An Unexpected Connection

Field engineer Steve Smith couldn’t believe he’d won. He listened to Valentine In The Morning on 104.3FM radio every day on his drive into work, and the show had contests and giveaways all the time, but like most people Steve usually didn’t even bother calling in. For a free pack of tickets to the San Diego Zoo, though, he decided to try his luck.

Steve’s call made it all the way through and he eventually ended up live on the air to claim his prize. The hosts asked Steve where he was headed and he explained that he was on his way to his job working on the Sixth Street Viaduct Replacement project. Winning these tickets, Steve said, would definitely make for a memorable day. Little did Steve know that this day would indeed be memorable, but for very different reasons.

Laura Castro was also listening to Valentine’s radio show that morning. She heard about the tickets to the zoo and listened to Steve talk about his role on the project. That’s when Laura decided to text the radio station. She knew the original Sixth Street bridge well.

Thirty-three years ago, her father was killed in a hit-and-run on the bridge.

Laura shared her story over text, which soon sparked an on air discussion between the morning show hosts about how Angelenos felt toward the bridge demolition that made way for the new viaduct. The original Sixth Street bridge was an iconic landmark for so many in the city. For Laura and her family, it had much more meaning.

In March, 1985, Laura’s father, Gene Valencia, Sr., was driving to his mother’s house in east Los Angeles when the accident occurred. Laura and her family had rarely traveled across the bridge since. But when they learned that the original Sixth Street bridge was going to be demolished, the siblings had an emotional reaction stemming from their now visceral connection to the bridge.

Steve was still listening to the radio when the hosts read Laura’s text and he reached back out to the station in hopes of getting in touch with Laura. When they connected, Steve asked if she would be interested in visiting the construction site and offered to give hera tour. Laura took Steve up on his offer and visited the project site, along with her two brothers, two sisters, and aunt.

Again, Laura and her family were surprised by their emotional reaction when they arrived at the work site. Their connection to the bridge was through a moment of profound tragedy. But as they toured the construction, Laura’s family felt a new kind of relationship to the bridge forming.

“I was so impressedby it all,” Laura said. “Astonished.”She was touched by how generous Steve and his staff were as they drove the family around the huge site and showed how the foundations of the original viaduct are still in place.

What Laura expected might be a somber visit instead turned into one of surprising, newfound joy.This was the first time Laura and her family actually spent time visiting the bridge since their father’s death and they were grateful for the opportunity. After the tour, Steve gave the family a piece of rebar from the original bridge along with a certificate of authenticity. He wanted the family to be able to take a small part of the original bridge home with them that day.

“My heart is overjoyed with the history they will preserve,” Laura’s sister, Yvette, wrote to her in a text following the visit. She appreciated the piece of steel from the original bridge, and how it stood for what her family needed after the accident. “To me it symbolizes strength.”

Life is full of surprising connections. A radio show can bring two strangers together. A bridge can be both a symbol of sadness and joy. No one appreciates that more than the Valencia family. “This never would have happened,” Yvette concluded in the message to her sister, “if a text in memory of Dad was not sent. A small text turned into a lifetime experience for us.”