San Francisco to Alameda is a four hour round trip, and a large part of that is the Bay Bridge; which I have decided that there is no good time to cross. Today I will pick up Bubba the Bus in Alameda for the final time, as my friend has hooked me up with a parking space ten minutes from my house, here in San Francisco. Grabbing a Trader Joe’s bag and filling it with country music CD’s, I’m ready for the trek. I have a hard time playing anything but the likes of Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw and Alan Jackson while cruising along in Bubba, who comes from Nashville and still proudly sports the Tennessee Titans emblem. Tracy Lawrence has a new album, so, I am ready. I leave work at 2 p.m., catch the #1 bus to BART; BART to the Oakland Airport and an $11.00 LYFT for 1.5 miles from the airport to Bubba. Once there, I check all his fluids, start him up, get gas and begin the arduous trek towards the Bay Bridge. The Bay Bridge is a beautiful sight. It’s artistic and futuristic. In 1872, the self-proclaimed Emperor Norton decided that a suspension bridge to connect Oakland with San Francisco, should be built. He declared this three times, to no avail.
With the continued erosion of our cityscape, it is hard to imagine, that once San Francisco was a haven for the eccentric and odd; for the artists and bohemians; for those ‘mad ones‘ living on the fringe of society. Emperor Norton was one of those folks that made San Francisco uniquely her own. Born in England in 1818 as Joshua Norton, he sailed west after the death of his mother, whose estate left him a rich man. He landed in the City by the Bay around 1849 and invested in real estate, which added to his fortune; however, all things must come to an end. Rice prices had dramatically increased, due to a shortage from China. A ship captain brought in a ship full of rice and convinced Norton to purchase the entire cargo at a deeply discounted rate; he was guaranteed to triple his money. Norton did, but two weeks later, four more ships of rice arrived, plummeting the prices and Norton’s fortune. Joshua disappeared for two years after the debacle. Two years later, a man arrived at the San Francisco Bulletin to place an ad. He was wearing a full military uniform, complete with buttons, epaulets, a sword, along with a hat with a peacock feather protruding from it. The ad was simple. It declared Joshua Norton as “Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico”. He had no political power, but San Francisco loved him. Once charged with vagrancy, the local press heavily criticized the police. The Emperor was released and an official apology issued. The police saluted him in the streets. He rode the streetcars for free and restaurants displayed placards that ‘the Emperor ate here.’ He died in 1880, on the corner of California Street and Dupont Street (now Grant Avenue). 10,000 people attended his funeral and the obituary in the paper simply stated: Le Roi Est Mort; (translation: The King is Dead). Today, his spirit lives on, as you can enjoy Emperor Norton walking tours in the City, cheap drinks at one of my favorite dive bars, Emperor Nortons Boozeland; and the ongoing campaign to rename the Bay Bridge–The Emperor Norton Bridge.
On this hot, sunny afternoon, I find myself on the Bay Bridge; not thinking about Emperor Norton, but about the car I had the misfortune of seeing at Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum on the Wharf; something you cannot unsee. The car was squashed to the size of a large box, and the 58-year-old driver, Buck Helm, had been rescued from that car, as the Bay Bridge collapsed on top of itself during the 1989 Loma Prieta Quake. He had been trapped in that car for nine hours, was rescued and died a month later. I still can’t see the bright side of that story, and even though the bridge has been modified and upgraded, I am always gripped with unreasonable anxiety while crossing it. Did the bridge move? Did it sway? Is the water too choppy? I need a Zanax.
Entering the toll plaza, I notice the toll was $7.00. It changes depending on the day/time you cross. As I was reaching for another dollar, a loud screech emanated from the side and I somehow managed to get high centered in the toll plaza. I must tell you; I think I am falling in love with CHP–(California Highway Patrol); they are like a modern-day calvary. From dragging a tree down the freeway, running over rubber cones, going through a ‘Road Closed‘ sign, demolishing a Dodge Dart, freeway fires and getting stuck on the island of the toll plaza; the CHP has been with me; clad in tight black pants, swooping in on shiny motorcycles and saving the day, with a chivalry, I thought was long dead. This time was no different. The officer arrives, assesses the situation, tells me “no people are hurt, you’re fine.” He helps me get unstuck, wishes me a nice day and I am my way–(ticket-less again), to sit in the parking lot that poses as a bridge. Four hours later, at 6:00 p.m., I arrive at my house, perfectly on schedule.
I immediately begin the process of gripping and ripping the carpet out. This turns out to be backbreaking labor, but, I can’t help but love it. By the time the sun has gone down to the point of no light, I had most of the carpet out. I took him to his new parking space along the coast. The $8.00 Wal Mart air mattress from Fayetville is still inflated. With the ocean breeze coming through the windows and the sound of silence enveloping me, I realize, if I had sweats and blankets, I would have slept in him.
The joy and freedom of tiny home living are approaching and I can barely wait.