By Mark David Blum, Esq.
Today is the 75th Birthday of the Golden Gate Bridge. A huge celebration is planned in the City by the Bay and its environs. If it is anything like the 50th, there will be chaos and joy. This I know because I was there.
Twenty five years ago today, my girlfriend (now my wife of a quarter century), my eldest daughter and I all decided we were going into San Francisco to spend the day at the Bridge birthday party. I was an undergrad at CAL (Go Bears!), my darling bride was teaching, and my youngest was about 4 or 5.
At 5:00 a.m., the City was going to close the bridge to traffic, and open it up to pedestrians to walk all over and look at the bridge from your feet. There were group marches from the City to Sausilito and back.
Well we decided we were going to be first on that bridge. It was probably my stupid idea. To accomplish this task, we would have to drive to a Bart station to designated bus gathering areas all organized to transport the throngs of people expected to the Golden Gate toll booths. Huge transportation plans were in place and well advertised.
Leaving Berkeley about 2:00 in the morning, we began our epic journey. The Bart to bus part worked without a hitch. My plan to be first seems to be working smoothly. When we got to the bus gathering point, we were at the third stop for designated busses; none of them would stop. They were full. I was getting pissed and so annoyed the bus company rep on site that she finally relented and summoned a bus to pick up the gathering group of people.
I swear we did what we set out to do. Standing literally first against the rope behind the first walkers were going to be let in, the time came. Off we strolled forward onto an empty bridge. The sun was just coming up and it was beautiful. I have pictures I will look for and post if I find them. I have this one great shot taken while laying on my back on the yellow strip at center span looking right up at the tower. The picture itself isn’t impressive, but I bet nobody will get again be able to get that shot.
When we were done looking at the water on both sides, we sat at center span, spread out a blanket and proceeded to eat a quick but planned picnic breakfast. It was so fun to be able to flaunt the normal routines just this once. We did it to be able to say we did it. Enjoying a meal the contents of which I have no recollection, I put everything back in my backpack (that thing glued to a student’s shoulder), and we turned around to head back and leave the bridge.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only person who had the same idea. When we turned around to head back, we hit a wall of people. It was packed so tight, people couldn’t walk anymore. With humans meandering toward center span from two directions, there is only so much room within which to be. It was said nearly a million people were on that bridge that day. The combined weight of the people actually flattened the natural arch of the span. I have a newspaper photo taken by helicopter of the flat packed bridge.
Concerts and sporting events are bad enough when everybody leaves at once. Salmon returning from the ocean to spawn way up river may have it pretty bad. But NOTHING is like that mile or so march I made upstream because I had already accomplished that which hundreds of thousands of others were still attempting to do. Yea, I had been to the mountaintop and now I had to get out. It got so bad I could bare keep connected to my clan. I told my girlfriend to hold onto the back of my jeans, I put my daughter on my shoulders, and keep shouting. “make a hole, sick kid”, and forced my way upstream through this never ending wall of people. My kid was keeping me headed toward the toll booths, my girlfriend keeps getting unhooked and I had to wait for her, but after seriously a couple of hours, we made it off and into an uncrowded area.
I started drinking early that day.
We spent the day in the City enjoying the festivities up and down the Bay waterfront. Come evening time, we found ourselves a great spot on a grassy knoll up against the sea wall facing the Bridge and awaiting what was marketed to be a spectacular fireworks show. With thousands of other people, but plenty of space, we sat and ate and drank and waited.
The Bay being what it is, was choppy and it was breezy. Tugboats were towing large barges laden with explosives and fireworks out toward the center of the Bay near the Bridge. There were three of them – three barges. Planners only had one tugboat at work. None of the barges would stay put and it became comical to all us onlookers to see the tugboat placing a barge, going to get a second, placing it, chasing down the first and bringing it back while the second one floats away and so on and so forth. Finally the Navy arrived to help and the three barges were placed.
To describe a fireworks show really cant be done. They had everything and lots of it. It was amazing. It was great. The Bridge came alive with color and flame; albeit to my chagrin, in subdued colors. It seemed understated. What was going on overhead from the water was big bad and beautiful. But the Bridge just drooled soft oranges and mellow reds.
I don’t remember much else. Some things you just never forget.