Fear Not The Chesapeake Bay Bridge
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Now a story about travel and fear. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge connects the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore areas to summer vacation destinations like Ocean City and Assateague Island. For those afraid of bridges, crossing the span is a daunting task. NPR's Hans Anderson met someone who saw a business opportunity in that fear.
HANS ANDERSON, BYLINE: Steven Eskew and I are on our way to pick up a customer. We're driving across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
STEVEN ESKEW: Approximately 60,000 people cross this bridge every day.
ANDERSON: He's pointing towards oncoming traffic.
ESKEW: You know, that person - boom. That person - boom. That person - boom. They're scared or they don't like it.
ANDERSON: Eskew isn't scared. He drives across this bridge in his baby blue van many times a day. He's wearing sandals and sweatpants and is kind of lounging in his driver's seat. Eskew is the owner of Kent Island Express, which is billed as the exclusive drive-over service for the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. And if you’re wondering what that means...
(SOUNDBITE OF RING TONE)
ESKEW: Kent Island Express.
ANDERSON: It's a service for people like Jennifer Wendel.
ESKEW: Hey, Ms. Jenn. Are you at the outlets?
ANDERSON: She's calling to arrange a ride. A few minutes after this phone call, we meet her in a McDonald's parking lot.
(SOUNDBITE OF CAR DOOR OPENING BEEP)
ANDERSON: Eskew gets out of his van, into her car and starts driving her across the bridge.
JENNIFER WENDEL: I'm afraid of heights.
ANDERSON: Wendel won't drive her own car because she has anxiety about crossing the bridge.
WENDEL: I don't like traveling over the bridge at all. I've never driven over the bridge. The bridge makes me very nervous.
ANDERSON: To distract his passengers, Eskew talks about something other than the bridge - like his kids.
ESKEW: You know, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, she's got dance.
ESKEW: So she gets one day off a week.
WENDEL: But, you know, I think keeping them busy like that is good for her. I mean...
ANDERSON: The bridge is just over four miles long. It includes a turn and climbs to just under 200 feet. The part of the bridge that we're driving on right now is a two-way road with no divider. There is nothing between us and oncoming traffic except for a few yellow lines. Also we're over water.
(SOUNDBITE OF CAR DOOR SLAMMING)
ANDERSON: We drop off Wendel right after the tolls. One of Eskew's employees has driven the van across and meets us here. We all hop in the van. And a few minutes later, we pick up Mora Simms.
(SOUNDBITE OF CAR BEEP)
ANDERSON: She's heading across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in the opposite direction.
MORA SIMMS: God forbid if anything would happen - there's no place to turn off or stop or anything like that.
ANDERSON: One day, she hopes to overcome her fear of bridges. Eskew has a suggestion for this.
ESKEW: I actually have customers that can drive themselves. But I just sit in the passenger seat and talk. And maybe, you know, one day...
SIMMS: That's what I want to try.
ESKEW: ...Maybe one day she'll do that.
ANDERSON: Simms is heading from Virginia to the Eastern Shore to visit family. We talk about seagulls along the way. And then we say goodbye at an off ramp just past the bridge.
(SOUNDBITE OF CAR BEEPING)
ANDERSON: Eskew puts people at ease. But sometimes he can't overcome a passenger's anxiety.
ESKEW: We do have a couple people that will get in the back of their own car - sit on the floor. We do have a couple people who will throw a towel or jacket over their head. It's a myth that we have driven people over in the trunk.
(SOUNDBITE OF RING TONE)
ESKEW: Good afternoon. Kent Island Express.
ANDERSON: Busy weekends means lots of anxious customers. And Eskew will drive them across the bridge for $30 each. For NPR News, I'm Hans Anderson.
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