The Bridges of Orange County (pt. 1 of 19)


I know, I know, Sean H. Mill wrote a post of the same title some months back at the Liberal O.C., alluding like myself to that execrable novel which the cruel flinty-eyed Clint Eastwood seared into our consciousnesses.

But of course, Sean H. Mill, as we all know, is a poet. And he was using “bridges” as a metaphor: a metaphor for building connections between the Latino and Asian communities in the central county.

While I, as you may not know, am an engineer and city planner, and I am writing about the ACTUAL GODDAMN FREEWAY BRIDGES OF ORANGE COUNTY—their majesty, grace and strength. Take this one for example:

The mighty Red Hill overpass, envy of all other counties. Straddling fourteen lanes of the 405 just south of the 55, this awe-inspiring edifice stretches nearly a mile long and crests at two hundred feet. On most days it passes felt but unnoticed by most motorists who are busy trying to figure out which lane they should be in at the last moment, but on a slow busy Friday afternoon (3 to 7 pm) it’s been computed that several hundred thousand slowly crawling drivers reverently lift up their eyes to this behemoth.

The historic Miraloma bridge over the 57 passes through a quiet Latino neighborhood in south Placentia, but the number of motorists heading north on a Friday afternoon from their OC jobs to their happy homes in “the 909” who have several minutes to gaze at this bridge’s subtle beauty rivals the number for the Red Hill overpass.

Ah, Fountain Valley, the New Hampshire of Orange County whose “Live free or die” ethos translates to a strong patriotic resistance to the encroachment of religious symbols into their government buildings. Mavericks as always, you can tell Fountain Valley’s seven bridges by the inward-tilted “Ayeresque” curve of the chainlink fences. This wise, forward-thinking detail – along with the hardy “constitution” of FV’s lovable residents, result in the lowest suicide rate of all OC towns.

Who hasn’t heard the heart-warming saga of the construction of Garden Grove’s “J. Tillman Williams Pedestrian Bridge” over the 22, just west of – you guessed – Harbor Boulevard? A gift to the Garden Grove schoolchildren by the beloved ’80’s mayor and Esperanto scholar, this local treasure was modeled on the famed Belgian 16-century podaches, and was the inspiration for No Doubt’s ska hit “Bridge Over my 22.”

This Los Alamitos overpass over the 605 was one of the bridges in contention during the early 1970’s skirmishes between Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Just a quick glance at its heft and thrust helps us understand our ancestors’ attachment to this monument of modern transport.  And on this coming Independence Day we raise a cup of Orange juice to the brave Los Alamitos Equestrian Brigade who gave their lives to keep this overpass for their descendants!

Another Fountain Valley bridge, this one the Bushard overpass, in a photograph taken the day before Election Day 2006. This shot, I think, captures the serenity which made the bridge so irresistable to Kerouac and his beat poet companions, as he immortalized in “Letters From Cody.”

Another view of the J. Tillman Williams Pedestrian Bridge shows the circuitous wonder of the construction and shows why Garden Grove schoolchildren have found it such a endlessly fascinating place to frolic over the decades.  Oh, the innocent days when Paul Lucas, Rebecca Schoenkopf, Van Tran, Benny Diaz and I ran back and forth across the Tillman bridge, long before we became the people we were destined to be!

I must not neglect the quaint little overpasses of streets like Bolsa over the 405 in Westminster, typified by the iceplant first planted by Nancy Reagan when her husband was Governor in the 1960’s.

Known as the gateway to the OC (or to Long Beach if you’re heading North) the mighty Seal Beach Boulevard overpass provides a fitting bookend to the larger Red Hill overpass with which I began this presentation.

STAY TUNED FOR MORE BRIDGES OF ORANGE COUNTY! Hint – Keep your eye on them this July 4 & 5. Your correspondent, engineer and city planner, Vern Nelson, signing off!

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official political troubadour of Anaheim and most other OC towns. Regularly makes solo performances, sometimes with his savage-jazz band The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.