Happy Birthday to my friend, the bridge

Posted on May 30, 2012. Filed under: Culture, Musings, Travel |

It IS amongst the most recognizable symbols of human habitation on the earth. In the United States of America, the East Coast has the Statue of Liberty; the West Coast has the Golden Gate Bridge. This notable structure had its 75th birthday this past weekend. I had relatives that remembered a time BEFORE the bridge, when one had to travel north of San Francisco on a ferry. You drove your car onto the ferry-boat and drove off on the other end.

San Francisco is on the tip of a peninsula. You can travel north and east of there by traveling south first and then driving east, and then north again, but it’s always been faster and much more efficient to travel over the water to get…well almost anywhere that wasn’t due south.

For the history of the bridge, along with some great photos, you can go here. I won’t repeat all the interesting facts there, such as that the bridge is constantly being painted. I met a man once that told me his job was to paint the Golden Gate Bridge. That’s it. Not just an industrial painter in general; his job was to be constantly painting the bridge in its signature vermillion color. (OK, so I shared ONE interesting fact…go see the above link; it’s all really quite interesting. Also the official 75th anniversary site is here.)

The picture at the top of this post is the view I had of the bridge from the football field at the high school I attended in San Francisco. There are actually even better and closer views of the bridge from the school. Being able to see the bridge from school is one of the few things I liked about high school…but I digress.

The bridge was always a part of my life; my neighborhood. From early childhood, I accompanied my parents across it in the car, usually when we went on brief weekend holidays to a woodsy cabin camp north of the city. It was always lovely riding across the bridge in a car. The views were spectacular: sailboats in the sparkling bay; the incredible mountains; the jaw-dropping San Francisco skyline view looking back towards the city. Even on those days of dense fog, where one couldn’t see a thing (and there were many) the bridge in the mist had an ethereal, other-worldly quality I valued just a much as when the days were clear and sunny and I could see forever.

It was when I was a young teenager–thirteen or fourteen years old–that I became “intimate” with the bridge. I had known for some years that people walked and bicycled across the bridge, not just drove. I had never walked across the bridge, but a youth group I was in was planning a bridge walk, and then a picnic “on the other side” That “side” was Sausalito, an absolutely charming town on the water, with elegant shops and eateries; houseboat communities and a yacht harbor, right down the hill and a lovely walk along the water from the bridge.  The first time I walked across the bridge, I carried a bowl of potato salad! We each brought something for the meal we’d share in the little park at our destination. I met my friends at the entrance to the bridge walk, and was almost in a trance all the way over. I’m surprised the potato salad made it intact. :)

I discovered that I could easily walk to the bridge from my home! I hadn’t really thought about that before the first time I walked the bridge. I could leave my cramped bedroom and walk, walk, walk all the way to Sausalito! My friends and I didn’t walk back from there; instead we took a ferry to downtown San Francisco, and then the bus home. The ferry ride itself was almost as magical.

One time, after I had moved to the magical land across the bridge from the city, I was driving on the bridge in my very lightweight car. A rare high wind came up and actually blew my car into the next lane! Fortunately there was no one in the place my car landed. I decided in the future to check the wind reports before driving, if the wind at all seemed out-of-the-ordinary. (And since then, I’ve driven heavier cars, too!)

I went on this walk a couple more times with friends, and then once or twice on my own. It is the most incredible walk, far above the sea; the boats; the world. The salt air and the feeling that I was one step further on the path through the universe was sometimes overwhelming. I felt the blood, sweat and tears of those that built the bridge (some had died from accidents during construction); and of those that had died by jumping from its heights. I did know a young man, a little older than me, that had jumped to his death from there, after his girlfriend broke up with him. I knew his mother quite well; she was never the same after this happened.

In spite of all that, the beauty and hope of this place; this bridge; this arc of welcoming to one of the greater cities on earth, held me in its sway. We became friends, the bridge and I, and it has never let me down, in or out of sight. Happy Birthday, dear friend!


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