Growing up in the suburbs of the Bay Area, I had precisely one reason to go to San Francisco: visiting my grandparents. Even when I was an angsty and rebellious teen, the enticing allure of “the City” – that is to say nightlife, underaged drinking, and seeing pretty things – was largely lost on me. As far as I was concerned, San Francisco had nothing to offer but volatile bums and smelly bay sewage… and my grandparents, who occasionally managed to pull me away from the clean comfort of a sterile suburbia.
Thus is why I was so surprised when I heard that San Francisco is supposed to be one of the greatest cities in the country. I had no idea what there was to do there, which was a problem because, since leaving the Bay, eager would-be tourists have constantly asked me what there is to do there. I’d feed them the usual hearsay…
“Uh… there’s Ghirardelli Square… and Pier 29… or is it 39? Maybe 49? …I know it ends in a 9.”
So I decided to take the opportunity of a friend visiting from out of town to find out a little about the City myself. This took us to many places, and eventually the Golden Gate Bridge.
Now don’t get me wrong – I’d been to the Golden Gate Bridge before, though only to drive across it on my way elsewhere. The bridge itself had never been a destination, thus out of some semblance of homeland pride, I decided it was due time to walk its length and finally be the tourist I tell others to be.
What I had pictured in my mind, as informed by the insulated comfort of my car, was a peaceful stroll above the rolling ocean waves, looking out over the blue waters at the city skyline with the Bay Bridge standing loud and proud above the horizon. I saw myself, hands in pockets, shifting my gaze northward toward the formidable Marin Headlands before turning to my companion to discuss the latest news stories and enlightened epiphanies, as San Franciscans should be apt to do.
Instead, what I encountered after battling through the tour-bus crowds was a different story. Of course it was bitterly cold as usual (mind you it is July), but as a Bay Area native, I was prepared for the piercing chill of summertime in the City. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was the noise.
This might sound painfully obvious: the Golden Gate Bridge is a main thoroughfare highway that allows you to access the entire North Coast of California. In fact, it’s the only highway that allows you to access the North Coast of California. This means a lot of cars travel on it in order to work in the city while living in the remote beauty of the North Bay. This is especially true during Rush Hour, which was precisely when we started crossing the bridge at 5:30pm.
The traffic was so loud I couldn’t hear myself think. The constant drone of six lanes of heavy traffic combined with the arctic winds gusting from the Pacific turned my serene stroll for discussing finer matters with my companion into a point-blank yelling match for which there was no winner.
“…but you see, that’s why Nietzsche said ‘God is Dead.’ It wasn’t a proclamation of atheism! It was insistence that we no longer feel threatened by the values of religion! That’s what led him to the Übermensch!”
“WHAT? ‘THE TUDOR’S MANSION’?”
“Oh yeah! The ‘Pseudo-Stench!’ I’ve heard of that!”
It was like a nightclub. Our San Franciscan enlightened conversation was impossible. To make matters worse, the marine layer was quickly descending, and what started as pleasantly bleak weather turned dismally black. Suddenly it occurred to me: the Big One is overdue to strike. And what about terrorism, eh? …which is of course when our conversation turned to the frightening chaos of random violence and the unpredictability of humans in a neurotic society such as ours as evident by the recent events in Aurora, Colorado.
Now, everyone on the bridge was an enemy. Every stranger was a terrorist or madman. Every car was noise pollution. Every mountain was spawn from the unpredictably vicious San Andreas Fault. And I… I was surrounded by it all, suspended 220 feet above hungry sharks by a structure built in the 1930’s.
For the record, the bridge takes a lot longer to walk than it looks. And once you walk across it, you have no choice but to walk across it again.
Don’t get me wrong: it was beautiful. You should go there sometime. But when you do, don’t ask me where to eat afterwards. I don’t know. This is all I know.