I had a fear of heights for the first thirty years of my life, but it faded in time. Strangely, I only had it when I was connected to the ground, say leaning out a high window or at the edge of a cliff. When I was a passenger in a plane, I had no problems with looking down to the ground, not even when the plane was landing and we were almost touching the runway. However, eventually this phobia, a common one, faded, and heights don't much bother me (though a character in a movie who's in danger of falling puts me on the edge of my seat).
I developed gephyrophobia when I met the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in 1981, crossing it on my way to a vacation in Atlantic City. The bridge is enormous, both in height (186 feet) and length (four miles). Look at the pictures and consider this additional terror: the part of the bridge that you drive on is not solid, but is instead a metal grid you can see through right down to the water far below you—emphasizing the distance your automobile will have to fall before it splats into the gigantic Chesapeake Bay.
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For the trip I pretended to make Clayton the navigator, and he struggled with maps every morning (with me helping him reach the right results). I wanted him to get an idea of how very large our country is, and the five days we took to get to California did imprint this message on his consciousness. As a child I was an Air Force brat, and my family had done much driving across most of the United States (though only once a trip this long—when my mother drove my sister and me from Indiana to Seattle to board a ship to Japan in 1954). The first part of Clayton and my journey was across the Great Plains (not particularly interesting driving), and then we hit the Rockies (which can be too interesting to drive through with large trucks behind you as you traverse highways that have mountain on one side and steep drop on the other), and that beautiful descent into Salt Lake City through the Wasatch Mountains. Clayton enjoyed the trip, though getting him to look up from his toys and be as astounded as I was at some of the views was not always possible (he was, after all, nine). Other than the all day layover in North Platte, the trip was uneventful, and we were both glad we'd made it together.
"The Many Faults of Douglas Whaley," March 31, 2010