tv Book Discussion on The Bridge CSPAN November 27, 2016 9:55am-11:01am EST
, c-span was created as a public service by america's cable television companies and is brought to you today by your cable or satellite provider. >> next on history bookshelf, author gay talese talks about his book, "the bridge: the building of the verrazano-narrows bridge," recounting the design of the longest suspension bridge in the u.s.. it was originally published in 1964. his talk was in new york city to mark the 50th anniversary of the building of the bridge. it is a little over an hour. gabrielle: let me introduce two writers that have been influential. sam roberts is the urban affairs correspondent from the new york times.
he has been the host of an hour-long weekly news and interview program on new york one. he is the author or editor of eight previous books and his latest, a history of new york, is the vibrant story of the metropolis told through distinctive objects in new york. and both books will be on sale in front of the museum after the talk and they will be here to sign them. and gay talese has written 11 books and was a reporter for the new york time and has written for the times, esquire, new yorker, harpers magazine and other publications. in the late fall of 1964, gay talese's remarkable book, the bridge, was published. in his early days as a reporter, he followed the construction
closely and on many occasions putting on a hard hat and joining the workers on the iron beams. more than just a story of a famous bridge, he produced a tribute to those who built it in an absorbing treatment which reminds us how man-mind structures affect lives. the release of the book is introducing a new generation of leaders. -- of readers. revisiting the people and places he encountered for decades earlier, he has added an afterward bringing full circle the dramas that make the bridge a resident story for our time. i would like it turn it over to sam robert and gay talese. [applause] sam: thank you. thank you for coming out on this first night of winter.
i guess you would call it. it was november 21, 1964, that the verrazano-narrows bridge opened. and as gay wrote, it was the first and perhaps the only blissful traffic day on the -- traffic jam on the verrazano-narrows bridge. the toll was 50 cents. it was then the longest suspension bridge in the world. it is still the longest in the americas. gay talese produced more than a dozen articles on the bridge for the new york times and now the bridge, his book, as she said has been republished again in a beautiful new edition that i urge all of you to buy. one of the things people ask me a lot is how the stories get into the new york times. how do they appear at nytimes.com. and i remember ralph blumenthal, a reporter for the new york
times, described the evolution of a story. he said an editor came up to him one day and said why don't you go out and find out who finds -- owns chinese restaurant in new york. he said, what do you mean? he said, go out and find out what the ownership is. who owns them. and so ralph went out and he said he spent a couple weeks eating very well and he came back and discovered that chinese restaurants are owned mostly my chinese people. [laughter] well, when you began writing about the bridge, and didn't know the name, how did you get that assignment, or how did you volunteer for it, or how did you get stuck with it? what did you think when you first started writing the articles about a neighborhood in brooklyn that found 800 homes or
businesses were being displaced by a bridge they didn't want. gay: i was given the assignment to cover the protesting residents. it was a crowd, i guess, it would be akin, to the occupy wall street mentality we had in the recent years. would be akin, to the occupy wall street mentality we had in the recent years. it was the mentality of those had a loathesome position toward robert moses who was the great builder of my early years in new york and a controversial man because he didn't mind breaking eggs to make omelets and sometimes he broke the hearts of people and many hundreds of hearts of people were broken who it was -- when it was announced the forthcoming project, the verrazano-narrows bridge was going to be built.
and what it meant, was hundreds of houses and thousands of people who lived in the pathway to the bridge, in the bay ridge section of brooklyn would have to move. no negotiating. they had to get out. so i covered this for the times and predictablely it was a series of those they were hating robert moses and many wondering, who needs this bridge? and i thought, i have never seen a bridge being built. i was covering this one-day story but i lived it, as we all do in a city of bridges surrounded by bridges, and i was going to have the opportunity to see a bridge built from the lowest level of the water and something was going to come out of that water and a cement foundation and two towers would be there soon.
it would be the two towers of the bridge. i thought, i am going to come back here. on my own time, and when i had weekends off or whatever days i had when i wasn't required to be in the office as a general assignment reporter, i would go to the site of the bridge. little by little, workmen were there, cranes, barges and men in hard hats were there statering the long 4-year process emerging these sections of steel that would gradually, as we see today, this great work of art that has the functioning capacity to get people from brooklyn to staten island that was never possible before.
that is how it started. sam: did you think it would end up being a book? gay: no, i didn't think so. people, sam roberts, or i as one of the elders, still thinks i am a reporter and is still revels in the youthful experience it is when you are a reporter. most reporters are young men and sam roberts was a young man. you do think when you are doing one story, then a second story and third story, and i was doing the stages of the bridge. the first stage was seeing the concrete foundation form and upon those foundations was the first stages of the steel that formed the towers and each tower was equivalent to a seven-story skyscraper. it took a better part of a year to build them. and then the more interesting part to me, how do you build horizontally from one tower to the other, sections of steel that begin with cables. i once read that when the
indians were building across a pond they would get a bow and arrow and shoot from one side to another and keep shooting the rope that would be spearheaded by arrows and that would be a rope bridge later on. 2.5 miles, two and a half miles was the distance from brooklyn to staten island on the towers. and it had to be done by cables and i watched the cables be sprung by wheels that were the size of a bicycle wheel. there were 4 of them going back and forth and it took months and months. and from those cables that were bound together forming a great force of about two and a half feet. i don't know. i know somebody in the room will tell me. we have an ironworker. and as part of dessert later, we will have a young man who was an
iron worker and he will tell us about this. his grand father was one of the men who did this work. i wrote about the construction and then i thought there is book here and the reason there was, i thought, is because it is a book about people. i didn't know then, and sometimes young people in the room might not think now, of how hard some people work. sometimes when people are negative about the united states and they think of this nation losing jobs because people in foreign countries work harder and that is why jobs are outsourced, that is not true. i saw this in 1962-1963 how hard the ironworkers and the bridge builders worked every day. and they take such pride in their work, more importantly. i am the son of an immigrant tailor.
and i saw how he made the suits and he took pride in making them. he didn't sell too many because he took too long and too expensive and not many people appreciated a handmade suit. and my father with the spools down in the shop and pulled them down and sewed by hand. and these great spools of steel, i thought, creating what looked like a heart. beautifully designed. long before trucks and cars are making a fortune on a bridge, passing through. before that, there is a work of art. it is still a work of art. and i thought about that. and the opportunity to write about how hard and how much pride there is in work well done. i saw that my father is making suits and these hundreds of guys, who with different
specialties as riveters and guys that did other things like holding the steel together, they brought not only pride but lasting pride because what they were doing would outlive them. and any work of art, whether it is a musician's work of art, opera or a hit tune, or somebody that makes beautiful furniture or a beautiful thing like a beautiful newspaper or bridge, they are going to have pride in it, and the long-standing and enduring talent and design that goes into a craft of lasting parishability. so i saw the bridge as an opportunity for me. i started doing pieces and then i went to a book contract, got a contract, not much, and i wrote
this book and it didn't sell very many copies but it did keep a record, and the important thing to me, we journalist are record keepers, and we try to record in our lifetime the history of what we see and understand. since we love new york we often write about the wonderment of the city. and whoever is writing about working class iron workers and how they built something that would outlive them. and i thought, by using their names and stories in there i would do something that wasn't -- had it not been done. with the brooklyn bridge or the george washington bridge who incidently the designer of the george washington bridge did the tunnel bridge. that was his last, great final work of this great engineer's life. but i was a recordkeeper. so this book that was first
published in '64 and is now being reissued on the 50th anniversary, is really a testimony to a work of art and a work that changed the economic rhythms of the city. but also, i have put in this book the names and stories of dozens and dozens of workers that otherwise would be anonymous. that was one thing i took pride in. sam: that makes it a testimony to you, because you are one of those few people that cares about little people, small people, ordinary people, forgotten people, overlooked people. not the robert moses kind of people, that one of my favorite quotes of his, the end of it justifies the means, what does? you once described yourself as an outsider, because you are the
son of an italian immigrant and therefore you identified with the neighbors who were displaced and also with people like the ironworkers. they were not even invited to the opening ceremony of the bridge. gay: you mentioned moses, and so did i. he was not very gracious. [laughter] gay: he had i guess, we might now see it as the latest event -- elitistment. and that bridge, look at that bridge, it has been there for more than 100 years. i do not think the bridge builders and ironworkers needed an invitation to a party. i said before and i will say it
again, one of the most enduring and and chanting features of these men i got to know, and i continue to say to those who are still alive, some are older than i am, but i am glad to think that if i lived long enough to see the 50th anniversary and to be here, i will also say that at least 25 men close to my age that were young in 1962 and 1963 and 1964, even now when they drive across the bridge and pay like the rest of us, they still look at this and think, one day i put five rivets in this thing. they think about it. it is a wonderful memory and you see it in your last year's on earth, what you did when you were young and how it still stands as a mark of belief and
craftsmanship and pride. pride in your work. moses cannot mess that up. nobody can. sam: you describe them as part gypsy and graceful in the air. what do you mean by that? gay: i was surprised when they first started the bridge and i did my research. that it was affected by the air. in winter, it is higher and the steel melts in a way. and i heard from men that were up there, 500, 600 feet working on cables with that early stage when the cables connected to the foundation on the brooklyn side and the staten island side and how the wind effects their balance.
it is a dangerous way of living and working. and some do not survive without serious injuries. i know so many in their 70's and 80's that still now are like those athletes we admire in our youth. those players that have their injuries into their final days and they remember the glory days when they were performing. i think of them as almost athletic or like circus workers. yesterday, i was watching on television the window washers. i was thinking, god, we don't -- window washers that deal that -- do that work in a city of skyscrapers, what a wonderful story that would be. if i could do that story today, let me travel with those guys
and what about their health, the danger realized in the most futile fashion. and we also saw, as we see in the same building, the firemen who are also heroic people. we have to have a 9/11 sometimes to realize. and the everyday life of window washers or people working on high altitudes, we see the city and the miracle city, but it is built by the hands of people. and hands washing those windows. with all of the technology, manual labor and pride in manual labor, is such a part of our society.
it is wonderful to contemplate that and even more wonderful to see it in action, when i was lucky enough to be on the bridge, to see that. sam: that is one of the striking things you walk away from the book with, how much of the work is done by hand. when you think of all the machinery and technology that goes into the design and construction, how much one person holding a rivet or passing a piece of steel, how much a couple of individuals -- gay: it is true. sam: or one or two window washers on the scaffold.
gay: what about the mohawk indians? is a myth? gay: there is a chapter or maybe more about some ironworkers that i met who had apartments in brooklyn but would also visit their wives and children not far from montréal on a reservation. and the way i went around interviewing these people i i would hang out with them during the day and then at night, i would go to the bar with them. i did a lot of drinking with these guys. [laughter] gay: and one guy i would be with. his father was an ironworker. it was a family tradition. it sometimes goes back for generation and it continues today.
you will see the ironworker today as an example. one day, he said, spend a weekend with us at the reservation. i said, sure. one friday night, after the work was done and we would hang out in the bar and they would get a little liquor and they would get into a limousine, there were four of them, indian ironworkers, and me. and we drove -- think about four hours or more, and then we would get to the lawrence river and where the reservation was located. i would spend friday night and saturday night and sunday, coming back early monday morning. and i saw other old men who were ironworkers, some of them with injuries, they were the people
who were not the first, but the second generation. the first generation of iron workers built the bridges across the st. lawrence river. that was in 1890. what happened was there was a bridge of no significance, just a railroad bridge, it was near the reservation and that is how they started working. at first, they were giving them tasks, but then they would walk across the bridge and one of the superintendents said, these guys handled the height easily. they would go easily on these narrow beams. so they became part of the tradition of ironworkers. and when i went on this occasion, they were so nice to me. i do not want this for the record because i am a married man. but one of these guys said
listen, why don't you sleep with my sister, she would like to have you. [laughter] gay: so they had a lot of hospitality. anyway, what else? [laughter] sam: you are a meticulous dresser. you were flopping around the cables at the top of the towers, and you found out that they are one and 5/8 different from the top to the bottom. what were you wearing? gay: i am dressed as i am now. i am the son of a tailored, my close were made for me -- clothes where he made for me and my father, i told you he did not sell many things. but he did like us to see his
work on display. so i was a model for him when i was in parochial school and high school and i was not very popular because i would be on the school bus and i would have a fedora and they would knock it off. but i still believed i represented the tailoring trade. and i feel like that to my -- to this day. and we had other italians in our family that worked in other cities and those in paris. my father's mentor from a village near paris. my father later worked as an apprentice in 1920. this guy who is my father's uncle who had sons my age and they were tailors. this suit i have on now was made about 15 years ago.
i have 60 or 70 suits made by these cousins of mine in paris. they're so beautifully made like my father's standards. and they last forever. they are beautifully designed. this is a pinstripe brown suit but the stripes are measured so precisely just like the bridge. sam mentioned the precision of those towers. it is all the way through the bridge. the cables and every bolt. like the standards of tailoring. that is one of the underlying attractions i found when i started knowing the ironworkers. they are strong guys, but they have the touch of a tailor. the cables, you see them, they are beautiful. and the brooklyn bridge is
another example. sam: joe berger is inspired by you is chronicling the new bridge on the hudson. do you see differences between that and the verrazano-narrows bridge? gay: joe is an excellent reporter. you should probably know if you are readers of the paper. but the verrazano-narrows bridge is a work of art. and the george washington bridge is beautiful. i do not know which is more beautiful. every time i drive past i look up and i think that what a great grand design. and the new bridge will be a wonderful opportunity for joe berger to write about what they are doing. but i don't think that completed it will be as much of a work of
art. but i am prejudice. [laughter] sam: i think so too. if we talk about your dress, we can also talk about how you work as a reporter. gay: i want to say one more thing. when i interviewed ironworkers or the baseball players or the street sweepers or the window washers, if i was given the opportunity, i never dress down. i always dress up. the reason, for many reasons, one of them is because of my pride in my father's work. and also like sam, i take pride in being a journalist and i thought, i am guessing up for this story. if i am going out to be with workingmen and i wear a hard hat, like i did always, i did not want to to dress in a way like the workingmen, because i thought it would be in a way, it
is honorable to have pride in dressing up for the story, i do think if you are going to a ceremony, a wedding or a funeral, we dress up. when we go to a funeral we see the casket and the person is dressed up. and i never could understand why when you are going out to see people or interview people, it could be robert moses or a hard-nosed murphy it was the superintendent of the bridge in 1964. you should dress up. and i believe the dressing up for people pays respect to them. it is respect for the story and for the profession.
because, while journalists are not universally loved, like in the government, i still think it -- we are in an occupation that has within its spirit of operation, fewer liars per square yard than any profession in the world. fewer than politicians and people in business, people on wall street. even in the clergy, fewer liars. particularly the clergy. so that is it. i know that sam does not have free suits from a tailor family -- when i see journalist who do not, i lecture them.
sam: you can get away with it, absolutely. you said you did not do well with school, but you did well with curiosity. the small story was more worth doing in the big one area and it is not a small story if you do it well. gay: that is right, there are no small stories. what you bring to the story if you take your time and curiosity, it is important. the most important. almost equally important is patience. you can be curious, but then you have to be patient with people and spend time with them and try to understand what they see and what they do so you can describe what they do. that could be bridge builders or window washers, as i said before.
or school teachers. or even bankers and priests. anything. the wonderment of our career every day, is a new world for us. it does not mean the stories of yesterday have not ended. no story is over. this occasion for me, and sam has written a beautiful work on new york, too. our city changes every day. sam has a book that goes back to the indians in new york come along before bridge builders. there were indians in manhattan, and having their stories like in sam's most recent book, they are there. but our life is dealing with tradition and change.
and, we try to do justice to the people we are writing about, giving full value to the opportunity to write about the real-life. sam: there was a wonderful quote in the lobby of the new york times building on 43rd street from the first member of his family to own it the new york times. every day is a new beginning, every morn is the world made new. and i think that is what gay is talking about. you come in to work every morning and rediscover the world. as journalists, as reporters, newspaper people, we are blessed with the opportunity, instead of being paid for a postgraduate education every day, you just do not know what you will discover or what your curiosity will lead you to.
gay wrote one of the most famous essays ever, interviewing or trying to interview frank sinatra. he wrote a whole story about not being able to interview frank sinatra. it was brilliant. a lot of other journalists might have walked away from that saying, there was no story, i could not find it. instead, gay wrote a story saying, frank sinatra had a cold. it was a whole story about not being able to interview him and how well the people around him were protecting. let me introduce joe, a third-generation ironworker. [applause] sam: his grandfather is in the book. he worked on the verrazano bridge, and joe worked on the new world trade center.
you say it is safer than the old one was? >> i know the new one is extremely safe, i cannot speak to the original twin towers. everybody took a lot of pride in building the building and it is built sturdy, to last. everyone is really proud he worked on the building. >> when you mentioned that you knew his grandfather that helped with the cables, he is the grandson of a guy i knew. i did not know joe until this year. sam: joe, there was a wonderful line, the new york skyline is like a family tree for ironworkers because so many of them going to the same profession. why? someone else was quoted as
saying if he was wealthy you would become an ironworker as a hobby. why would you do that? joe: it is definitely a special trade. a lot of people are third, fourth generation. if you get a chance, i had an opportunity to work with these guys. when you see all the pride everyone has in the job, it is like nothing else. it is very rewarding, and i think that is why someone would do it without taking a paycheck. sam: if you are built do it. now, i am a klutz. joe: you told me you could teach me to do it in two weeks. joe: i might have been joking about that. [laughter] joe: if it is definitely your first time on a job, they will not throw you write to the wolves if they do not think you
are ready for it. everyone gets up there at first american little bit wide-eyed. i think some people can handle it and some can't. it takes time, but once you do it is second nature. we are trained really well. we have a state-of-the-art facility, we go through school, highly trained, certified in everything. the guys on the job are really smart, sharp guys that of been doing it for a long time. everyone takes a lot of pride in it. they are in tune. in the beginning, if you're there raising guy, as a new guy i got a shot after working five or six months. i got yelled at for over a year straight. it was really hard. as long as they see you learning, you either have it or you don't, really.
sam: would you want your kids to be ironworkers? joe: i would not mind. it is a great career, you can make a great living, a lot of great guys to work with. definitely. [indiscernible] joe: i have only been in the business about five years, i was sent to the world trade center to start. after about two years of transportation, i got sent and had a shot in the raising gang. the window washer units are pretty simple. i worked all day, i do not know the whole story. but all three units looked good when i saw them.
i do not see what happened. [laughter] sam: you wrote in the book of that three ironworkers lost their lives on the verrazano-narrows bridge to read what impact does that have on the other ironworkers? gay: the impact, as a result, the ironworkers of manhattan, somewhere around 1963 after these three deaths, the ironworkers' leader, a guy named ray corbett, there is a building named after him between 31st and 32nd street on park avenue on the east side of park avenue south you can see the ray corbett building. that is the headquarters of the building joe belongs to. he was a guy that in his youth was on top of the empire state building, he helped with the tower on top of the empire state building, like this guy did with the world trade center.
but he wanted nets. they wanted nets as the work was continuing. they were raising sections of steel that would be linked to form the roadway, the horizontal roadway leading manhattan to the staten island roadway foundations. management said, if we have these nets, it would impede the progress because the steel is lifted up from crane by barges come all the way down in the hudson in a park at the bridge and raise these. each chunk of steel is the size of a ranch house, i think there were 60 of them. management would not put nets
up. they went on strike for three or four days and they finally put the nets up but it did not impede progress. the union had today of joe's union, a guy named robert walsh, whose office is in the right corbett building, fallon the nets both times. if he did not have it he would not be running the union he belongs to today. good thing they have nets. did you ever fall? joe: no, thank god. sam: is it safer now than it was 50 years ago? joe: yes, there are more safety restrictions. some guys i know have seen a drastic change and they had to adjust. me getting in, it was already put in action with new safety stuff. which is definitely welcome to a
degree, with ironworkers. they do not say, -- sam: they do not say, you got it easy kid? joe: yes. but we like to think we are trained and skilled for reason and we are able to do this work. sometimes it can hinder you. sam: how long can you do it? do you reach a certain age where like an athlete, you have to give it up? joe: it is definitely a young man's game, for sure. a lot of the guys that have radios in charge they have been there and done that already. sometimes they are older and you would be surprised. some people are in great shape. a lot of guys will turn to welding when they're a little older because it is less physically strenuous. sam: what kind of work do they do when they are not building bridges?
what have they done in between projects? joe: there have not been as many high-rises. we are structural ironworkers, so any high-rises, any structural work, overpasses that are falling apart, we will replace the bearings and steel. [indiscernible] joe: the company i am with right now has some guys on the verrazano doing maintenance work on cables. but i do not know all the details, to be honest. now, i am working in staten island at the shipyard, i just started this job today. we are taking in six new gantry cranes. we are building six new cranes. we are taking them off the ship
and building them in place. sam: so that is good news for the port. joe: the bridge is getting raise and they need more cranes. sam: let me open it to all of you, some questions for gay or joe. [inaudible] gay: yes, the man who designed both the verrazano, i did meet him and interviewed him. he lived very well. he had a penthouse apartment above the carlyle hotel and madison avenue on 76 st. from this penthouse i went up
and interviewed him there. he took me out to the balcony, the deck he had. he had binoculars and he could see all the way down to the verrazano bridge, and he could see the george washington bridge. he could also fix other bridges in new york. and use their premier designer. not only did he do these great bridges, but there is a little walk bridge, a green footbridge, have you seen it? when you're driving along the fdr, along 80-something bridge, the footbridge, i do not think it has a name. [indiscernible]
gay: the question that has been in debate now that has nothing to do with allman plans, i think someone from the authority should talk about that. i do not think any of us can, because whether or not there should be a bicycle or pedestrian path, i do not know. but it was an ominous thought. in those days, bicycle riders did not have the political clout they have today, for sure. but ammann was really an artist. when i interviewed him, he was a modest man. but also, prideful. a great precision person.
he had to undertake the curvature of the earth and plan those two hours. sam: ammann did not have that much clout, arguably. gay: when they had this parade, the bridge first opened november 22, 1964, all the politicians, governor rockefeller and others. they had limousines, and mr. ammann was riding in the 18th car. there was the ribbon-cutting and bands, he did not even mention mr. ammann's name. an oversight, he did not invite the ironworkers.
the great robert carroll wrote "the powerbroker," if you want to know about the great moses, you can read that. he was not a villainous character, just a thoughtless one. he did good things. he really was the power behind the construction of great bridges. but as was the case of the people who lived in the bay ridge in the late 1950's, their lives had to be paved over because the bridge had to be built, no questions asked. it is almost like people who are victims in a time of war, bonds knockout property, kill people, that happened in the case of the verrazano bridge.
but moses had a different value system and there is much to say that he is right. as thoughtless as he is toward people, ironworkers and even the engineer himself. but i think you did more good than he did terrible things. sam: of course, there is a clash to moses, the expressway that legitimize -- the demise of the lower expressway. the defeat of westway and similar projects like that. yes, sir. >> [indiscernible]
sam: a hell dog? gay: i had very close relationships, i had respect for them, they had respect for me. i did not do anything but wear a hard hat. i did not walk across the catwalk. not only i did that, but a woman, who must've been in her late 70's, early 60's, some of you will notice in the book there was a sketch artist, illustrator, and industrial illustrator, someone here from the mta knows about her work.
her work is magnificent, she was like a renaissance artist and she was a friend of robert moses, too. she got permission to go up there. another photographer named bruce davidson, whose photography is well known now, but he was not so well known, no nor were any of us in 1962. so we have the work of davidson and others, and the magnificent workmanship and engineering itself. we got to know a lot of nice people. >> [inaudible] sam: did everyone hear the question? how did his grandfather inspire him to become an ironworker?
joe: he passed away when i was in my early teens, but we did see him often. what i know about him, he had parkinson's. he used to shake. me and my cousins would miss behave and -- misbehave, and you would hear the ice in the glass shaking. i was a little young at the time to really hear any talk about ironwork but i know they used to talk and discuss the business. what i learned from all those guys really, is how to be a man, a good man. it did inspire me to want to get into the business. they all raised great families, good men. i also want to think -- thank gay for reaching out to me because he asked for information
my grandfather, which helped me get in touch with my aunt tonight and learn more about him. his past, pictures of him, information i did not know. gay reaching out to me really helped me discover pictures of my father, uncle, and grandfather i did not know before. sam: if you had not been an ironworker, what do you think he would've been? joe: i would've liked to have been a reporter. [laughter] sam: good answer. gay: sam got you to say when you're old you cannot do it anymore. you said you were an athlete in high school, football, and you had one year of college. what about the teamwork?
joe: another thing is being competitive. when i was on tower one, the guys had to beat each other. you didn't want anyone to show you up in the business. growing up playing sports, a team sport, you always wanted to win. you always wanted to do a good job. and i think i was a pretty good athlete going up. that translated to the business. >> [indiscernible] sam: the question had to do with tunnels, not just bridges, but tunnels. gay: and did i ever have interest, the answer is yes. i wrote about the tunnels. when i was a reporter on the new york times, i met a man, the lincoln tunnel and holland
tunnel had a man who took pride in cleaning the tiles. one night around 4:00 in the morning he had a vehicle, like the ones we saw an apparently this situation yesterday. this vehicle clung to the sides of these walls of the tunnel. and, rode washing and wiping the tiles with mops from one end of the tunnel to the other and back and forth. i spent a whole night with this guy. when it was finished he looked at it with a sense of pride and he had to do this twice a week. i thought, jesus, that is a hard way to make a living.
but he liked it. the tunnels, we do not know much about them. but their magical, when you think you have to go under the water and fight with the fish and make your space and rounded out with walls and make it safe for us to drive through and get in traffic jams with and all that. >> [indiscernible] iron working involves a lot of strength. what are the actual physical tasks that make up your day?
sam: the question was, what are the actual physical tasks that an iron worker engages in? it requires strength, but what do you apply strength to? joe: being physically fit is a huge help in the business, you are to do more and you feel better at the end of the day. it depends amid job. some days you're lifting a lot, some days you're climbing a lot. some days you are swinging a heavy, 10 pound beater a lot. some days you have a hell dog and are busting rivets. it is a big, pneumatic tool. it is like an air-powered punch. you have to be strong and hold it. we do not use rivets anymore. sam: what is the difference between a rivet and a bolt? joe: the rivet used to heat up in an oven and they would throw it to a guy that would punch it
in the hole and they would have a gun to mash the two now we have a knot and a bolt. a lot of the business you are in awkward positions. that is one of the main things in the trade. you are in a weird spot doing things. >> [indiscernible] joe: you can never be replaced by computers. is the business safer? it is, but to a degree, if you are setting iron, there are only so many ways to do it and it will not change that much. there will be people up there getting the job done. sam: let's take two more
questions. yes, ma'am. >> [inaudible] sam: your question was, could the bridge have been put anywhere else but it would cause less displacement of people? gay: mark, did you answer the question? someone from the mta? mary, you do not know either? not to put you on the spot. >> that is ok. the point where the bridge is located on each side is the narrowest point. it makes sense for the world longest crossing at that point to be at the narrowest point.
there was consideration given to doing an offshore route for the approach to the bridge. that would've been parallel to the brooklyn shore. but that would've been phenomenally expensive. and they would not have been able to raise the funds to do that project. gay: interestingly, another bridge was built at the widest point of the hudson river to keep it out of the jurisdiction of the port authority, which had jurisdiction for 50 miles from the statue of liberty or times square or some point in the middle of new york city. that point ended at tarrytown, so that is why they built it at the widest point in the hudson river, which is why the replacement bridges so expensive
today. >> [inaudible] >> [indiscernible] sam: i am being asked, since i finished the story in 1964, 50 years later, i am asked, what is the difference between 1964 in 2014 in terms of my own curiosity and experience? i do not think there was much, except that i saw, in terms of 50 years, a half-century, how how the pride in work injured in the minds of those people who, like me, survive to see the
bridge celebrate its 50th anniversary. those men may be frail, and with age, showing the lacerations they received from steel hitting them here and there, they still had, what i remembered when i first met them back in the early 1960's. they have this identity with what they had done. an identity with their work. i love that. and i saw it. if his grandfather had survived, i think he would be a pretty good guest and testify to the fact that they are part of the bridge and they sure -- share endurance.
they love the fact that the bridge is so beautiful. they worked on something beautiful. i am sure in the time of the renaissance, some of those anonymous cathedral builders, the laborers that put the stones in a church or coliseum, they did something in a heavenly sense of living in the hereafter. they do something and it is finished but it goes on and on, and they still look with wonderment at this bridge that got no older. the bridge is as young now as it was in 1964, while the rest of us have aged. but what did not age is the glory in the achievement, that is what it is. sam: thank you, joe spratt,
thank you gay talese. [applause] >> we would like to invite everyone to join us at the front of the museum where you can speak more with gay and joe and they will be signing copies of the book. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2016] >> you're watching american history tv on c-span three.
to join the conversation like us on facebook at c-span history. c-span, where history unfolded daily. 1970 nine, c-span was created as a public service by america's cable television companies and is proud to you today by your cablers had let provider. -- or satellite provider. next on american history tv, the life, legacy of jack london. in this two-hour program, we'll see selection of london's photojournalism and learn how the author of "the call of the wild" has influenced generations of novelists and writers. the bill lane center for the american west and stanford university libraries co-host this event. [applause] >> thank you, bruce.