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« On the Road: San Francisco, California | Main | On the Road: Sacramento, California »

On the Road: Oakland Bay Bridge

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Note: First published on Blogger on September 30, 2006

Unfolding the Map

We are bridging the gap between Sal and San Francisco as we hit the Oakland Bay Bridge, with the lights of San Francisco in our sights. Click on the image if you want to see the map!

Book Quote

"...into the hills again; up, down; and suddenly the vast expanse of a bay (it was just before dawn) with the sleepy lights of Frisco festooned across. Over the Oakland Bay Bridge I slept soundly for the first time since Denver..."

On the Road, Chapter 11

Oakland Bay Bridge

The Oakland Bay Bridge is one of eight large toll bridges in the Bay Area, the others being the Golden Gate, the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge, the Dumbarton Bridge, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, the Carquinez Bridge, the Benicia-Martinez Bridge, and the Antioch Bridge. Of these bridges, the Antioch is the oldest with the original structure completed in 1926. It is followed by the Dumbarton (1927), the Carquinez (1927), the Oakland Bay (1936), the Golden Gate (1937), the Richmond-San Rafael (1956), the Benicia (1962) and the San Mateo-Hayward (1967).

The Golden Gate is probably the gifted, shining, magnificent middle child of the bridges, gathering the most attention, plastered all over millions of photo albums and books, star of countless home and studio movies, and darling of the press worldwide. Of all the bridges, the Golden Gate is considered an architectural and cultural icon and is the one that most people worry about: Can it survive the big earthquake? Will terrorists strike it? Which is ironic, considering that during the last big earthquake in the 1980s the Oakland Bay Bridge sustained the most damage to its structure out of all the bridges.

None of the other bridges comes really close to the Golden Gate's star power, though the Oakland Bay Bridge has appeared in its share of movies. Dustin Hoffman drives over it in The Graduate toward Berkeley, though the movie shows him actually driving toward San Francisco, and it appears in the Hitchcock thriller Vertigo. Of the other bridges, I vaguely remember a 90s movie called Sneakers in which a character is kidnapped, thrown into a car trunk and taken to an evil guy's headquarters, and his computer genius buddies help him figure out where the evil guy's headquarters are by reconstructing sounds along the route. One of the sounds he identifies is the sound of the car's tires hitting concrete sections, and they are able to determine that he was traveling at 55 miles per hour over either the Dumbarton or San Mateo-Hayward Bridge (I can't exactly remember which one).

However, despite its name, the Golden Gate is oriented in the wrong direction to be considered the true gateway to San Francisco for people traveling by car or bus like Sal or Jack. Especially in modern times, as travel by ship is almost non-existent, replaced by vehicles and aircraft, people either enter into San Francisco by the south from the airport, or across the Oakland Bay Bridge on Interstate 80. Most of the people who use the Golden Gate Bridge are commuters to and from their homes in the North Bay. For the traveler driving, the Oakland Bay Bridge more often provides the first view of San Francisco.

I have been on most of the bridges of the Bay Area, and I love them. I still refer to the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge as the "roller coaster" bridge because of its two dramatic rises and falls over the shipping lanes. I love driving the Golden Gate on a clear day, and seeing clear out to the Farallon Islands in the distance, and the Presidio and Marina District stretched out on my right. However, the view of the San Francisco skyline on the Oakland Bay Bridge after one passes through Yerba Buena Island is unparalleled anwhere that I've been. The bridge enters San Francisco just to the south of the famed waterfront, and the whole of the downtown is laid out to your right as you just marvel. The closest I've come to this type of view is on the Brooklyn Bridge, and to really get a similar perspective there, you must walk it. But on the Oakland Bay Bridge, you can marvel in your car as you drive into the heart of San Francisco. We last drove across this bridge from the Oakland Airport this past summer, and I was struck again with the beauty of the skyline going into San Francisco.

My parents, always very timid city drivers, once found themselves on the onramp to the Oakland Bay Bridge with no escape -- it wasn't where they wanted to go, they were late for an appointment and it meant at least a half-hour of driving time to go across the bridge and come back. As they got to the toll booths, my father explained the situation to the toll collector. In a testament to the community spirit and kindness of a time past, the toll attendant offered to help them. He strode out into traffic and stopped the cars coming the other way in order to allow my father to make a u-turn into the other lanes and get back on the right course. My father always thought that he was the only one to ever stop traffic (other than a traffic jam) on the Oakland Bay Bridge and told that story with pride. I doubt that something similar would happen today.

So, does the bridge make an impression on Sal? True to form and befitting its second wheel status, Sal pays no attention to the poor Oakland Bay Bridge. He sleeps while his bus drives into the heart of San Francisco.

If you want to know more about the bridges of the Bay Area

Bay Area Toll Authority
Bridges in the United States and Canada
Bridging the Bay Department of Transportation: San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District
San Francisco Museum: Archival construction photos of the Golden Gate and SF-Oakland Bay Bridge
Wikipedia: Golden Gate Bridge
Wikipedia: San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge

Next stop: San Francisco!

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