Back before 9/11, I went to work at a cable TV channel in San Francisco. The work day started early — 5:30 or 6 in the morning. The day of the attacks, I was in the newsroom already when the first puzzling news about a plane hitting one of the World Trade Center Towers came in. But that’s a different story.
Kate started work very early, too, so she would get up when I was leaving. Somehow, I prevailed on her to drive me over the Bay Bridge to work one morning. She decided it was fun, I think, and we did that many mornings, including the morning of 9/11.
Driving back and forth to the city during the morning rush hour, a rush hour that begins very early, would not be a lot of people’s idea of fun. I remember that one of the things we did to make the trip fun was to listen to a sports talk show with a guy named Tony Bruno. We’d listen to Tony and his sidekick, Andrew Siciliano, cracking each other up with their own jokes, and the ride through the 17-lane toll plaza to get on the bridge wouldn’t seem like such a big ordeal.
Still, there was the driving: legions hurrying to destinations that for most would be a fifth- or sixth-choice destination, after Purgatory, if there wasn’t a paycheck involved. But maybe there were more people than I would guess enjoying sports talk and taking in the spectacle of the drive over the bridge as the day came on.
Kate would drop me off in the relative quiet of a street way out where the South of Market area ends and Potrero Hill begins. Then she’d turn around and head back to the East Bay. I’d always be a little worried about her. I guess I believed the trip, with everyone whipping along so fast, would be more perilous without me in the car.
But she managed to find a way to make the trip simple. One of the first mornings she drove home, she discovered that there was a way to drive from the freeway entrance near my office all the way to Berkeley without changing lanes even once. The ramp put you into the left lane of Interstate 80, in its first mile on the way to New York; by following that, what with lanes appearing and disappearing to your right and left, you’d wind up in the middle of five lanes crossing the bridge; on the other side, the lane merges into another eastbound lane on what the locals call the Berkeley curve; following that around through Emeryville, you’d wind up at last in the right lane approaching the University Avenue exit in Berkeley. So if you follow me, without changing lanes, you go from the leftmost lane to the rightmost; that’s a feat of traffic legerdemain.
Kate told me about this feat, and we called this strip of roadway The Magic Lane. From the 8th Street onramp in San Francisco to University Avenue in Berkeley, it stretches for about 10 miles. Occasionally, on drives back to the East Bay, Kate has asked me, or challenged me, to use it. I’ve never been able to. Think about the way you drive on a freeway, then speed things up by 10 or 20 mph and add a dollop of impatience. That’s me driving the freeway. Whenever I come upon a vehicle going slower than me, I pass it; on the right, on the left, it doesn’t matter. And as everyone who drives knows, one lane change begets another and another and another.
Tonight I was driving home from another media job pretty close to the neighborhood where I was working back when Kate discovered The Magic Lane. I get on I-80 at the same onramp she used. I pulled onto the elevated highway, took one look at all the traffic hurtling toward the bridge, and thought, tonight’s the night to do it. The only drama came at the same point for everyone, negotiating the twisting, narrow temporary approach to the bridge’s cavelike lower deck. After that, it just took a little determination to just let traffic in front of me do what it was going to do. I found myself wondering how much faster I might have gotten home if I had done my usual jamming in the fast lane; getting off the freeway and heading up the frontage road to the back way into North Berkeley, I realized there was no difference I could tell. I was getting home in one piece, and that was that.