RUSH: Over the weekend was the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge. Now, I don’t know why, but the Golden Gate Bridge fascinates me. When I lived in Sacramento, 1984 was my first time in San Francisco. I covered the Democrat convention for a local radio station in Kansas City. I’d never been there before and one of the first places I went was to Old Fort Point, which is underneath the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge. I’d watched so many movies that shoot from there. Vertigo had a great scene, the Alfred Hitchcock movie. I was fascinated with the bridge. It was built in the Depression, 1934. It took four years to build it. While they were building that bridge, they built the Bay Bridge, they built the Hoover Dam, the Empire State Building. The construction, the building that was going on in this country at that period of time was unparalleled.
That bridge has always fascinated me. It’s such a masterful design. It looks like it is part of the creation of the earth. It looks like it is as natural as the hills and dales on both sides of the Golden Gate. And I went down to Old Fort Point the first time — and every time I’m in San Francisco I go there. Well, I was in San Francisco last week, I couldn’t go, didn’t have time. I don’t know if you can go down there anymore after 9/11. It was closed at one point. I should check. I don’t even know if you can anymore. But it’s a beautiful spot, and every time I was in town I would go down there, and I would stand there and say, “Okay, if somebody came to me in 1934 when there’s no bridge there and say, ‘We’re gonna build a bridge here,’ I wouldn’t know the first thing to do.”
I wouldn’t have the slightest idea. I’m not an engineer, obviously. So I consumed voluminously as much as I’ve been able to about the construction of that bridge and the engineering and the design. And it’s stunning. Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, George Washington, they’re all equally amazing as design feats. It’s not the longest anymore, the Verrazano-Narrows is longer than the Golden Gate Bridge, but I still to this day marvel at it. The 75th Anniversary. They’ve had some earthquakes, the bridge is still there. It’s in as good a shape as the day it opened.
When I lived in Sacramento, I had a chance through a highway patrol officer to actually go to the top of the south tower. There was a James Bond movie called A View to a Kill, and they had staged a fight scene on the top of the north tower, and that just enhanced my curiosity and overwhelming awe of this bridge. So I was talking about how much I’d love to get up close, on top, when I was on the air, and an off-duty highway patrolman in California arranged it. I took a day off, had my Super 8 video camcorder. We drove down there. We arrived at the bridge office. They put us in a golf cart, and we drove out to the sidewalk to the door on the south tower and got in an elevator that was so small that I had to put the camera on the top of my head and I had to stand with my arms straight up so I could make room for two other people. Tiny elevator.
We started up, and it’s dark in there. There’s an occasional 75-watt light bulb that you pass, and the elevator is open. It’s a platform elevator. You can’t fall out of it, but it’s not enclosed. You can see out, but it was dark. The sounds (I could hear then) you could hear the bridge strain under the load of traffic and wind and everything. And the elevator was slow as it can be. It was scary heading up there. And then it doesn’t take you all the way to the on top, or it didn’t then. You had to climb the last 30 feet on a ladder straight up, and you pop out of a hatch much like in a submarine.
So one of the bridge officials went first, went up the ladder. I was next. He popped the hatch, walked out, and proof that there was a God, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky that day, and there wasn’t any fog. We were up there for about I guess an hour-and-a-half. I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want to take the elevator back down. I didn’t want to climb those 30 steps on the ladder. I mean it was a vertical straight-up-and-down ladder. It was not a stepladder. Just to get back down to that elevator. But up there they said, “Now, do not go to the top of the saddles.” We weren’t actually at the very top. For all practical purposes we were, but where the cables run over the tower and are anchored in the saddle, you could go up there, but they said don’t. “Vertigo will get you. The railing is not high. You might lose your balance, fall off. Don’t go up there. “
They wouldn’t let us go up there, but I did lean over the edge, literally over the edge. I mean, if somebody had pushed me I’d have gone plunging off. I leaned over the edge and pointed my Super 8 video camcorder down to the roadway and did a fast zoom to replicate what it would be if you fell off or if you jumped. I got as many still shots — and I don’t have ’em anymore. I don’t know where the video is. This is before you could transfer this stuff to computer. You had to watch it patched into a television set, and all the moves that I’ve made, I don’t know where the tapes are. And I never got them copied. It’s too bad. I’m not organized enough for that stuff.
But I just noted that it was the 75th anniversary of the bridge over the weekend, and it is a marvel to me. I’m still trying to find things I haven’t found, read about the construction and the design. You know, only one tower is actually in the water. The north tower is not in the water. You can drive under the north tower. When I first went to San Francisco, the guy who had hired me in Sacramento lived in San Francisco. He said, “I’m going to drive you underneath the Golden Gate Bridge.”
“What do you mean, you’re gonna drive me under the Golden Gate?”
“Just wait, I’ll show you.”
So we go across the bridge on the Marin side, somehow take some curly-cue roads and end up underneath the thing. But it’s not nearly as awesome as the view from Fort Point. They built the bridge, they had to protect Fort Point. It is a protected historical site so they had to build the bridge in such a way as to protect it and build over it and so forth. I got a great picture of it here with the fireworks from the 75th anniversary bash. It’s just an amazing thing, and I was remembering the trip to the top. It had to be 22 years ago now, shortly after the 50th anniversary of the bridge.