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Raising The Tower Bridge: NPR's Ari Shapiro Bids Farewell To London
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Raising The Tower Bridge: NPR's Ari Shapiro Bids Farewell To London

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Raising The Tower Bridge: NPR's Ari Shapiro Bids Farewell To London

Raising The Tower Bridge: NPR's Ari Shapiro Bids Farewell To London
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After two years as NPR's London Correspondent, Ari Shapiro, is returning to the states to host All Things Considered. Before he left, producer Rich Preston had a once-in-a-lifetime surprise for him.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Well, we've been making some special arrangements of our own to welcome two voices you know to our regular host lineup. Starting next week, NPR's Kelly McEvers and Ari Shapiro will join us as hosts of ALL THING CONSIDERED.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now, we're going to hear from both of them in a couple of minutes. Bur first, Ari had to say some goodbyes before starting his new role. He's been our correspondent in London for almost two years, working alongside producer Rich Preston. And to bid Ari farewell, Rich arranged a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: I have no idea where we're going right now or what we're doing. All I know is that is my last story as NPR's London correspondent. Here's Tower Bridge that I ran past every time I went running from my London apartment.

RICH PRESTON: OK, Shapiro, come with me.

SHAPIRO: That's my producer, Rich Preston, who took me into the Tower Bridge exhibition hall to meet our tour guide, Farhana Begum.

FARHANA BEGUM: So we're going to be trying to circumnavigate around all these people. And we're going to go up to the top and have a look around the exhibition first.

SHAPIRO: This is the most recognizable bridge in London. It's the only one that opens for ships. Pale-blue cables lead to two stone towers connected by a high walkway. That walkway has a new glass floor. Looking down, you see London traffic and the River Thames running hundreds of feet below.

BEGUM: It feels so weird when you first stand on it.

SHAPIRO: Wow, this is amazing.

Then, we descend steep, narrow stairs into a place the public is not allowed to go. It's an enormous stone chamber below the level of the river. This is called a bascule chamber. When the drawbridge raises, the ends of the bridge, the bascules, swing down into this room.

OK, so I don't want to frighten anyone, but if the bridge were to open right now, would we be squished?

CHARLES LOTTER: Yes, we'd better start running.

SHAPIRO: This is Charles Lotter, who helps run all of this technology. Back up on the surface, he shows us the control room, where he can operate the drawbridge. Then comes the big surprise.

LOTTER: And as it happens, today, we have a bridge life.

SHAPIRO: We do?

LOTTER: Yes. So, Ari, will you help me to do a bridge lift?

SHAPIRO: No, you're kidding.

LOTTER: I'm dead serious.

SHAPIRO: A boat called the Dutch Master is scheduled to sail under Tower Bridge. We need to open the span. Lotter shows me which buttons to push to stop traffic, close the gates and unlock the bolts that secure the bridge.

LOTTER: (Over loudspeaker) Staff announcement - the bridge control system is now switched on. Please stand clear of the moving structure, machinery and controls.

SHAPIRO: Then, I pull a handle that looks like a joystick on an arcade game.

Is the bridge moving? Oh, my God, the bridge is moving (laughter). It's so beautiful seeing the bridge go up.

The Dutch Master sails beneath the open arms of Tower Bridge. I wave to them on the boat. Nobody notices or waves back. To them, this is just another day on the water. To me, it's a final exclamation point, marking the end of my time in the UK.

SIEGEL: And that is quite a sendoff.

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