The Lions Gate Bridge carries some 70,000 cars almost a mile across the entrance to Vancouver’s harbor every day. In a city polishing itself up for the 2010 Winter Olympics, the bridge is prime postcard fodder.
Except today, what with the red-and-white car dangling from the center span. And since 4:15 this morning, it’s been the Ministry of Transportation’s problem to get the thing down. Allan Galambos, wiry and gray-bearded, is the ministry’s head structural engineer, and when he got the call that an old Volkswagen Beetle was hanging from Vancouver’s best-known bridge, he wasn’t amused.
“Pranks create a lot of risk,” Galambos says. His first worry was that the car might fall onto a ship. But traffic is the real headache. By 11:30 a.m., two police cruisers have restricted drivers to a single alternating lane, and a boat circles below in case the Beetle falls. According to Canadian law, one cannot drop anything into the harbor, so Galambos’s crew can’t cut it down, even though the VW weighs only 390 pounds and comes stripped of all glass, engine and undercarriage. Instead, they have to bring in a crane to pull the car up. As the car rises, a hand-painted white “E” becomes visible on its roof. Several crew members roll their eyes in recognition.
“E” stands for “engineers.” University of British Columbia engineers. At many campuses, students play a prank or two—steal a rival’s mascot or move a roommate’s furniture to the quad. But only schools with rich engineering cultures put such awkward objects in such unlikely places. It’s a rare chance for engineers to show off their skills in a very public way, so much so that some of the greatest pranks resemble performance art.