Sunday, May 27, 2012

Happy 75th Birthday, Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge is 75 years old today. Chelle and I had been planning on heading down to Crissy Field today to participate in the celebrations, until we heard that tens of thousands of people are expected. Ix-nay on that idea. We'll go to the Giants game tomorrow instead.

I have a love-hate relationship with this bridge. It's a gorgeous landmark, no doubt about it. When it was first constructed, it was the longest suspension bridge and after 9-11, the National Guard was posted there for it seems a year or more in expectation of an attack on what is an iconic American landmark.

But the bridge is also a suicide magnet. On average there is a successful suicide off the bridge every other week. A few years ago, one of my students stopped attending class--not really an atypical thing at all; sometimes students just give up, life encroaches, their schedule changes at work or there are problems at home, and they forget to drop the class. It wasn't until a month or so after he vanished that I learned he'd jumped off the bridge.  His body was never recovered.

The Bridge District debated the pros and cons of a suicide barrier for years. Finally it was decided to construct a flexible steel net that would hang about twenty feet beneath the bridge (barely discernible from a distance). If someone jumped, they'd land in the net, which would roll up around them and hold them there, cocoon-like, until a "snooper truck" arrived and workers fished the person out of the net. But funding for its construction has yet to be raised.

There have been approximately 1,500 suicides off the bridge since its construction. It's a 275-foot drop to the water, so most people don't actually die by drowning. They die from the internal injuries suffered upon impact. It takes about four seconds for them to fall--you can't help but wonder how many have time to regret their impulse before they hit the water.

So: there's the reason I have a love-hate relationship with this bridge.

Tonight there will be a fireworks show on the bridge, and we will celebrate its beauty and American ingenuity.  And I will also feel a small measure of sadness.

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