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Welcome to Brigadoon

The journey from summer's end to the new year is measured by photos in the album: here is the last fireworks show; a few Harley photos; some snapshots of beautiful sand sculptures; this year's Halloween costume (oops! looks a lot like last year's) -- with slots reserved for the upcoming Thanksgiving gathering, a merry martini (or three) and the lighted boat parade.

From here, it looks like an easy coast into the holidays when - we have been promised - Santa will drop off that replacement span we asked for, the bridge will be whole once again and the dolphin watch cruises will no longer be free. The cranes that have set idle all these weeks will lurch back into action, the fast food joints will fire up their fryers, and the dogs will have to be reintroduced to their leashes. Life will return to some semblance of normality and the broken bridge will be just another photo in the album.

Or will it?

The bridge being down has been a great all-purpose excuse not to accomplish things for a while now, and I suspect more than a few will miss it when it is gone. Late to work? Blame it on the ferry. Want to stay and have one more cocktail? Call the wife and tell her the line was too long. Decades down the road, old timers will be enthralling their grandchildren with broken bridge tales: "You think YOU have it bad? Why, I remember when I had to catch the school bus in the middle of the night so that I could get on the ferry in the wind and rain just to get to school..."

Yup - it feels like we are cruising into the home stretch on this whole bridge thing. All reports suggest that the contractors are going to make their deadline and what had seemed like an impossibly long span of time has now been crunched into a more manageable bite. Listen at the local pub and you hear things like "Well, the car is running a little rough, but I think it will be okay until the bridge is back up," or "I really should pay a visit to the folks over in Weslaco, but that will be easier after the holidays," or even, "I need to lose weight, change my hairstyle and trade in the boyfriend for a newer model -- but I guess it can wait until the bridge is fixed."

In the meantime, astute observers can't help but notice the more subtle effects the lack of people is having on the area. Cheap rooms and quiet streets are the most obvious results, but many have also noticed how the island's flora and fauna have responded to the change. I have heard reports of ever larger numbers of pelicans cruising further south above the town beaches. A couple of days ago, I glanced out my window to see a coyote strutting down the middle of my street in broad daylight, acting for all the world like he owned the place. The beach access walkway where I take my dogs every morning is becoming overgrown with morning glories - a friend who sometimes walks with me has developed the charming habit of gently moving the encroaching fronds back to the sand where they won't get trampled.

For those of us who were drawn to the island by its natural beauty and wide-open beaches, it is hard not to view these bridge-less months as a kind of gift -- to be sure, a gift that extracted a horrible price in loss of life and income -- but a gift nonetheless. Chances are that we will never again in our lifetimes have the opportunity to experience the island the way it is right now.... never again have such a good excuse for staying put and enjoying the peace and quiet and beauty all around us. Without a doubt the day will come - possibly as early as mid-March - when we will look back on this time with nostalgia and wonder if we fully appreciated what we were given. Future residents will listen to the stories of these days with envy, the way I have listened to stories of what it was like here before the first causeway was built.

A couple of years back, a group of Dutch sand sculptors built a piece at the world championships entitled "Because No One is Going Anywhere, Anyway." For the lucky few who have no need of the vehicle ferry, that is exactly what the island feels like right now. Welcome to Brigadoon. Can't change anything so might as well enjoy it while it lasts. I know I sure am.

There are five (5) ways to submit your questions/comments for future Ask Sandy columns: In person; by phone (761-6222) or fax (761-8930); the US Postal System (box 2694,spi,78597) and E-mail: (sandyfeet@unlitter.com). Visit my web-site (http://spionline.com/) for tips on sandcastling, contest info, recent Ask Sandy columns, and my reviews of local businesses.

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