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  • Where were you on May 24, 1987? I was on the roadway of the Golden Gate Bridge, walking, not in a car.

    On that Saturday in May the city of San Francisco celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge kicking off the festivities with “Bridgewalk 87” a reenactment of “Pedestrian Day 37” for which they closed the span to automobiles to allow the expected 80,000 people to walk across the bridge.

    When the final counts were in an estimated 800,000 people ended up walking on the span between 6 am and 11 am that day. By some accounts it was chaos and gridlock, for me, a 13 year old (yes I am dating myself) there was no chaos just an incredible experience that I didn’t appreciate until much later.
    My parents woke my brother and I at 4 am that morning, we bundled up and headed off to board a Muni transit bus that would take us the 15 minutes to the Northern end of the span. It was dark and cold (having now lived in New York City and survived 8 winters I look back and think, wow I was definitely a wimp when it came to temperature). My parents, being over planners with a innate desire to “beat the crowds” had gotten us on possibly the 3rd bus heading to the drop off point. Given the short distance we had to go we were so close to the front I could see the top of Marin Supervisor Robert Roumiguiere when, as the sun was just waking up, he quickly cut the ribbon to allow the crowd to surge forward onto the bridge. At first it was crowded and then we spread out, marveling at walking along a part of the bridge you only see from the car window.
    We walked on the reflectors, we looked down at the Bay through the split between the roadway and walkway; it was hushed and loud at the same time. For the first time in 50 years there were no cars on the span, and the undercurrent of excitement was palpable; even to a self absorbed 13 year old girl.

    At the midpoint my parents decided (again, trying to beat the crowd) that it was time to turn around. As we headed back we passed a couple having a proper English tea with a table and silver tea set, people dressed as though they had just stepped out of 1937, and a woman crossing the bridge on a mirrored ball…and more and more people. Towards the end it felt as though we might not get through, swimming upstream against the current, but we did. My parents grabbed two huge International Orange balloons so we could see them in the crowd, in case we got separated. My father also picked up a couple of the traffic cones used on the bridge, (maybe to create a perimeter around us) or just as souvenirs of our adventure.

    Later the gridlock of people was so great it noticeably flattened the normally curved midsection of the span and the weight, coupled with wind, created the feeling of an earthquake to those still on the bridge, but by that point I was home, in sweats wondering if the boy I had a crush on would call.

    It wasn’t until years later that the weight of the gift my parents had given us sunk in. They had made a memory that would last a lifetime and only gain more meaning with every passing day.
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