Bridge Scene


In the picture (at right): The suspension tower for the new eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, viewed from the old cantilever span it will replace. The extensions to right and left of the tower are catwalks for ironworkers and others who will be involved in stringing the bridge’s main suspension cable. (For context’s sake: that tower is 525 feet tall, and the bridge deck I was driving on was about 200 feet above the water, meaning the tower’s still out there in the distance a ways in this image.)

The new bridge will be a beauty, but the most arresting fact about it is how long it has taken to put up. The original Bay Bridge–both the eastern cantilever section and the immense double suspension section to the west–took about 40 months to build, from 1933 to late 1936. The new bridge has been under construction since 2002 and won’t be done until 2013. And it was underwent about a decade of study and design work before the first hardhat was donned on the project. Lots of reasons for that–new understanding of the seismic complexity of the site, tougher environmental regulations, more complex logistics with so much of the material for the job coming from overseas (the tower sections and most of the other steel on the structure came from China, as did some of the key construction equipment).

Looniness of the Wrong-Way Runner

“Townspeople acting out.” That could be our town motto. But sometimes one of us emerges from the crowd of zany non-conformity to demand some wider attention and even get some. Today, that person is a guy I’ll call the Loony Runner.

I first saw him a month or so ago. His schtick is simple: He runs along the street, in the middle of the oncoming traffic lane. He is not a shy type. He seems to prefer well-traveled thoroughfares.

So far, we see just the Loony Runner, loping up our less than pristine pavements. But let’s introduce the inevitable: the drivers who are, innocently for once, motoring toward their destinations: headed for a quick stop at the boulangerie, perhaps, or going to pick up their gifted and talented child from an oboe lesson so that they’lll be on time to the Young Grandmasters Chess Club.

There they go, and here comes the Loony Runner. He doesn’t give an inch. He’s not cowed by the several thousand pounds of steel rolling toward him. When drivers don’t swerve far enough out of their lane to suit him, he delivers a crisp critique that can be heard for two or three blocks. “Asshole!” he might say. Or, “F— you, you idiot!” Or, “Bitch!” He never breaks stride.

Late this morning, he jogged down Cedar Street. I thought of snapping his picture as he went by, but thought better of it. Instead, I called the Berkeley police. The dispatcher sounded like she was humoring me–“Yes, sir, we’ll be sure to have someone check that out.” I had a feeling I was supplying raw material for one of those quaint small town police blotter columns we all love.

See you later, Loony Runner. Next time, I’m taking a picture.

In-Flight Entertainment


I prefer a window seat when I fly, because watching the landscape and skyscape, not the movies or seat-back TVs, is my in-flight entertainment. On my trip back from Newark earlier this week, the only window available was over a wing. Not ideal, but better than nothing. This shot is while our 737 was queuing up for takeoff.

‘Will Rogers Says’

We came across a copy of American HIstory magazine, not among the periodicals I have heretofore perused. Among the stories the editors tease on the cover: “First Twitter: Will Rogers tweeted 85 years ago.” (Really? I was thinking Samuel Pepys [Peeps] was the first Twitterer, but then I remembered he was really the first blogger.)

Anyway, the article is not yet online. It recounts how he began sending telegrams with brief observations to The New York Times in 1920 and how that turned into a daily feature in hundreds of American papers. The article has a couple of dozen of his brief messages, that were published under the headline “Will Rogers Says.” He’s fond of taking on the wealthy, the pompous, and the Republicans of his day (the closest voice I’ve heard in our day, though one much more self-consciously political, is Jim Hightower, the Texas guy). For instance, this came a couple months after the 1929 market crash:

Beverly Hills, Calif., Dec. 25, 1929–Passed the Potter’s Field yesterday and they was burying two staunch of Republicans, both of whom died of starvation, and the man in charge told me their last words were, “I still think America is fundamentally sound.”

And another, the day after FDR took office in 1933:

Santa Monica, Calif., March 5, 1933–America hasn’t been as happy in three years as they are today. No money, no banks, no work, no nothing, but they know they got a man in there who is wise to Congress, wise to our big bankers and wise to our so-called big men. The whole country is with him. Even if what he does is wrong they are with him. Just so as he does something. If he burned down the Capitol, we would cheer and say, “Well, we at least got a fire started anyhow.”

Witness to Terror: The Great East Coast Quake of ’11

Pre-post update: At 11:37 p.m. PDT, just as I was about to post this, we had a little five-second earthquake I could feel in Berkeley. Amazing — I felt shakes on both coasts today.

Update 11:52 p.m.: The U.S. Geological Survey says this evening’s quake was a 3.6-magnitude shake centered in the hills about 10 miles south of where we live. Translation: It was a mild event. But the Twitter reaction–the locals are falling all over themselves to report their experience–sort of proves the point of how adrenaline-producing this is even for folks who live astride dangerous earthquake faults.

Original post: I was at the airport in Newark early this afternoon, tending to a tuna fish sandwich in Terminal C and contemplating my next social media communique, when a gentle but pronounced shaking started. It went on for about 10 seconds or so and got stronger. I looked at a guy sitting near me who didn’t seem to have registered anything unusual. “I’m from California,” I said, “and out there we’d think this is an earthquake.” He looked up, but didn’t say anything. Meantime, the shaking got still more intense–by now, I knew that this wasn’t a matter of a piece of heavy equipment doing something outside the terminal. The flat-screen TV mounted near the gate started to rattle. A group of people sitting nearby started to ask, “Is this an earthquake?” I did in fact send out a Twitter message as the shaking subsided:

At Newark airport, I could swear we just had an here in Terminal C.

OK, I concede I wasn’t really selling the story of the century there. But the shaking continued for about 10 seconds or so even after I sent the message; I would guess that I felt some movement for a full 60 seconds. Allowing for how easy it is to overestimate the duration of a temblor, I’d say now “more than 30 seconds.” In either case, that was longer than any quake I’d felt here in California since April 1984, when there was a a 6-point-plus earthquake down near Morgan Hill in Santa Clara County. I remember that quake as having last a good 45 seconds. (For comparison’s sake, the 1989 Loma Prieta quake, which was a 7.0 event, lasted 17 seconds; the 9.0 earthquake off the northeast coast of Japan last March is said to have lasted six minutes).

I didn’t see or hear any real alarm in the terminal–just excitement. Afterward, I heard many people discussing it or describing it during cellphone calls. In other words, It was a lot like the California earthquakes I’ve gotten to know since arriving here in the mid-1970s. (On Facebook, my friend Pete posted a piece from The New York Times on how the seismically-tough West Coast scoffed at the East Coast’s reaction to its less than devastating quake. Don’t buy that line at all: people here jump up and down everytime the earth gives a little shudder, and the news people here practically wet themselves every time we have a quake.)

Brooklyn: Apartment View

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Shot from my brother John’s place, a 15th story apartment in a publicly owned co-op building on Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn. This view is to the north; the roadway in the left foreground is the Brooklyn Bridge approach/exit; the girdered structure in the middle left is the Manhattan Bridge approach/exit (and train lines); and the East River is beyon in the left distance.

Top row: Saturday night, Sunday morning. Bottom row: Sunday night, Monday morning. It was warm and humid Saturday night, with a temperature hanging around 75 even at 3 in the morning. Sunday morning: warm and humid. Sunday night: thunderstorms and more thunderstorms. Monday morning: pristine air, much cooler, much dryer. (Click for larger images.)

Road Blog: New York at Night


Assertion: New York is a city meant to be seen after dark. Well, you could say that about a lot of other vertical, well-lit cities. Tokyo comes to mind among those I have eyeballed. Chicago maybe. Paris? No–there’s so much texture there that’s lost at night. In New York’s case, the city’s night-time allure is partly about lighting and partly about the fact you encounter other walkers everywhere you go at all times of night.

The thought about New York occurred while my brother John and I went out for a stroll that turned into a three-hour hike: from his place near the Brooklyn Bridge to the Manhattan Bridge, over that span to Manhattan, past the government center and the World Trade Center site to the Hudson (I never knew before tonight that there is a memorial over there commemorating the Irish Famine), then back across downtown to the Brooklyn Bridge to John’s place. Something was up on the bridge as we started up the walkway from the west side. Traffic was halted and didn’t start moving at all until we had nearly finished our crossing. It turned out the police had shut down the bridge because of an abandoned SUV and a body that had been found in the roadway. Or at least that’s what we heard from walkway kibitzers viewing the scene.

We got back the apartment about 2 in the morning, and now it’s insanely late. More later today. Or tomorrow. Or whenever it is.

Road Blog: Sandy Hook


After spending a shocking portion of a beautiful summer day inside, we went out to Sandy Hook. That’s the hook-shaped peninsula that juts north toward Long Island from the top of the Jersey Shore. It wasn’t a long, complicated visit. We walked a little way up a paved trail that was clearly meant for bikes, not pedestrians, then crossed over a park road to a beach area that faced out to Sandy Hook Bay. Along the way we encountered a memorial to a dozen British sailors and a couple of their officers who died at the conclusion of the Revolutonary War trying to bring back deserting crewmates who had decided they would rather stay in the United States than continue service in His Majesty’s Navy. But for the most part, we just noodled along the beach until we found a nice square timber to park ourelves on. I was not above posing the above broken shell for a brief spate of New Jersey landscape photography.

Later, we picked up Eamon and Sakura at the train in Hazlet–they came down from New York–then drove back out to the shore for a (mostly fried) fish dinner. We sat out on a deck adjacent to the Highway 36 bridge over the Navesink River, and were out there when my brother John called to alert us that the International Space Station would pass over in just a few minutes. We got a nice long look at it, finished dinner, then drove back to the city.

Conclusion of the foregoing.

Road Blog: Home to Brooklyn


We flew out to New York from the Bay Area on Sunday. It may be the last 6 a.m. flight I ever take, because I have so poorly mastered the logistics of an early morning departure that I wind up getting almost no sleep the night before I leave. In the current instance, I wasted much of the eve of the trip screwing around with entirely gratuitous family history stuff; task avoidance if I’ve ever seen it, and believe me I have. The net effect was I was up until after two in the morning doing all manner of stuff I had planned on doing earlier and which I was convinced had to be done. I got about an hour of real sleep (Kate got a bit less), then got up for our cab ride to the airport. We did manage to sleep some on the plane.

Then we landed at Newark. Eamon and Sakura drove bravely through the rain from Brooklyn to pick us up and take us back to their place in Brooklyn (Cobble Hill, just down Court Street from the Borough Hall). We walked out into the storm to eat at a place on Atlantic Avenue, splashed back to the apartment, where I napped for an hour. Then, since the rain was still pounding down, we all took the subway to my brother John’s new place next to the Brooklyn Bridge. He and his wife, Dawn, had lived in the same apartment in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood for 20 years but just this past year landed a spot in a big co-op-type apartment building. We all hung out for a couple hours and checked out the new digs. Outside it had finally stopped raining. the Cobble Hill contingent walked home.

Next morning: No rain. We met John and his kids (Sean and Leah) for coffee and a post-breakfast bagel, then walked to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade and up to the new park at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge. Kate and I later cleared out and came down to visit her family in friends in what I describe as the northern Jersey shore area–Holmdel and Hazlet townships in Monmouth County. But let’s stay in New York for a minute: The strangest thing for me about our arrival wasn’t the sleepless haze that enveloped parts of the first day but the feeling that I’m visiting a place where my family, through John and Eamon, has put down roots. It feels like home territory, though my zip code still begins with a 9.

(Photo: east tower of the Brooklyn Bridge, shot from Evert Street outside the headquarters of the Watchtower Society (a.k.a. Jehovah’s Witnesses.) You think of the Witnesses as quaint fringe Bible thumpers? You probably won’t after reading about their immense and hugely valuable Brooklyn real-estate holdings and the part they’re playing in local property wheeling and dealing (involving that same new park I mentioned above.))



Part Two of our late summer family/friend visits: We flew out of San Francisco yesterday for the New York area. We started by sweating through long check-in lines (United is merging with Continental: “Hey, we can be *twice* as slow!”) and a ridiculous wait at security (not enough staff on the checkpoint, and the guy reviewing IDs had a certain leisurely approach to his work). When we got on the plane, we sat on the runway for about an hour: weather in the East was causing delays. But then we were airborne, and the morning was beautiful. Above: Mount Diablo just under the wing at left. Below: Los Vaqueros reservoir in the Diablo range in eastern Contra Costa County (click for larger images).