21st Post February 11, 2018

Did you watch the opening ceremonies in PyeongChang, South Korea? My wife and I thought they were quite stunning. I find it difficult to compare them to past openings. Each one is so different, and always has such grandiose displays. This year I was very impressed with the use of drones, to form immense figures, and float them over the slopes and Olympic venues. Although, I guess it was just a matter of time, before they would be used.

I’d be curious to see a pole taken on the acceptance or rejection of this technology. We can use them to spy on our neighbors, map out a sub-division, or wipe out our enemies. There’s even been serious talk and experimentation with drone deliveries to our doorsteps. Cool, or scary?

We can all own a drone. Just go online and order one, or two, or a whole fleet of them. Have you ever thought you would hear anything like that, twenty years ago? The words online and drone used in the same sentence, was more science-fiction than real.

I, for one, have always been a mid-to-late adapter of new technology. I prefer to allow the gung-ho early adapters to test it all out for me first. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for progress, I just don’t want to be on the bleeding edge of it.

Sometimes I feel a bit cursed to have worked in the tech industry. When you know how something works, you also know how badly things can go if it winds up in the hands of fools or, even worse, tyrants. So, my mantra has always been, to proceed with caution, and be careful what you wish for. It may come true. But that’s just me. We, all have our own opinions on, well, everything.

Speaking of, opinions, I’d be interested, to hear from you regarding my blog. I’m into my 8th month and 21st post. Yay or nay, feel free to drop a comment at the end of each entry. I promise I won’t be offended, I’ve been rejected by the best publishers in the business.

Are you ready for the newest chapter of my journey? I am visiting the last Smith brother, then we will continue traveling down the Pacific coast. Who knows what new adventures we might encounter.

*****

To the Bridge

We arrived at the last Smith’s house, in San Francisco, at about 4:00. We had visited Tom and Karen once before with our daughter, when she was in her teens. Tom is a retired fire-fighter. I can’t imagine what it must have been like trying to manipulate those huge vehicles and equipment in a city with so many hills. Karen is a retired Brainiac. She had made her living as a bio-chemist and then patient attorney. They were wonderful hosts and loved to laugh and have a good time.

Their beautiful, stately home, is just several blocks from the Haight-Ashbury district. I swear their street is on a 20% grade. From the front, their house appears to be two-stories, but around back there is another level below, that is rented out. The deck, is built into a hill and displays some stunning glimpses of downtown.

As you enter from the front there are two studio apartments on each side of the foyer. Dar and I stayed in one, while the other was being rented to some travelers for the week. The Smiths occupy the top floor.

They had a surprise planned for the evening. It was Tom’s birthday, so we freshened up and headed out. Karen had made reservation, downtown, at the Culinary School of Arts. The students had put on an event, show-casing their favorite creations. It was stunning.

We entered a huge hall with table after table of eloquently displayed foods. Most of it was bite-sized delicacies, served on crackers, crisps, or small bread pieces. The students had placed small signage near each creation and did the serving. Past the tables, near the back, were some carving stations with entrees of prime rib, seasoned salmon, pork tenderloin and several different veggie, pasta and potato side dishes.

We were seated at a table for four, and helped ourselves, buffet style. The evening was perfect. We gabbed, ate, and laughed for several hours. For dessert, Tom was served a special birthday delight, as the student-waiters and us, sang happy birthday.

When we arrived back at the house, Tom served a cordial out on the deck. We discussed our plan for tomorrow. Tom and Karen both had unbreakable appointments in the morning but offered to meet up with us later in the day. It was late, so we said our good nights and retired downstairs to our apartment.

*****

Here I am living my ultimate dream. The eighteenth hole at Pebble Beach Golf Links is my absolute favorite. I’ve been playing well, even though the weather has been deteriorating all day and the sky is black and ominous. To my left the Pacific Ocean is rolling uncontrollably and the wind is starting to pick up off Monterey Bay.

I stick my approach shot perfectly, and it looks like I’ll have about an eight-foot putt to make birdie. As I get closer to the green I hand my wedge to my caddie old Tom, and he places the putter in my hand, but just as I start to remove my glove to get a better feel of the leather grip my souvenir golf cap flies off my head towards the sea. Tom chases it down just in time. I’m cautiously confident as I reach the ball. Let’s get a good read and commit to the stroke. I’m on a flat spot, but it looks like it will break about two inches toward the ocean.

My pants legs and windbreaker are flapping wildly as I setup for the putt.  A giant wave crashes into the sea wall causing water to spray onto the green. I look at Tom as he fights to hold the flag steady and gives me the nod to go for it.

Ok Woody, one practice stroke, two practice strokes, inhale, exhale, ground the putter behind the ball, set your feet firmly and, what the heck was that? Did my ball really move? How could the ball move? It did it again! What is going on? That will cost me at least one penalty stroke, and why is Tom kneeling on all fours screaming at me? I can’t hear what he is saying over the howling wind. Wait a minute, everything is starting to sway back and forth. No not now, not an earthquake! I can still make par. Please stop shaking, please stop please!

“Honey, wake up. You were dreaming.” Dar shook my shoulder several times. “Were you in your happy place again?”

Yes, 18th green at Pebble,” I yawned.

“What was it this time, the tidal wave or the earthquake?”

“Earthquake, mostly” I said.

“How about your caddie, was it old Scottish Tom from the Royal and Ancient St. Andrews Golf club in his kilts, or Marilyn Monroe in the white chiffon she wore in The Seven Year Itch?”

“It was old Tom, but he was wearing the chiffon. Thanks for waking me, it was pretty gross.” I said relieved.

“C’mon, let’s get rolling. We have a lot to do today.” Said Dar.

Our plan for today was to drive to the nearest BART station and hop a trolley to Fisherman’s Wharf for some fresh seafood and maybe a ferry across to Sausalito. Even though the weatherman promised a mostly sunny mid-July day, you never know what to expect, weather-wise in S.F. So, Dar packed extra jackets and umbrellas, and, of course, assigned me to lug the backpack.

We left at about ten and drove to the Van Ness station, where we parked and hopped on the red line down to the Wharf. It was Saturday, and the trolley was packed, so I had to stand on the step and hold on to the hand rail as Dar sat on the outside bench, facing me. It was quit uncomfortable and I thought I was going to lose my grip several time as we rode up and down the steep street.

I felt relieved when we finally arrived at our stop, and I could unclench my numbed fingers.

“I’m starving, said Dar. What are you in the mood for?

“Let me get the feeling back into my fingers first.” I said flapping my hands in the air.

“Why don’t we head for Boudin’s first? We can pick up a fresh loaf of sourdough and get a beer and some chowder.”

Bistro Boudin has been a staple at Fisherman’s Wharf forever. It started as a small bakery featuring sourdough bread, and now is a first-class seafood restaurant.

The weather was really cooperating as we strolled along the Wharf. The views of San Francisco Bay were stunning. We could clearly see Alcatraz Island, the Golden Gate Bridge and all the way to Sausalito. There was a 20 minute wait for a table at Boudin’s, so we took a seat at the bar. We both ordered a dark lager, split a dozen blue point oysters, had a small chowder bread bowl and a lobster roll. Now you’re talking.

Dar wanted to check out the shops in Sausalito and stop at Lappert’s for some macadamia nut ice cream and a cup of Kona coffee after lunch. So we decided to catch a trolley to the ferry landing and spend the rest of the afternoon across the bay, but first we had to go down to Ghirardelli Square. Oh boy, more shops.

While at the square, I noticed a bike rental. Several years ago, my daughter and I rode bikes across the bridge. Hmm. I’ve been getting in shape lately and should really burn some calories before dessert, so I ran it past Dar.

“Hey, honey. How about you take the ferry over and I ride a bike, and we meet up at Lappert’s Ice cream for dessert, I said. Then you can do your shopping and we’ll both Ferry back later.”

“Are you sure you’re up for that, Mr. Huff and Puff? Said Dar. The last time you had to walk the bike half the time.”

“Sure. I’m in better shape now, and the weather is perfect.” I said.

“Okay, but do I have to take the back pack, I have everything in there.” She said.

“I can handle it if you take out the stuff you bought, your hoodie and umbrella.” I said

Reluctantly, Dar agreed to the new plan, so I rented a bike and started out toward the bridge. I was quite proud of how well I was doing. My legs were holding up just fine. I headed west toward Crissy Field and the Presidio. I recalled that there was a parking lot just before going up a steep hill to the bridge. The last time I did this, Jessica and I had a devil of a time finding it. We could, of course, see the bridge clearly, but weren’t sure how to get up to it.

According to my smart phone GPS, it was about 6 miles to the foot of the bridge, then I just had to peddle over it and down to my ice cream treat. Dar said she was going to hit a few shops first, then work her way to the bus station, and then to the ferry landing. The next one launched in about an hour, so by my calculations, that would put me in Sausalito well before her.

Crissy Field was built as an airfield in the 1920’s and used to facilitate the US armed forces during WWII. Today, it is a large grassy area with a sandy beach and a restored marsh. It was quite busy with folks playing Frisbee, exercising their dogs, riding bikes and picnicking.

I was having a lovely time people watching, as I methodically peddled along. I put my IPod on and listened to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons for motivation. The lively strings pushed me on toward my destination, as the bridge glistened brightly, high over the ocean.

I felt relieved when I finally reached the Golden Gate Bridge parking lot, the same one I had trouble finding last time. There was a snack truck there, so I bought a water and small snickers to reboot my energy, before taking on the steep incline up to the bridge. I found a spot near the water and sat on the ledge looking out onto the bay, as I enjoyed my snack. The water seemed to be getting choppier as a breeze cooled things off a bit.

As I watched the sail boats, I noticed a ferry leaving Alcatraz Island for the mainland. I thought about tales of prisoners attempting to escape by swimming to freedom and couldn’t imagine anyone making it all the way to shore. It just looked to be an impossible feat.

I shot a text out to Dar. “Found the bridge parking lot, proud of me? Are you on the ferry?” I figured by now she should be boarded and, on her way, over. I waited a few minutes for her answer, but nothing can in. She was probably busy getting settled in on the boat.

Well, time to take on the bridge. I did a few ham string stretches and hopped back on my bike. There were several younger folks going up ahead of me. I could tell that they were in a higher gear as they peddled faster with less effort, so I also switched gears. This seemed to be working at first but was quite exhausting. My legs were doing okay, but I was really puffing hard. After just a minute or so, I had to stop. My lungs were gasping for air and the old ticker was really working overtime.

I got off the bike and stood there for a minute or so. This is just as I remembered it; steep, steep, steep. Okay, I’ll walk the bike for a while. Yes, it is once again embarrassing, watching everyone peddling past me, but so be it. I’ll just keep trudging along up this goddam hill. No problem!

It started to level off as I approached the top so I peddled the rest of the way to save a little face. The people on top don’t know how far I had to walk the bike now do they. I’m just another physically fit San Franciscan out for a ride.

I thought I should let Dar know of my triumph, so I shot another text. “Made it to the top, see you there.” Hmm, still no response.

There is no set bike path over the bridge. You decide which side of the road you want to take and ride along the walkway, being careful not to run into any pedestrians, or other cyclists. Even though the views are spectacular, I had to focus on what I was doing, and keep my eyes straight ahead at all times. I rode on the left side, against the traffic, so I wouldn’t have to cross over to take the street down to Sausalito.

I could feel the air getting much cooler as I started out, so I stopped at the first opportunity I had to put on my parka. I pulled off my back pack and took in the view of San Francisco Bay. It was stunning. The city was glittering in the sunlight. I could easily pick out the Transamerica Pyramid building, Coit Tower, and the Bay Bridge all the way to Oakland.

Then I looked west toward the Pacific Ocean. Holy crap. There was no Pacific Ocean. It was gone! An immense fog bank was rolling in. Now I know what Tom meant about the weather changing on a dime.

The billowy white cloud was moving eerily toward the bridge. It was gigantic, way higher than the bridge, encompassing the entire region. Crissy Field to the south and Sausalito to the north were slowly, but steadily disappearing. I felt a little concerned. What happens now?

Do they close the bridge? Just because I can barely see my hand in front of my face is no reason to close the entire Golden Gate Bridge, is it? My concern quickly turned to great worry, then all out panic!

I thought about Dar on the ferry. Can they see where they are going? Could they crash into Alcatraz Island by accident? I had better call her, no texting this time. I pressed Dar on my speed dial. Wait, what the hell?

I heard Handel’s Alleluia chorus. That is Dar’s ring tone. Oh no, it was coming from the backpack. She forgot to take it with her. What now? Think, think, think.

Okay. Dar is always checking her Facebook. She must know that she doesn’t have her phone by now. Whoa! What the hell was that noise? I heard a loud screeching and then several loud crash sounds. It was coming from the bridge in front of me.

A woman standing near me screamed, “Oh my God, run! It must be a pileup. “I grabbed my backpack and hopped off my bike. Several of us started to run back south to get out of harm’s way. We could barely see each other as we scrambled along the walkway.

The crunching sound of metal on metal finally stopped, but several car horns were blaring. I was okay, and surprisingly keeping my wits about me. I stopped running and crouched down on the south side of a concrete embankment. I felt safe there.

I needed to contact Dar somehow. Tom and Karen, I thought. Do I have there phone number? No, but I’ll bet Dar has it on her phone. I searched her directory. Yes, it was there

I heard sirens approaching the accident scene, and thank God the dreadful fog was moving past us into the city. I could see again. I hit send on the phone. It was ringing. Please, please pick up. It went to voice mail, crap.

“Tom, I’m stuck on the Golden Gate Bridge in the middle of a car wreck. Dar is on the ferry and I can’t reach her. She doesn’t have her; Dar’s phone rang before I could finish leaving the message. It was Tom.

I explained everything to him as fast and clearly as possible. He told me to stay where I was, and he would get back to me A.S.A.P. I hung up and did as he instructed. The waiting was excruciating.

I could see down the bridge now. There was a sea of red lights. The first responders must be arriving. God, I hope no one is seriously hurt. The thought occurred to me to go back toward the crash site to help, but it was too late. The police had already blocked it off with yellow tape and blue wooden horses.

My phone rang after a long 5-minute wait. It was Tom, and Dar was conferenced in on a borrowed cell phone. She had tried to call me, but I had the sound off, anything else? I had never felt more relieved to hear her voice.

“Woody, its Tom and I have Dar on the line also. Are you okay?” Said Tom.

“Hi honey, I’m here too.” Said Dar.

“Yes, yes, I’m okay, how are you? Are you safe? Did you make it to Sausalito?” I must have sounded panicked, as I could hear myself screaming into the phone.

“There’s been a terrible accident, but I was not involved at all. Don’t worry I’m fine.” I said.

“Yes, we heard about it. It’s all over the news. I’m so glad you are okay. Tom called one of his contacts and they paged me. They delayed the ferry due to the fog. I’m still on the dock in San Francisco.” Said Dar.

“Oh, I’m glad you are safe too. Did you know you forgot your phone? Of course you do. Sorry, I’m a bit excited.” I said.

“What now? I think I can go back and get my bike and peddle to Ghirardelli Square.” I said.

“Woody, this is Tom again. Forget the bike, I’ll have a police officer secure it and get it back to the rental place. Can you make your way back to the parking lot at the base of the bridge? We will pick you up there.” He said.

“Yes, yes, the parking lot, I’ll meet you there.” I said.

“Be careful Honey”, said Dar.

“I will,” I said.

The walk back down to the parking lot was much easier than the ride up. There were many other folks evacuating with me. When I reached the parking lot Tom, Karen and Dar were already there.

I gave them hugs and thanked Tom for his help.

“Well, Mr. I’m in great shape, have you had enough bike riding for one day?” said Dar.

I threw my head back and laughed out loud.

“Yes. Of all the possible modes of transportation in the beautiful city, I had to pick a bicycle. I think I’ll stick with the trolley, bus, ferry or this nice safe car from now on.” I said.

We arrived back at the house around dinner time. Tom and Karen had planned a cookout on their deck for supper. Tom brought out a bottle of Jordon Cabernet and offered me a glass.

“You must be reading my mind, but perhaps we could save that for dinner. This occasion calls for something more substantial.” I said.

I ran down to our studio apartment and returned with a bottle of Jameson 18 Irish Whiskey I had stashed in our suitcase for a hospitality gift.

“I think this will do nicely.” I said as I poured four neat shots.

I raised my glass and toasted “To the Bridge”

The four of us clinked our glasses and repeated, “To the bridge.”

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