Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Golden Gate

Playing blog catch-up on a Wednesday night . . . .

After I finished walking the Castro yesterday afternoon, I took the streetcar back to Pier 39 and got on an hour-long Blue and Gold Fleet cruise around the Bay.

This cruise exists for one reason: to allow people to see Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. I had initially planned to walk over the bridge, but I've been doing a lot of walking over the past few days, a Blue and Gold Fleet voucher is included in the CityPass, and I was able to get a ticket for the 5:35 PM cruise.

The start of the cruise was not promising: instead of having the captain or another crew member narrate the tour, the Blue and Gold Fleet uses a recording of "Captain Nemo" (yes, that Captain Nemo) and "friends" (i.e., various famous and obscure San Franciscans) relating stories about San Francisco and the Bay. It's obviously pitched toward kids, but to adult ears it's hopelessly contrived. Blue and Gold could learn a few lessons from the National Park Service.

The boat ride itself, however, is quite pleasant. I won't post any more pictures of the San Francisco skyline or Alcatraz, but the cruise affords excellent views of both.

A Western Gull taking advantage of our air currents coasted with us most of the way to the bridge.

As is often the case at this time of year, the bridge was enveloped in a light, low fog. In fact, the bridge is painted orange because orange is relatively easy to see in foggy conditions.

I was one of the last people to get on the boat, and I didn't get a good seat. As a result, I couldn't take an iconic picture of the bridge (i.e., one in which both pillars are visible). I had to settle for taking pictures of the San Francisco side . . .

. . . and of the Marin County side. However, viewing the bridge from a boat does enable one to see its underside, which isn't otherwise visible. It also gives one a sense of just how cold and furious the currents at the mouth of San Francisco Bay can be. We were out on a calm day, and the water got choppy and the spray got chilly as we approached the bridge.

The narrative provided by Captain Nemo and friends improved as the tour progressed, although it never approached the quality of the Alcatraz tour. Maybe it's just the old labor historian in me, but I was genuinely moved by the section, allegedly narrated by a construction worker who helped to build the bridge, discussing the builders' genuine efforts to ensure worker safety and the horrific accident that claimed the lives of eleven men. The portion of the tour dealing with the discrimination experienced by San Francisco's Chinese and Chinese-American residents was concise and easy for everyone, including older children, to understand.

Captain Nemo ended the tour by pointing out that the Golden Gate Bridge has achieved iconic status, while the other big bridge in San Francisco Bay--the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge--has never attained such popularity despite being substantially longer than the Golden Gate. I think it's because the Bay Bridge (which is actually a trio of bridges and a tunnel) is painted a workaday gray. Despite being having the same graceful curves as the Golden Gate, it tends to blend into the water and the sky. Owing to its size, it's also difficult to photograph; I took the picture above while en route to Alcatraz the day before, and it's the best of a bad bunch.

The Golden Gate is truly lovely, but I find being in its presence a bit unsettling. The railing on the bridge's pedestrian walkway is low, and the walkway itself directly overhangs the water. As a result, the bridge is a suicide magnet: people have come to San Francisco from across the country, and even from other parts of the world, in order to end their lives in the cold waters of San Francisco Bay . . . or on the rocky headlands underneath portions of the bridge. The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District has responded by installing cameras and having first responders patrol frequently and are exploring the possibility of building some sort of physical barrier, but there is a notable lack of public support for the idea.

The whole time I was on the boat, I kept hoping that everyone on the bridge was simply enjoying the view and the fine summer weather.

No comments: