Thousands in fear of Chesapeake Bay Bridge use service to cross

For Joseph Gaskin, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge is a plunging death trap.

The Easton resident is so scared of it, he needs someone to drive him across the four-mile structure.

That’s where Steve Eskew comes in.

Five months ago, the business owner took over Kent Island Express.

The driving service has one mission: get anxiety-filled drivers across the bridge, calmly and in one piece.

Gaskin said the service was a lifesaver. He uses it twice a day to get to work to the cost of $30 per ride.

“It’s money well spent in my opinion,” the Easton resident said.

Gaskin is one of thousands of people who are scared to drive across the bridge. His fear has given an unlikely business owner an opportunity to create a profitable business venture.

IN FOCUS | Watch ABC2 News Monday at 6 p.m. as we take an in-depth look at safety concerns and initatives on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

Kent Island Express started five years ago. Eskew bought the business five months ago.

"The service grew after officials from the Maryland Transportation Authority stopped offering free rides because of the growing demand," Eskew said. “They just couldn’t keep up with the demand.”

In a given day, the service can get anywhere from nine to 25 calls, depending on the season.

With Memorial Day around the corner, Eskew has been getting ready for the busy time.

Eskew said in one year, the company transported 7,000 people. This year, it’s been nearly 1,000, he said.

“The calls come at any time,” he said. “In a way, we are like firefighters -- we never know when someone is going to have a panic attack and need assistance.”

Using the service requires at least an hour’s notice. A person generally meets Eskew or one of his eight drivers right before the bridge.

After meeting, the driver will get into the rider’s car and drive it across. Another person will drive behind.

“It’s always a two person job,” Eskew said. “You need to be able to get back over the bridge when you’re done.”

The service employs about eight people part-time. Many are college students or upbeat stay-at-home mothers looking to make some extra money.

To be able to drive across the bridge, Eskew makes sure to hire individuals who can keep calm under pressure.

“You just never know when someone is going to break down,” he said. “You have to be prepared for that.

Eskew says he knows that notion well.

During a pickup last year, he was transporting a mother with her two children who were headed to a soccer tournament in Ocean City.

“When we were on the bridge, she just started crying, tucking her head--panicking,” he said. “Her head was almost on my lap -- her children were in the back, attempting to calm her down.”

When they got to the other side, she regained her composure and thanked Eskew for being there.

She called him again when she returned home.

Gaskin said he had his panic attack about five years ago, when he was going through some personal problems at home.

“I was on the bridge and my anxiety took the best of me,” he said. “I felt like I was going to plunge to my death --that notion has never escaped me.”

Gaskin said poor maintenance on the bridge has also made him more anxious.

“One hit and you can go over,” he said. “I’m not going to chance it.”

Dr. David L. Shevitz, psychiatrist at LifeBridge  Health, said it’s not uncommon for many people to be scared to cross a bridge, also known as Gephydrophobia.

Shevitz said for many, the causes of a phobia can be traced back to a specific traumatic event that triggers the anxiety.

“All of a sudden their adreniline might be going,” he said. “The panic sets in and they can’t cross. Sometimes a person might have been doing it for years and all of a sudden the fear is triggered.”

Travel and Leisure magazine named the Chesapeake Bay Bridge one of the scariest in the country a few years ago.

Shevitz said the best treatment for severe anxiety usually includes exposure, where a person confronts the fear directly.

“The treatment is pretty effective,” he said. “It helps with resetting the brain.”

Eskew said he is still learning the ropes of the business he bought. He admits the demand can pose challenges.

“You just never know when a person is going to need help,” he said. “This is a part-time job, you have to be able to delegate.”

Since it’s inception, the business has been through three different owners, but Eskew has big plans to keep it going.

“No one else is doing this,” he said. “I’m glad we can provide it.”

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