Tag Archives: san francisco

Come Together

1853

“A few found what they came for, filling their pockets easily and heading home convinced that California was God’s apology for ousting Adam and Eve from the Garden. But the many more toiled in a decidedly post-Edenic state, with uncertain and often diminishing success.”

– H.W. Brands, The Age of Gold (Anchor Books, 2002) 194.

I’ve been reading a lot more since my latest career switcheroo, which has been a welcome change. One of the books in the feeding frenzy was a history book by H.W. Brands titled, The Age of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the New American Dream. For a transplanted Californian and former history teacher, it was a natural choice.

It was fascinating to read selected accounts of those intrepid souls who set off on terrifying journeys from all over the nation and all over the planet, all with their sights set on the part of the world that I now call home. Reading about the experiences on those seemingly interminable voyages and dangerous journeys…  I really can’t imagine, but Dr. Brands’s book helped me try. And certain facts about California that should have been obvious before—like the reason San Francisco is such a diverse city—make so much sense to me now.

But of course one of the transformative events in the history of this nation and one of the most astonishing accomplishments in American history emerged from these dangerous pilgrimages, and that was the completion of the transcontinental railroad.

On my recent travels I drove out to the historic location where the golden spike was driven that completed the grand project. Almost unbelievably, that epic dream began in 1863 when the nation was right in the middle of trying to kill itself by self-war. Two companies, the Central Pacific led by Leland Stanford and the Union Pacific led by Dr. Thomas Durant set out from Sacramento and Omaha respectively building track in the general direction of the other in a race for economic victory. The Central Pacific effort had to traverse the treacherous and snowy Sierra Madres—at time digging through solid granite at a pace of eight inches of progress a day—while the Union Pacific had its own challenges crossing the Great Plains while encountering the desperate Sioux and Cheyenne only to run into the Rocky Mountains.

Somehow, almost miraculously, these two companies met up north of Ogden, Utah, in just six years and had a little ceremony that rocked the world.

It was a lonely weekday morning at the Golden Spike National Historic Site when I visited, and it was quite surreal to be the only person standing at such an historic spot.

And, of course, I was filled with conflicting emotions about it all, given the materialistic fervor that produced the initial desire and drove the work along with the terrible treatment of particular peoples, including the very destruction of the ways of life of nations that were here first.  Still, it was impossible not to find some measure of respect in the simple fact that it was dreamed and accomplished.

But I think my favorite part is the metaphor of the very project that seems so foreign to our world today.  Imagine a world where competitors are positioned so that their very task is to see how fast they can come together as one.

That’s worth celebrating.

 

 

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Running the Golden Gate Bridge

running-the-golden-gate-bridgeGoing out for late night drinks on a business trip never sounded appealing but even I questioned my understanding of fun when the alarm broke the dark silence of the hotel room last Friday morning.  Not without healthy debate, I crawled out of bed anyway.

That it was thirtysomething degrees outside did not help.  Someone’s coldest winter may have been a summer in San Francisco, but I wonder if they tried it in January.  That was my brilliant plan.  I dressed in layers but had brilliantly chosen not to bring the running clothes designed for cold weather.  My capacity for wise choices continued to be an open question.

The first sign of good fortune arrived with a prompt Uber driver in a Nissan Altima whose name I could not pronounce who took a lesser-traveled route to deliver me to the Welcome Center on the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge at daybreak.  Things were definitely starting to look up.

The Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937 and is considered one of the Wonders of the Modern World.  Not that anyone asked, but I wholeheartedly agree.  It is breathtakingly beautiful in design, and its distinctive international orange was particularly striking as the sun burst over the San Francisco skyline to my right.  This was going to be cool.

It is just under two miles across the bridge, and on this cold, early morning, I was the only jogger.  A few zillion cyclists whizzed by, and there were three walkers (well, standers with cameras), but like a dream I had this legendary run all to myself.  The morning sun and the chilly Bay wind continually slapped the right side of my face as if to say, “Hey, dummy, look at how awesome this is!”  I did.  Look from time to time, that is, amazed at my great privilege.

At one point it occurred to me that killer earthquakes happen in San Francisco from time to time.  And that I couldn’t swim.  This did wonders for my pace.  And just about then the signs for emergency phones and crisis counseling showed up to remind me that this is the second most popular suicide bridge in the world.  I decided to pick up the pace just a bit more.

Eventually, I emerged on the Marin County side of the bridge and looked back on the amazing sight.  It really is spectacular.  My dad left rural Missouri in 1942 to join the Navy in World War 2 and was sent to San Francisco on his way to the Pacific Theater.  He mentioned how much he loved San Francisco, and I paused to imagine what he must have thought about this wondrous structure that opened just five years earlier.  He must have felt what I was feeling, and that thought was worth the getting out of bed all by itself.

I then ran back, glorious experience times two, but at the Welcome Center I just kept running, angling for a long, flat run along Crissy Field and clicking off more miles until arriving at Marina Drive.  I would have stopped there but the sudden appearance of scores of joggers inspired me to keep going.  These were my people, and we ran together along the waterfront and past Fort Mason.  Just past seven miles the classic Ghirardelli sign appeared, and I called it quits.  Good enough.  Who am I kidding, GREAT enough.

An Uber escorted me back to Hilton Union Square where I showered, put on a business suit, and learned more important things about legal education.

But I ran the Golden Gate Bridge.  Unforgettable.

Universal Ideals of Human Dignity

1I traveled to San Francisco last weekend with my friend and colleague, Ahmed, to represent our dean at the annual conference of the International Association of Law Schools and was humbled to gather with people from all over the world who are responsible for training the next generation of lawyers.  It is no exaggeration to say that the world depends on this good work.

Neither is it a statement of pride since I was obviously out of my element in a conference full of legal scholars.  This was particularly obvious when we were asked to divide into small groups based on our areas of expertise, and, um, I don’t have one.  But, I had to choose something so, given the choices, I chose “human rights” because, well, I’m for them.

But what an honor.  In two separate sessions, I sat in a small classroom with a handful of individuals who consider it their life calling to teach human rights to law students.  There were professors from South Africa and India, Australia and Italy, Russia and Canada, Indonesia and the United States.  Can you imagine?

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights claims that “[h]uman rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status” and purports to represent “the world’s commitment to universal ideals of human dignity.”

I like that phrase—universal ideals of human dignity.

What I found surprising in the privileged opportunity afforded me at this unique conference was what that special group of people found surprising in their visit to San Francisco.  And that was the homelessness on full display in the short walk from the hotel to the conference location.

I have often been told that the poverty in these United States does not compare to poverty in the developing world, and I’ve traveled enough now to understand the proposition.  But please slap me if I ever fail to remember that the universal ideals of human dignity apply to the people on the American margins, too.