The bitter wind slaps me in the face and a chain link fence obstructs my view of the city. The rusty links start at the sidewalk and launch about 10 feet up before arching over my head. It looks like a wave about to crash on me. I shutter at the thought of being crushed under a wave. I look towards San Francisco and the wind is relentless. I see the Transamerica Pyramid, the Bay Bridge, Coit Tower. My pants ripple, my fingers burn through my thin blue gloves, and I feel my legs pinched with cold. That fence covers my view with a thousand rust-covered diamonds. I lean into it so that my eyes can see through the fence, past the diamonds. Then I have to turn away because I want to feel something besides trapped. That fence is making me feel trapped.
With my back to the city, see the ocean, the Marin Headlands and the gray clouds that graze the peaks. While I’ve seen this view countless times, on this morning I want to see something different. To feel something different, a change. I want my brain to roll over the way the water does when the tide shifts from going into to heading out. I want to feel something powerful, something profound. I want a sign that signifies that 2010 is going to be different. I wait for inspiration. My eyes shift from the water and the lone boat heading into the Pacific Ocean to the cars on the bridge. Black van heading south. White convertible with the top up heading north. Blue Honda heading south. Turquoise pickup truck with the dog in the back heading north. Red Prius heading south. Black taxi truck with a Christmas bow on the front grail heading north. My gaze follows each vehicle as it crosses the span, my head swinging back and forth like a pendulum. I wait. It’s hypnotic.
I’m standing 169 steps past the threshold of where the Golden Gate Bridge begins and where the city ends. I took 13 steps 13 times. Thirteen steps for each of the years I’ve lived in the Bay Area. I’m convinced that this is the spot where I’ll realize that everything is going to be okay. That my life will be okay. That I’ll be okay. When I moved to San Francisco in 1996, I was 22 years old. I had just graduated from college. I was bright-eyed, optimistic, and eager to build a successful journalism career, a partnership with my long-time boyfriend, a life that would include the words happily ever after. But there have been many unexpected turns on this journey, so many ups and downs: a marriage, a divorce; a birth, so many near-deaths; promises, broken promises. For 20 minutes, I stay in this spot.
As I watch the cars and trucks and buses move in both directions, I notice the sound as they pass over a grate that spans all lanes: Ribbit, ribbit, ribbit. And then I notice the white bumps that serve as lane dividers. They are like lily pads resting on an asphalt lake, and for a moment I feel like I’m in a human-sized game of Frogger. Red Chrysler heading north. Red van heading south. Yellow mustang heading north. Silver Audi heading south. The San Francisco tour bus heading north. I imagine I’m holding a joystick and I wonder if I would make it across. I used to be good at Frogger.
It’s been 13 years since I first walked over the Golden Gate Bridge. And it’s possible that I haven’t walked over it since. I’ve driven over the 887,000-ton bridge countless times. I know that it’s not really golden, but more of a burnt orange. I know its official color is called orange vermillion. I don’t know why I know that. Thirteen is going to be my lucky number.
I wait some more. Pelican flying. Bridge vibrating. Clouds billowing. Cars rushing. Waves pressing against rocks. Boat passing. No people walking. It’s just me out here on this windy, 42-degree morning. One bike heading north. Another bike heading north. Nose dripping, but no tissue. I brave the wind and pirouette back towards the city. My eyes start to water as I look down at the parking lot below. It’s mostly empty this morning. I see the pattern of the parking spots, the diagonal lines waiting to offer silent guidance to any approaching cars. I see words painted on the ground directing drivers: “No parking,” “Only van tour,” “Only bus. Only bus.” So much instruction. I look around for my instructions. Where are my instructions? Where is my sign telling me what to do next? How to proceed? I look around. A metal sign bolted to the bridge says: “Any person who willfully drops or throws any object or missile from any toll bridge is guilty of a misdemeanor.” Another sign say: “Sidewalk under surveillance.” I look around for the cameras and wonder if I should wave. Then I notice a sticker that someone stuck to one of the poles. It says: “Hello my name is GROSS.” Those signs don’t mean anything to me.
Golden Gate Transit No. 70 bus heading north. White minivan heading south. Silver Toyota heading north. Gray Nissan heading south.
There are no sailboats. There are no cargo ships. There is just one fishing boat heading west, one Ferry heading towards Tiburon. One jogger heads towards the city, black shiny pants clinging to his legs. Yellow tow truck heading north. Black motorcycle heading south.
It’s time to go. As I walk the 169 steps back to the threshold, a large crow, the color of ink, glides just a few feet above my head. It caws. I see its beak open, and I think I see its pointed tongue inside. Its wingspan is impressive, majestic for a crow. It caws again. I wonder if it’s trying to tell me something. But I remind myself it’s just a bird. Nothing more, nothing less. And I’m just a human being. Nothing more, nothing less. Not a perfect human being. Just one trying to figure out how to get through the day, through the week, through this year of change. So much change. A lifetime of change in 13 years. I run my fingers along the rusty fence for a second and concentrate on the sensation of the metal bumping against my numb finger tips. Momentarily I wonder what change will come during the next 13 years. Mid-thought, I stop myself. I’m going to worry about this week, this month. I don’t need to know all the answers today.