Then, last summer, I was invited to give a talk at the gorgeous, glass-sheathed Public Library on my new book, The American Revelation: Ten Ideals that Shaped Our Country from the Puritans to the Cold War; and this past spring, I delivered a keynote address, on the Marshall Plan and Its Meanings, 1947-2007, at the 100th annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians.What a great city, and what friendly, welcoming people. During the course of my two stays in Minneapolis, I had the opportunity to get out and about, and to meet many players in the arts and culture community, philanthropists, corporate donors, and civic activists. I learned that Minneapolis has the highest percentage of volunteerism of any city in America, and now I see why.
One of the nicest young people I met there was a woman named [for the purpose of this piece] "Rebecca," who worked in the administration of one of the major up-and-coming institutions. She drove me around town, accompanied me to media venues and cocktail receptions and book-signings, and introduced me to many citizens I now think of as friends. On our various trips hither and yon, Rebecca regaled me with affectionate stories of her young son, just learning to talk and walk, and her entrepreneurial husband, and their adventuresome lives.
Flash forward to the evening of Wednesday, August 1, and there's yours truly, determinedly pounding away on the treadmill at Platinum Gym on route 23 in Verona. Between peeks at the new issue of the New York Review of Books, I glanced up at the screen where Wolf Blitzer was telling us why it was so important that we keep our eyes glued to the Situation Room.Suddenly -- there it was -- the twisted steel, chunks of concrete, rising dust, swirling Mississippi, upended cars, whup-whup-whup of helicopter blades -- the astonishing, horrifying collapse of the I-35 bridge.
In my endorphin-stoked brain, it was all about Minneapolis=Rebecca.
I dashed home and called her cell. No answer. I called her work number. No answer. I emailed her. It came back. I re-dialled her cell and left a lame, halting voice-mail, hoping, praying that she and her family were OK.
I stared out the window and pondered our absurdly-connected world, a world in which I could be worrying about someone a thousand miles away within hours of a cataclysm that had already claimed the lives of up to a dozen people and that might or might not have involved her.
Then Rebecca called back: That very afternoon, she told me, she and her husband and son had been getting ready to head over to St. Paul for an extended family dinner. Amidst the laborious preparations to urge her son out of the house -- as anyone who has a toddler will know, no small feat -- her husband found out he had to work that night, so couldn't accompany them.
This turn of events gave Rebecca a welcome five-minute head-start on her rush-hour drive.
She and her son, strapped in his car-seat, crossed the I-35 bridge a little earlier than planned.
By the time they arrived at her grandmother's house, the boy was cranky, tired and hungry. Rebecca sat him down in front of that perennial baby-sitter known as the TV, and turned it on...
...and saw, in living color, the disaster she'd barely missed.