No it's not the "Birthday Bridge"; the GGB that everybody is waxing poetic about today, but I figured since everybody was going ga ga for the Golden Gate today I might as well draft off the general hysteria and trick some unsuspecting readers into thinking this would be a thoughtful, meaningful piece about the significance of the GGB as one of mankind's great engineering achievements but anybody that knows anything about Limboland knows that this is not the place for content of redeeming social significance. But, so as to not insult a huge inanimate object on it's birthday, I will say that the GGB is a damned fine bridge as bridges go. It is a true engineering marvel and it is actually one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World but who's to say what qualifies as a wonder anyway? Few are going to buy a "wonders of the world" list that doesn't have the iPhone or Stevie Wonder on it. (The Wonderbra was a write-in candidate back when everybody was talking about it, but as soon as every woman in the neighborhood had one the boobs kind of lost their "wonder" and just weren't quite up there with the Taj Majal anymore.)
Just to be clear, the bridge referred to in the Hack excerpt below was never even remotely considered a wonder of the world, except maybe by some of the same sixties suburban armchair country club racists that dubbed it "The Longest Bridge in the World". Canning Blvd., on certain nights in certain circles was most certainly a wonder of the world, but that's another story altogether.
From "Hack", the chapter entitled "The Longest Bridge in the World".
The Marin County locals liked to tell visitors that the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge was the longest bridge in the world, an obvious untruth. “Oh, yes, it’s true” the locals would explain, “it connects California’s most exclusive community - Marin - to deepest, darkest Africa - Richmond!”
Henry Griffin as a teen believed this observation to be true, having had the opportunity to witness the difference many times on the drive up to Lake Tahoe, which went through an area he, and his friends, and more often, their parents, simply referred to as “deepest, darkest”.
On the west side of the bridge, rich white folks built shopping malls with elaborate sculptures in parking lots graced with Mercedes, BMWs, Porsches and an occasional Bentley. On the east side of the bridge, once past the Chevron oil refinery, the streets fell into disrepair, the shops had bars on the windows, and jobless blacks gathered on the street corners to drink Schlitz Bull out of brown paper bags.
The favorite landmark on Canning Blvd, which at the time was the fastest connection from Marin to Interstate 80, was B&K Liquors, where the Marin folks rolled up the windows and locked the doors of their station wagons and drove slowly past, hoping to witness a drug deal or knife fight in the crowded parking lot in front of the besieged liquor store. Hack did not know a single white soul who had the balls to stop at B&K, even in a dire emergency. And it was only a few miles and just across the bay from their comfortable upper-class homes in San Anselmo!
Leaving Marin and headed toward the East Bay, there was an ominous hint that you were indeed headed into another world: the imposing edifice of San Quentin State Prison jutting out into the bay just before the bridge. San Quentin occupies perhaps some of the most valuable real estate in the world, within rifle shot of four-star restaurants, famous investment banking firms, and the Golden Gate Ferry Terminal at Larkspur Landing, once the home of the Hutchinson Rock Quarry, where Dirty Harry chased the Zodiac Killer up and down the conveyor belts before he finally plugged the “punk” on the dock of a sludge pond.
As a student at Redwood High School, which was lovingly called San Quentin West, Henry Griffin could see the big prison from the second story classrooms, and often pondered what Charlie Manson and Sirhan Sirhan were up to at any given time, imagining them pounding out license plates in between gang rapes.
Reading through this now, just a few weeks before publication, I can't help but see it as a rather drab bit of exposition. Wouldn't been better for Henry Griffin, posing as Paco the carefree caballero from the Ranchos of Guadalajara, to get a flat tire outside of B&K and get into a dramatic knife fight with several of the locals. Of course Paco is not really a Mexican, so his chances of surviving a knife fight in front of B&K would have been slim indeed. He either would of had to run away in shame or the story would have ended, rather abruptly, in the B&K parking lot. Oh well I guess a bit of boring exposition will have to do!
Buenas noches vacqueros!