Place Where You Live:

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

Photograph by Rudy Garbely

Jaime and I walked to my car in the eighty-degree heat to find the windows fogged. Morning light had begun to seep into the sky, squeezing between the trees that shaded the hospital. The black of night had melted into a smooth purple color, and at five a.m., we were finally leaving the emergency room. I rubbed my eyes and unlocked the car door.

We headed towards home, back across the Fahy Bridge, one of three bridges spanning the Lehigh River and connecting the two distinct neighborhoods of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania: the North Side, characterized by the stone buildings of the Moravian settlement of 1742 (each displaying neatly spaced rows of arched windows and navy blue historical landmark plaques); and the South Side, colored by the growth of big industry in Eastern Pennsylvania, dotted with factories and memories of workers pursuing American dreams. From the bridge, I could see the Bethlehem Steel plant, masked in shadows, behind a pinkish-purple haze born of the intense humidity and the light of dawn. As the sun rose, four corroding blast furnaces—fifteen-story silo-looking structures—morphed out of darkness into a rejuvenated factory, recalling the workers who had driven the industry through the twentieth century and manufactured steel for the Empire State Building and the Golden Gate Bridge. The plant seemed alive. You could almost hear the buzz of machinery and taste sweat and iron dust on your tongue.

There is a trail that snakes along the Lehigh, paralleling train tracks and abandoned canals, some of the first of our nation. Running on the gravel path, you can see through the tree line and across the water toward the mile-long Bethlehem Steel complex. Some mornings, a train passes along the opposite bank, blocking your view, and all evenings, now, fluorescent spotlights shine neon hues across the face of the abandoned factory, highlighting the entrance to the new casino.

By six, the sun had risen, the shadows on The Steel had fallen, the humidity had thinned. The color of rust returned to the plant sitting dormant on the river. Jaime had laryngitis and couldn’t talk for three days.