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Crossing Over the Bridge
July 20, 2005

            We looked up and saw gray.  We looked to the left, then to the right and saw gray.  We looked straight ahead and saw gray .  Then we started walking right into the gray, cool mist of a San Francisco fog and off on an adventure.  We walked across the Golden Gate Bridge.

            It was a hike I’d looked forward to for many, many years.  When I was ten, my mother gave me a book by one of her favorite authors, the travel writer of the 1930s, Richard Halliburton.  I love it and I’ve lugged it around wherever I’ve traveled.  After all these years (and books), it’s still my favorite book—Richard Halliburton’s Book of Marvels.  In it, Halliburton takes a group of imaginary children (he regretted he had none of his own) around the world, looking at the marvels of nature and of man.

            When we’re planning a trip, and Bob sees my battered green book come out, he knows—we’re about to visit another Marvel.  I keep score.  My son Chris loves the book almost as much as I do.  He keeps score too, and he’s ahead.  But this day, I was about to get another point.  Chapter 2 is all about the Golden Gate Bridge and a walk across.

            Halliburton made his walk across the bridge close to its opening date in 1937 when the bridge was spanking brand-new.  It was the talk not just of San Francisco, not just the nation, but the whole wide world.

            This engineering marvel was five years in construction.  The two main cables are made up of 27,572 strands of wire—each.  Combined, the two contain over 80,000 miles of wire.  It took six months just to spin it. Those cables are over a yard in diameter!

More interesting facts:  The steel for the bridge was made in the East Coast states of New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania; it then made the westward journey via the Panama Canal.  (Halliburton once swam the canal.) The bridge weighed 894,500 tons on the day it opened.  Today, thanks to new and lighter decking material, it has slimmed down to a modest 887,000 tons. 

But that’s not counting the cars—or the people—on the bridge at any given time.   

The Golden Gate is the entrance to San Francisco Harbor from the Pacific.  Before the bridge, ferry power was the only way to cross.   It didn’t take long for folks to change their habits.  The first year about 33 million vehicles found the way across.  Today it’s more like 40 million a year.

            There are plenty of walkers—and bicyclers, too.  Mary Currie, the Bridge’s Public Affairs Director, warned me to arrive early.  I wondered just how many other people would want to walk across the bridge.  The answer:  lots—over 6,000 on some weekend days.

            So here we were, ready to walk, and walk on a very special day.  Sixty-eight years ago to the very day, May 27, 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge opened to the public for the first time.  But not to cars, this day was for pedestrians only.  The bridge was jammed.

            On our morning, it wasn’t crowded as we headed into the fog.  There were a few other walkers and almost as many bicyclers.  We shared the walkway with them.  They let us know it was time to get out of the way by jingling the little thumbbells onthe bikes.  Looked to me like most of the cyclists had rented—maybe that’s what we’ll do next time.

By the time we reached the center of the bridge the fog was lifting.  We looked down from more than 200 feet above the water.  Sailboats tacked across the water, Alcatraz loomed ominous and lonely in the middle of the bay with the glittering city as a background.

            We finished the 1.7 mile hike, traded snapshot-taking with another walking family, had a drink of water at North Side Vista Point and then—well? We turned around and walked back across!   

            “Indeed this bridge does seem to have been built by giants, but by giants who loved great beauty as well as great size; for with all its overpowering magnitude this red rainbow of steel has the grace of flight, and the rhythm of a poem,” Richard Halliburton wrote.

            It took lots of people and time to build the bridge, and it takes lots of folks to keep it operating today.  202 on just the bridge, Mary Currie told me.  (The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District also operates ferry and transit services.)  It’s not all working in the toll booth either.  There are 28 fulltime painters and two apprentices maintaining the distinctive orange color;17 ironworkers maintain the steel and rivets.

            It’s hungry work out there in the fog.  The bridge folks appreciate a good meal and include some fine cooks.  Mary kindly sent me a couple of genuine Golden Gate Bridge recipes.

Carol Gerber is a one of those Golden Gate Bridge painters. I can see her sauce with ham or pork and most definitely next November with the Thanksgiving turkey.

Golden Gate Cranberry Sauce

1  12-ounce package cranberries

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 cup full-bodied red wine

1 cinnamon stick

1 piece orange peel (7" long)

1/4 teaspoon. ground mace

Rinse and drain cranberries.  Combine sugar and wine, bring to boil, stir.  Stir in remaining ingredients.  Lower heat, simmer 10 to 15 minutes or until cranberries have burst.  Remove from heat.  Discard cinnamon stick.  Cut peel into julienne strips and add.  Cool completely.  Store tightly covered.  A cup of raisins can be added to the mixture.

This recipe will fill up lots of hungry people.  It has meat balls and ground meat and  Italian sausage.  Carl Harrington worked for the ferry service for many years.

Carl Harrington's Spaghetti and Meat Balls  

2 pounds ground beef

3/4 cup parsley - chopped fine

1 medium red onion - chopped fine

3 garlic cloves - chopped fine

3/4 cup Italian bread crumbs

2 eggs

1 small can evaporated milk

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

3/4 teaspoon allspice

salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together, form 1 1/2 inch balls and lightly brown in oil.

Sauce:

Saute together:

1 large red onion - chopped fine

3 garlic cloves - chopped fine

3/4 cup parsley, chopped fine

Add 2 1/2 pounds ground beef, previously browned lightly

3 hot and 3 mild Italian sausage, crumbled and previously browned, 3 cans Italian seasoned stewed tomatoes (chopped slightly in blender) 2 large cans tomato sauce, 2 additional hot and 2 mild Italian sausages – whole. Rinse tomato sauce cans with approximately 1 cup water and pour the water into sauce (or substitute 1 cup red wine). Add oregano, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, salt and pepper to taste.

Simmer for several hours.  Serve over your choice of pasta.

            Many thanks to Mary Currie of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District who patiently answered all of my questions both on the phone and via e-mail. 

            Try to get to the Bridge for your own walk across, but if you can’t then visit on the Internet.  Go to www.goldengate.org and take the vir tual tour.  It’s almost as breathtaking as being there.


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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network