MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Around these parts, you can't really talk bridges without mentioning the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. And that huge gray span of steel connecting Maryland's western and eastern shores is going to see a lot of traffic this Memorial Day weekend. More than 360,000 vehicles, according to the Maryland transportation authority. But some of the people driving those vehicles will, no doubt, have some pretty white knuckles as they make the trip.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Why? Well, it's thanks to a little known disorder called, gephyrophobia, the fear of bridges. Tara Boyle headed to the Bay Bridge to learn more about this phobia and the unusual service that helps people cope with it.
MS. TARA BOYLE
For some drivers a close call can change everything.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #1
I had an experience where someone came over their lane and I thought that they would literally hit me because it was two lanes going one way and one lane going the other way. And I was going toward them. And I swerved and I came close to hitting the side of the bridge.
This Delaware woman who wanted to remain anonymous, says she used to do just fine on the Bay Bridge until that near crash.
My legs start shaking, I start to panic and I literally had to, like, prevent myself from hyperventilating, just stop on the bridge.
And that's why this woman decided to start paying someone else to do the driving, which is what we're doing today. We're halfway across the bridge and Ken Medell is at the wheel. He runs Kent Island Express with Terri Robinson who's driving the woman's SUV ahead of us.
This is about the seventh or eighth time I've used it. And I -- it's very convenient. I call ahead, they're usually here within 20, 30 minutes. And, you know, you have to weigh the costs and the convenience.
The cost is $25 each way. But there are enough people demanding this service that Kent Island Express and another company, Kent Island Shuttle Service, are competing for business. Medell says, in the winter, they do about six to eight drive-overs a day. But in the summer...
MR. KEN MEDELL
It could run up to, anywhere between, 25 and 30 depending on how busy we were.
The Maryland transportation authority police used to do these drive-overs themselves but turned them over to private vendors in 2007 because they were sucking up time and resources. It's proven to be a brisk business. Last August, Kent Island Express, broke a personal record with 422 drive-overs in one month. And Robinson says, all that time on the road, in such short trips with a whole bunch of different people, makes for great stories.
MS. TERRI ROBINSON
I want to do a reality show. I think, it would be really, really fun to do a show about the experiences that people tell us about and the talks that we have as we're going across the Bay Bridge. It's fascinating what you learn about someone in 10 minutes times.
The Bay Bridge turns 60 next year. And it's been unnerving people pretty much since its debut. For starters, there's the length at 4.3 miles, it was one of the world's longest bridges when it opened. And then there's the aesthetic experience.
MS. JEAN RATNER
The height of it, the openness to a very large sky, the large view of water.
Gene Ratner is a clinical social worker in Bethesda who helps people address phobias and travel related anxiety. She says, many people who experience a fear of bridges are, like our anonymous traveler, fine with crossing the bridge until one day something changes and they panic.
They may be holding their breath without realizing it. They may be hyperventilating. They start feeling, often, faint or dizzy. They're hands become very sweaty. And then once their hands are sweaty, they feel, like, they don't have a good grip on the steering wheel.
Ratner says, for people with this sort of intense fear, it's best to start slowly, using therapy to develop coping mechanisms. And once the client is ready, it's time to move outside.
I have a little one lane bridge, here near my office. With some people, we'll be driving over that, with some people, we walk over it several times before we drive over it. With a 4.3 mile bridge, the Bay Bridge, you want that person to be feeling like they have worked up to it.
People who live and work near the Bay Bridge and have to cross it all the time, have their own tips for travelers.
MS. TERESA MALNAR
The easiest way to learn to drive it, is to go at night. Because at night, it looks just like a highway going up a hill. You don't see the water, you don't see the rail as much.
Teresa Malnar owns Stevensville Antiques on the eastern side of the bridge on Kent Island. She also suggests driving a smaller car so you can't see over the side. But those options still make some people uncomfortable. Like, our anonymous driver from Delaware.
Sometimes it's not so much about the fear of heights as it is the fear of what other people are doing. You know, do you feel confident in your other drivers?
And if you can get through the heart pounding, pulse racing experience on the bridge, there's a payoff. The beach, the boardwalk and the leisure of a long holiday weekend await. I'm Tara Boyle.
If you've got a story about how you cope with driving on the Bay Bridge or any bridge for that matter, we'd love to hear it, email us at email@example.com or visit us on Facebook, that's Facebook.com/metroconnection.org.
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