A bridge too far
Dr. Beatrix In Der Wiesche, a veterinarian from Milton, Del., loves to visit friends on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
Up until she turned 50, it was typically no big deal to drive the 4.3 miles west bound and then turn around and come home.
Then, she had what Oprah would call an “ah hah” moment. Or in the doctor’s case, a frightful one at the very least. She was on the bay bridge and feeling the onrush of an anxiety attack.
“I am 50, so I don’t know if it had something to do with hormonal changes,” she said. “Truth is, I never liked driving over the bridge, and my anxieties have escalated.”
Her greatest fear is that she will black out at any moment, any time.
On a subsequent trip, she called a service that had been recommended, but when the driver failed to show, she drove first to a bay bridge toll booth. The operator hailed a police officer, and that officer referred her to the Kent Island Shuttle Service & Bay Bridge Drive-Overs Company, co-owned by Bob Spindler and Debi Mathews.
Dr. In Der Wiesche is hardly alone in her fear of being behind the wheel while driving over a bridge. Yes, there is a term for such a condition called gephyrophobia.
Bob and Debi can tell you all about what gephyrophobia does to their clients who pay between $25 and $30 for peace of mind.
First, the bay bridge was listed as the 9th scariest in the world by Travel & Leisure.com.
The State of Maryland Transportation Department at one time provided the ride over for free. But it became time consuming and too expensive for the state to absorb.
That’s where Bob and Debi, who are also significant others, came in to help people with this ride over the bridge. They have seen practically everything. Bob has driven his white vehicle onto the bridge and gotten close enough so that Debi could get into the stopped car of a person who was frozen with panic. There are clients who keep their eyes closed the entire trip. There are a small number of others who just want to curl up in a fetal position on the back seat.
But most of the clients, the couple says, sit with their eyes open and just have a pleasant conversation. Talk to their customers, and they talk about the couple in terms of “life savers” and the “cure” for their anxiety.
Some customers told Ocean City Today that they start worrying about getting over the bridge hours before they make the call.
The couple has taken some 4,000 trips over the bay bridge in one direction or the other each year for three years.
“We have taken people, and we’ve heard their stories,” said Bob. “There’s no rhyme nor reason. We’ve had macho men, young and old, male and female. Everybody has something in their lives. This is what these people have.”
Bob added that there’s no shame here, and that he and Debi know they are helping people take the anxiety out of a trip.
Debi talks about driving pick-up trucks with a camper and boat in tow.
He said that the typical story goes something like “I’ve driven over this bridge for 20 years, and all of the sudden boom. My palms start sweat, I’m afraid I’m going to have a heart attack.”
Bob continued, “Hey, don’t have a heart attack. We’ll get you across it.”
Linda Rowe, a customer, is pragmatic about her fear.
It all started for her after the terrorist bombings of Sept. 11, 2001.
“Don’t ask me why; it just scares me.
“I don’t like the height,” she added. “I’d rather pay them to drive me over than risk vertigo. The best part is the conversations I have with Debi. She is a very calming person.”
Rowe travels from her home in Hunt Valley in Baltimore County because she owns property in Ocean Pines. So she needs to travel over the bridge quite a bit.
Another customer, a nurse who lives on the Eastern Shore, but works at a hospital on the other side, calls the ride over the bridge “a long five minutes.”
“There’s many people who are afraid of it,” the RN, who asked to be nameless, said.
There are times she said, especially at night when she does drive over the bridge. But often she’ll have Debi on the phone calming her fears and getting her over.
“They are totally professional,” she said. “They are there when they say they are going to be there. I’d recommend them a thousand times over.”
It’s not difficult to find Internet chat from people about their trips over the bay bridge.
One person wrote:
“I’m glad I’m not alone. The Xanax does not help me. I get light headed, sweaty palms and feel my heart racing. The worst part, there’s no place for an emergency pull off. You can see right through the side retaining railing. It gives me the sense of climbing a roller coaster for three miles.”
Bob said with a laugh that this was supposed to be a “retirement job.” But the couple is on call almost always, bringing in friends to work as backup. He had his transportation business mainly to drive people to and from the airport or to pick up wedding parties.
“There are days when you have no time to yourself, because this is 24/7.
The couple lives just five miles from the bridge in Grasonville.
Debi is used to driving. She has had a commercial driver’s license for more than 30 years and drives a school bus. She is also the former owner of Scarborough Fair, a furniture store in Mardela Springs. She sold the store in 2006. That’s when she started driving the school bus.
Debi has a calm, “everything is going to be all right,” voice.
“I think many of our clients have a panic disorder,” she said. “I’m familiar with panic disorder, I can sympathize. But I think for our customers who are like friends and family to us, not worrying about driving the bridge is the one gift they give themselves.
“Bob and I feel really good about what we do, because we’re helping people,” she said. “Freedom for some drivers comes with restrictions.
“And we understand that.”
Kent Island Shuttle Service & Bay Bridge Drive-Overs can be reached at 410-726-3990 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.