for Ovechkin because of the way the media misrepresents his game and his reliability. Although he's been saddled for years with a reputation as a player who fails to deliver in the post-season, the numbers simply do not bear that out. Like I noted in my April 30th post, he began this season having accounted for 66 points in 65 career playoff games.

During this year's playoffs, he chalked up another nine points by virtue of five goals and four assists. Included in that tally was a goal that might stand up as the best of the entire post-season, and a clutch last-second steal and assist to Joel Ward that won Game One against the Rangers. Almost everybody, including his biggest critics, opined that Ovechkin was having the strongest and most impactful playoff campaign of his ten-year career.

Then, when answering questions from reporters following the Caps' Game Six loss on Sunday, he said of Game Seven that "we're going to come back and win the series" -- and after the Caps did not win Game Seven, sports reporters from coast to coast began waxing about how Ovechkin failed to deliver on what they called "his guarantee," and how that failure further cements his legacy as a playoff underachiever.

Almost immediately, those reporters chose to ignore that he played extremely well in Game Seven and was the only Washington player to put the puck in the net against the seemingly invincible Henrik Lundqvist (re-read the above "The Goalies" section if you've already forgotten how rare it is for anyone to score on Lundqvist in elimination games). Almost immediately, reporters and opinion-shapers chose to ignore that outside of Ward and Nicklas Backstrom, Ovechkin does not have much offensive help on his team's roster.

Looking back at his career numbers, with this season included, Ovechkin averages .475 goals per playoff game. That puts him ahead of Phil Esposito and Mark Messier, who averaged .469 and .461 and played in eras when goals were more easy to come by. It puts him way ahead of such luminaries as Pat LaFontaine (.377), Luc Robitaille (.365), Jaromir Jagr (.360), and Steve Yzerman (.357). And among his superstar contemporaries, it puts him in front of Conn Smythe winners Patrick Kane and Henrik Zetterberg (.427 and .424).

So what's the rub? Yeah, Ovechkin's defensive game leaves a lot to be desired, but that is true for many, if not most, prolific scorers. And unlike most prolific scorers, Ovechkin does not shy away from the bone-crunching part of the game. He is a relentless forechecker who deals out more bumps and bruises than he receives, and I don't believe I've ever heard that said about Gretzky, Lemieux, Fedorov, or Lafleur.

The fact of the matter is that Alexander Ovechkin is an outstanding player who has spent his entire career on teams that are far from outstanding, without the kind of supporting cast that is necessary to win a championship. You can accurately call him a number of things that are not flattering -- for example, you can call him a dirty player whose stick handle "accidentally" hits an awful lot of opponents in the face, or a non-champion who has neither a Cup ring nor an Olympic gold to his name -- but if you call him a choker, you have no idea what you're talking about.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Fate's Fickle Finger

35 years ago this morning it was foggy in my corner of the world. I was nine years old, Jimmy Carter was president, and I remember that morning's fog like it was yesterday. I remember standing with the other kids in our uniforms, around the courtyard of the Canterbury School of Florida, ready to hear the announcements be read to us in person rather than over an intercom, just like we did every other morning.

In the moments before the announcements were to be read, one of the kids on the opposite side of the courtyard said something out loud: "The Skyway fell." Murmurs immediately rippled among us and I recall someone else, also on the opposite side, saying: "It got hit by a boat."

Colonel Adam walked up behind where I was standing. He was a third-grade teacher who said we should only refer to him as Mister Adam, but we young'uns always went with "colonel" because he had previously served in the U.S. Army and fought the Nazis both in Europe and North Africa. On that morning he used his trademark calm voice, one that was steady and reassuring no matter what he said, to confirm that the Skyway had in fact been taken down by a ship.

*     *     *     *     *

Technically, the ill-fated structure was known as the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. So too is the one that replaced it seven years after the tragedy that unfolded on the morning of May 9, 1980. But whether talking about the old one or the new one, locals have always referred to the bridge spanning the mouth of Tampa Bay simply as "the Skyway."

In both its incarnations, the Skyway has always been the Golden Gate Bridge of the Eastern United States. Thought not as famous as its Californian rival and not blessed with that instantly recognizable orange hue, it is wildly impressive in its own right -- and again, I am talking about both the original Skyway and the successor Skyway, because we locals have an inexplicable habit of talking about them as if they were a single entity.

The original was opened on September 6, 1954 and consisted of two lanes, one southbound and one northbound. A steel cantilever bridge, its passage across the mouth of Tampa Bay required it to cross more than four miles of open water, compared to four-fifths of a mile for the Golden Gate Bridge. And whereas the Golden Gate stretches between cliffs so that drivers don't climb to the altitude at which they cross the water, both the original and present Skyway ascend to their dizzying heights after drivers are already on them and above the water. This makes a drive across the Skyway more tingly than a drive across the Golden Gate.

To relieve traffic and increase volume, a second bridge right next to the first was opened in 1971, with northbound traffic traveling across the first and southbound across the second. Because they looked identical, they were known jointly as "the Skyway" with the only differentiation being between "first span" and "second span." At their apex, both had a sort of steel cage through which cars drove, while the driving surface itself ceased being concrete and became a steel grid. If you were walking across it, you could look down and see right through the grid to the shark-infested water far below. These spans towered more than 150 feet above the water, and 51 people are confirmed to have committed suicide by driving to their apexes, parking their cars, and leaping off the edge.

The current Skyway consists of a single span with two lanes travelling in each direction. It is even higher than the original, at more than 180 feet, and in the 28 years since it opened, at least 148 people have ended their lives by leaping.

*     *     *     *     *

35 years ago this morning, Captain John Lerro was at the helm of the MV Summit Venture, a 580-foot-long phosphate freighter that was built in Japan and sailing under the flag of Liberia. She had no cargo and little ballast, and thus was riding high in the water. The 37-year-old Lerro was tasked with guiding her more than 58 miles up the channel of Tampa Bay from the Gulf of Mexico to the Port of Tampa.

Navigating the channel from the gulf required executing a 13-degree turn to take a ship between the Skyway's two main piers and under its lofty peak. In good weather this was easily manageable, if not necessarily easy, but on the morning in question, the weather turned wicked without notice.

As the Summit Venture approached the bridge, southwest winds suddenly started blowing at tropical storm force; rain started falling at a rate faster than 7 inches per hour, effectively reducing visibility to zero; and on top of that, the ship's radar failed.

Lerro had little time to decide how he should proceed. He knew that a tanker called Pure Oil was exiting the bay from the other side of the bridge, and was afraid that turning the Summit Venture might put her in its path and cause a collision... He also feared that bringing her to a stop or turning her out of the channel would cause the winds to take control and push her into the bridge... And, he was unaware that the winds had shifted from the southwest (from which they were likely to push the ship safely under the bridge between its main piers) to the west-northwest... Thus, he opted to proceed, not knowing that the shift in winds had blown his vessel out of the channel.

*     *     *     *     *

At 7:32 in the morning, several minutes after Lerro made that decision, the visibility somewhat cleared and he saw that the Skyway's piers were directly in front of his ship. According to the St. Petersburg Times he promptly "ordered a series of maneuvers, including emergency reversal of the engines and the deployment of the anchors." Tragically, it was too late. At 7:33 the Summit Venture crashed into Pier 2S, which buckled, then broke; and with its breaking, the bridge way above toppled and fell into the sea.

Lerro immediately got on the radio and sent out a Mayday call that can be heard here. He pleaded: "Get emergency -- all the emergency equipment out to the Skyway bridge. Vessel has just hit the Skyway bridge. The Skyway bridge is down!... Stop the traffic on that Skyway bridge!"

15 stories overhead, Hell broke loose for almost three dozen human beings. As they drove or were driven up toward the Skyway's apex, the fog and rain robbed their visibility and prevented them from seeing that the apex was no longer there, so they drove right off and plummeted into oblivion.

*     *     *     *     *

A Greyhound bus carried 26 people to their deaths. At opposite ends of its passenger list were 19-year-old Chip Callaway and 92-year-old Gerta Hedquist.

Nine other people dropped to their deaths in a 1980 Chevy Citation, 1979 Chevy Nova, 1980 Ford Grenada, 1976 El Camino, 1979 VW Scirocco, and a black-and-yellow Ford sedan of unspecified model.

The bodies of all 35 people were eventually retrieved from the water, some with horrified looks frozen on their faces. Autopsies revealed that 28 of them died of blunt force trauma from striking the water and the other seven died of drowning.

In addition to the 35 people who perished, a single individual, Wesley MacIntyre, managed to survive the fall after his 1974 Ford Courier bounced off the Summit Venture and landed in the bay.

My Great Uncle Tom was supposed to be driving across the Skyway that morning on his way to a fishing trip with friends. Blessedly, the trip was cancelled.

One indelible image of the tragedy is from after the storm passed and the fog lifted. It shows wreckage from the bridge sitting on the bow of the Summit Venture beneath what remained of the superstructure:

However, the most indelible images were taken up on the remaining superstructure and showed Richard Hornbuckle's 1976 Buick Skylark, which had skidded to a stop just 14 inches short of going over. Looking up rather than just looking straight ahead, Hornbuckle had noticed that the steel cage did not continue like it should have. Rapidly realizing what that must mean, he slammed on his breaks and saved himself and his three passengers from near-certain death:

As you can tell, the piece of the superstructure on which his car came to a rest was hanging down at an angle, and it was part of the steel grid mentioned earlier. One of the passengers, Anthony Gattus, recalls that after he and his friends got out, "We were on a sharp incline... I stuck my fingers through the grating and began to crawl away... Hornbuckle was still by the car. I yelled at him, 'What are you still doing there?' He said he was going back for his golf clubs."

*     *     *     *     *

May 9, 1980 was a singularly tragic day, yet it turned out that it was only the first volley in a very tragic month for the United States. Nine days later, in almost the furthest opposite corner of the Lower 48, Mount St. Helens erupted with the force of five atomic bombs. When she blew, St. Helens killed 57 people and laid hundreds of square miles of forest to waste.

Eventually both tragedies were chalked up as the work of deity, even though the Skyway disaster involved a man-made and man-piloted vessel crashing into a man-made bridge. Because of the rapidly changing environmental conditions mentioned above, Captain Lerro was found innocent of wrongdoing when both a Coast Guard investigation and Florida grand jury declared the incident an "act of God."

In the end, the wake from each tragedy revealed the resilience that is embedded in both human nature and earthly nature. The rapid greening and reinhabitation of St. Helens testifies to the latter. The opening of the new Sunshine Skyway Bridge in 1987, just west of the old one and some 30 feet higher, testifies to the latter. Meanwhile, the old Skyway's first span and much its second span were razed; and the remaining section of its second span now lives on as a popular fishing pier from which anglers regularly catch grouper, sea bass, snapper, and several species of shark. There is a positive story somewhere in there, growing from the compost that was created by negative occurrences.

I've said this before about many things, and today, on the 35th anniversary of the Skyway's collapse, I am saying it about that collapse: Never Forget.