Building a bridge is a lot like going to war — just ask Gay Talese.
The legendary journalist will pontificate on his 1964 book “The Bridge,” which chronicled the Verrazano Narrows Bridge’s construction, during a New York City Transit Museum celebration of the pond-spanning pons’ 50th anniversary on Nov. 13.
Talese began reporting on the viaduct when outrage over its proposed construction fueled opposition rallies in Bay Ridge, where the city would later raze 800 homes to make room for the span. On the front line, Talese saw parallels between putting up infrastructure by force and its inverse — war, taking down infrastructure by force.
“There was a protest, almost like Occupy Wall Street, as people got the word that the great power broker Robert Moses was going to proceed with construction,” he said. “I never thought about construction and how it affects people and destroys homes. It reminded me of cities in war whose homes are destroyed. Except for 9-11, we don’t have a sense of what it’s like when our territory is destroyed.”
If the dispossessed had a war refugee’s disposition, the bridge-builders were like an occupying force — albeit a friendly one that spent hard-earned pay at local taverns and occasionally made honest women of local girls, Talese said.
“They reminded me of people in combat — people bonded together out of common cause,” he said. “Uniforms. Waists hanging with heavy metal tools.”
So Talese found his muse, and over the next five years, the Manhattan native embedded himself with the bridge-builders. They told him their war stories (many were itinerant “boomers” who followed iron and steel work from town to town), showed him battle scars, and occasionally took him to their homes on leaves of absence.
Talese collected these stories and compiled them in “The Bridge,” which publisher Bloomsbury has re-released anticipating the bridge’s 50th anniversary on Nov. 21. The updated masterwork includes a new afterward by Talese and historic photos taken during the bridge’s construction.
Joining Talese at Thursday’s discussion will be New York Times urban affairs correspondent Sam Roberts. Expect a free-flowing exchange between the old friends.
“Sam, like me, has always been a lover and a writer of New York,” Talese said. “Sam and I, we’re going to have a good time.”
Gay Talese and Sam Roberts discuss “The Bridge” at the New York City Transit Museum [Boerum Place at Schermerhorn Street Downtown, (718) 694–1600, web.mta.info/