Cloud puts a spin on my fear of heights

July 29, 2012 

There are only a few things I fear. Snakes. Onions. Atlanta traffic. Ties. Opera. "Jersey Shore." Manual labor. And female clowns who ride horses. Naturally.

But my biggest fear is of heights. Technically, it's termed acrophobia. "Phobia" is a Latin term, or French or Japanese or something like that, that means "fear of." And "acro" means "things from which you could fall and go splat."

That's one of the reasons I was never good at roofing, especially since the height aspect was combined with manual labor and working with guys who looked like they should be on "Jersey Shore" and had onion breath. Plus, we got our shingles delivered by some opera-singing female clown on a horse. I never had a chance. No, wait, all that wasn't entirely true. The opera-singing clown was actually delivering tar paper. Sorry.

But sometimes you have to face your fears. I've found snow skiing was much easier on a mountain that was rather high. And in Washington. Just had to deal with it or go back to trying to snow ski down that little hill in the kudzu patch across the street. Without snow. It ain't easy.

One place I've repeatedly had to face my fear of acros, or heights, is in Brunswick, Ga. Now, Brunswick ain't Washington state by any means with all of its flat land, marshes and water, but it does have the Sidney Lanier Bridge.

This massive suspension bridge crosses the Brunswick River on U.S. 17, from which you access Jekyll Island and one of my favorite places on Earth, St. Simons Island. If I want to get around Georgia's amazing Golden Isles, it means suppressing my fear of heights for a couple of minutes.

The bridge is nearly 8,000 feet long and approximately 12 miles high, or at least seems that way. In 2003, it replaced a drawbridge at which I used to get impatient while waiting for freighters to pass. Now, I long for those days. Besides, the drawbridge

was featured at the beginning of one of my favorite Burt Reynolds movies, "The Longest Yard." It's a shame when a structure of such historical significance is destroyed.

Speaking of destroyed, I almost got destroyed on this bridge last week during a family vacation. I'm scared enough to drive across this bridge on a sunny day, but on this particular Monday it was storming. Rain was pouring, and my sweaty palms gripped the wheel to prepare for any possible hydroplaning. But then something happened I couldn't prepare for.

"Um, Saylor, what is that?" my wife asked my little meteorologist in the backseat.

"It's a funnel cloud!" he shouted.

Sure enough, it was a baby tornado growing and spinning right outside the car at the tippy top of this monstrous bridge. My wife screamed at me to drive faster, even though this would have meant hydroplaning and then crashing into and going over the bridge's concrete rails. Judging by the screaming that burst my eardrum, she must have thought I was ignoring her because she kept repeating that there was a funnel cloud "right outside my window!"

It's not that I refused to respond. It's just hard to respond verbally when you've swallowed your tongue. And "there's a funnel cloud" is not a phrase I ignore when driving. Maybe "Are we there yet?" or "Dad, I think Bigfoot is driving the pickup next to us." But never the words "funnel cloud."

Fortunately, we made it down the bridge alive as I found the descent speed that fell safely between tornado escaping and hydroplaning to our deaths, even though I was reminded for about four more days that I should have erred a little closer to the hydroplaning to our deaths speed.

And I was able to stop at the bottom of the bridge, pull over and get out to watch the funnel cloud as it spun for a few more moments before retreating back into the clouds. I have been known to chase a storm or two, but never on high bridges. Well, never again.

I dread the next time I have to cross that crazy high bridge. And if I ever do it again on vacation, the only funnel anybody had better be hollering about in the car is funnel cake.

Chris Johnson is an independent correspondent. Follow his work at Facebook.com/KudzuKidWriting.

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