10 May 2012

The Golden Gate at 75

I grew up directly across the bay from the Golden Gate Bridge. On most days I could look out and see its vibrant orange towers spanning the entrance to the bay, yet I had never stepped foot on its hallowed concrete and metal. May 27th will mark the 75th anniversary of that glorious feat of engineering. The other day, not wanting to fight the massive crowds that are sure to be there for the celebration, I decided that it would be a good time to visit.

The weather was un-San Franciscanly hot; I knew that temps would hit close to 80 degrees. It rarely gets that warm in the middle of the summer, let alone in the spring. Accordingly, I set out in my lightest summer clothing.

Getting to San Francisco is a quick trip under the bay on BART, (our subway), but finding the right bus to get from downtown to the bridge was quite a task. I trekked up and down Market Street and then over to the Ferry Building in hopes of finding the correct bus stop. I had found bus route numbers on the internet, but where they stopped remained a mystery to me and everyone else I asked. By that time I found the correct corner, (30 or 40 minutes later), it was hot enough that I was actually getting a bit sweaty; rather unheard of in San Francisco, but very welcome.

The bus ride out to the bridge is not for the fainthearted. Going on Golden Gate Transit was supposedly faster than on the Muni bus lines, but I have my doubts. Yes, it took me to the bridge, but the driver had to take time to explain the bus options to every person, (mostly tourists), who got on. If you want to continue your trip to Sausalito, pay more now, then after you cross the bridge, take the ferry back. Or if you want to wait for Muni, it’s a dollar cheaper. I do applaud his willingness to help people out, but it added a ton of time to the trip. One would think that in San Francisco there should be a quick, downtown-to-Golden Gate shuttle, especially since they encourage you to use public transportation.

And although it took forever for the bus to get to the bridge, and I was wondering why in the heck I had thought this would be a good idea, all bad thoughts were quickly forgotten as soon as I gazed onto that magnificent structure. It truly is breathtaking.

How wonderful! The Golden Gate Bridge on a splendid day! But then I stepped off the bus and swore; it was freezing! It doesn’t matter how many weather reports one checks, it will always be cold on the bridge with that wind blowing in from the ocean. Then again, that meant that there was no cloud cover and I had picture perfect views of the bridge.

Stepping onto the walkway I tried to avoid the bicycles flying by on my left. I shivered and knew I had keep my head down, battle the chill and get to the first tower of the bridge before stopping, in hopes that I would find shelter from the frigid gusts. Wind whipped through my thin cotton shirt and I gave up on trying to wear the hat I had brought. Once at the first bridge tower, I moved into a protected section and again felt the glorious heat of the day.

It really was a magnificent day and I thought about the men who had built this structure when the weather was never this good and the winds were often much stronger. How did they do it? And that was back in 1937!

What really struck me was that the width of this great structure appeared so small when you are actually standing on it. I could have leaned out and touched cars going by; there just isn’t that much space between the walkway and road. And if there’d even been a small break in the traffic, I am sure I could have run across to the other side. And speaking of safety issues, there aren’t any suicide barriers on the bridge. It wouldn’t be difficult to take a swan dive into the waters below.

Although the bridge is only 1.7 miles, this was not the day I would walk the entire length. It had taken too long to get there and although I could practically see my house as I stood on the bridge and looked over to the east bay hills, I knew it would be an arduous return trip. That and a bum knee sealed the deal as I trudged back to try and find a bus stop. Again, there was no clear indication of how to return to the city center so I just followed other tourists and/or flagged down a passing bus. I seriously considered hitch-hiking but just at that point the correct bus pulled up.

From where I am now sitting in my living room, I can almost see the Golden Gate. (If just a few trees were cut down, I could see it.) Now when I look at it I see it in a different, eye-level perspective, and recall what it felt like to walk her mighty span. It took me a few years to get there and I am so glad I finally did it.