Scanning the front page of my Chronicle on Sunday morning, I try to ignore it. I open to the inside page hoping to get lost in Carl Noltes “Native Son” column, but I keep turning back to the picture splashed on the front page with its bold headline yelling at me: “A Tricky Feat.” In the accompanying article, staff writer Rachel Gordon explains “the most complex procedure on the Bay Bridge replacement project” is beginning: a portion of cement and steel the size of “a football field stadium,” which is going to be attached to the Bay Bridge while 150 ft. in the air. This will be done, she assures me, in only four days.
Four days, so many things seem wrong with this. I don’t doubt Rachel Gordon’s reporting, but what instantly has me sweating is that this monstrosity, so hastily slapped together, can’t be safe to drive on.
Driving across the Bay Bridge for me always feels like a supreme act of bravery. While sitting through traffic I regularly have visions of a massive explosion where the top deck crumbles, or the structural integrity of the bridge gives way via earthquake or tidal wave, sending my little blue Toyota Matrix plummeting into frigid unforgiving bay waters below.
I know this neurotic bridge breakdown is post-traumatic stress induced from watching too many Michael Bay films, but the fear lingers, so I decide to keep an eye on things.
Thursday around 6 p.m., the day the bridge is set to close at 8 p.m., I Mapquest Middle Shoreline Park, which I am told by Google has a perfect, clear view of the bridge, and, following cyber-America’s suggestions, take the 580 to the 80 and swerve across four lanes of traffic to exit. My heart is starting to skip and I’m sitting forward in the driver’s seat. Where is the Maritime street turn? This doesn’t seem right. I am driving onto the Bay Bridge, somehow there is no Maritime St. Apparently, it no longer exists. I look to my left realizing I have somehow ended up on a service road, going around the tollbooths and onto the Bay Bridge. I am now a criminal; a rouge motorist sneaking on without paying. An accidental outlaw headed straight onto the beast. I curse Mapquest, think happy thoughts and take the Treasure Island exit off the bridge. As I near the bridge’s entrance I am face to face with the the cruel underbelly of east bound, rush-hour bridge traffic; to my right are construction workers on parked cranes waiting to go to work. I make the sign of the cross and merge with authority, onto the Bay Bridge driving as fast as I can back to Oakland. I decide I will check on progress tomorrow.
Late Friday morning, I pour my Folgers Select into my neon pink thermos and drive through downtown traffic.
Pulling into the park I am struck by the view of San Francisco. From here you can see the entire grey-blue city. Along the waterfront are three Viewers which look right onto the bridge. I walk up to the viewer and turn it towards what appear to be faint construction vehicles.
Nothing on the bridge seems to be moving. Looking through the lenses I see men in white hats and bright orange vests standing near a Port-o-Potty. Just above the 7th Street terminal signs, more men in neon yellow vests are standing on scaffolding, but from this vantage point it does not appear like anything is happening. I can see what looks like a large football field-sized piece of something, but the ends drop off into nowhere. Helicopters are circling like flies over the steel skeletal structure. I watch the bridge, and the men on the bridge stand there. I feel sure they will not make their deadline. I declare the project doomed and I am vindicated. I stand staring through the viewer. Suddenly I am aware their is someone next to me. I look over and a scruffy curly headed cyclist is pulling out a pair of binoculars. He smiles a handsome smile. I write on my reporter’s notebook and act like I’m ignoring him.
“Are you a reporter?” He asks gesturing towards my tan notepad. I answer yes. But the yes ends more like a question mark, because I think today I am half reporter, half paranoid citizen. I return to the viewer and my notepad. Trying to look official. Aware I am blushing.
As I stare through the lenses at the orange and white-headed men standing around the bridge, it occurs to me, perhaps this is fate. Perhaps my obsession with my impending death via Bay Bridge was merely a vehicle to bring me here to meet this attractive, fellow neurotic Bay Bridge watcher. But when I look up from the viewer, he is gone. I decide, walking to my car, perhaps I will trust Rachel Gordon and my Chronicle. My fear of falling off the bridge in a whirl of fiery doom is just the stuff of bad action films, Just as the chance meeting of two lonely neurotics set against the lush backdrop of ocean front urban sprawl is just the stuff of bad romantic comedies.