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October 28, 2009: Two tales of no-bridge commuting woe

on October 28, 2009

Commuters watch a train arrive at the Rockridge BART station. Photo by Thomas Gorman.

Commuters watch a train arrive at the Rockridge BART station. Photo by Thomas Gorman.

I am a product of Only Child syndrome. Since I moved back to the Bay Area from Fresno, I have spent a lot of time with my parents in Pittsburg. Yesterday, my mother offered to cook me dinner and do my laundry (she had me at hello). The catch: I had to drive to Pittsburg. The 30-minute drive through the Caldecott tunnel was effortless, though, knowing that a home-cooked meal was at the end of my drive. Little did I know the pain that awaited me on the drive home.

Last night, my mother came into my room while I was watching the Lakers/Clippers basketball game and told me to turn it to Channel 5. The local news informed me that a steel rod had broken on the newly constructed Bay Bridge near the S-curve and would be closed for at least 24 hours. My first reaction (after, what?? Is anyone injured?) was to think of the dreadful traffic that awaited me on my commute back to Berkeley.

This was bad, very bad. On top of it all, my 9 a.m. class was beginning 30 minutes earlier than usual.

Woe is me.

As I woke up at 5 am, I recalled getting up early during the summer when I commuted into Richmond for work. It was a comforting thought- on those mornings my alarm clock would sound at 3:30 a.m so that I could be in Richmond by six.  This morning I was able to sleep in for an extra hour and a half, so I had nothing to complain about. After showering and getting dressed in an hour, I ran out of the house at 6 am, laundry basket in hand. I decided to avoid the freeway until reaching Bay Point, but as soon as I approached the on ramp, traffic was bumper to bumper. Frustrated cars slowly edged forward in a stop-and-go fashion. The chances of my arriving to class on time was looking worse and worse until I reached highway 80 toward Oakland. The highway was packed, but traffic was not nearly as bad as it was in the beginning.

Finally, I saw the light at the Caldecott Tunnel. It was 7:50 a.m.

I exited at Tunnel Road—bumper to bumper again. People were plain mean–edging inches close to the car in front of them to keep me from merging into their lane. I knew they saw my blinker flashing. I would turn to look at the person to give them the “please let me over” smile, but the drivers just stared into the space of their front window, avoiding my sincere plea. I reached the light at the Claremont Hotel quicker than I thought I would, cut through some Berkeley back streets to reach the parking garage on Channing and Ellsworth, parked my car and rushed two blocks to the bus stop on Bancroft. It was 8:03 a.m.

Of course the bus was late and arrived at 8:20 instead of 8:08, but I arrived at North Gate Hall at 8:30 a.m. exactly. It took me two hours to drive from Pittsburg to Berkeley. Was getting a home-cooked meal worth the agony? Maybe from now on I’ll do my own laundry– sorry Mom. At least the lasagna was good!

By Kate McLean

Heading up to Northgate Hall this morning, I overheard two women laughing and talking behind me. Jewel Diles was telling her friend about all of the people who called her to check in yesterday.

“When something like that happens, you know who your friends are,” she said with a laugh.

“Something like what?” I wondered.

And then I put it together: Dials had been stuck on the Bay Bridge yesterday when the tie rods broke.

It only took me a second to overcome the reluctance that might have stopped someone with better manners from butting in. I slowed down and introduced myself, and Diles said she was “right where the accident started and they had stopped everybody.”

She was hurrying to work at the UC Berkeley library, so I whipped out my recorder, picked up the pace, and started firing questions at her.

“I was there, that’s all I can tell you,” she said. But in fact she could tell me more, and she did.

Dials was heading home to San Francisco yesterday at 5:30 when she encountered a snarl of traffic. As a few emergency vehicles wove through the cars, she thought to herself , “maybe there is a problem on the old span of the bridge. “ Whatever the case, she figured traffic was at a standstill, so it was a good time to call her brother.

“He said, ‘yeah, they just announced that a cable broke.’ and I said, ‘What?!’”

Inching forward, Dials said, she saw cars pulled over to the side of the road. In front of her, lying in the lanes, were two thick metal rods.

“I was like, shoot, we could fall any second,” she said.

Diles was able to finish crossing the bridge and get home, but it was an excruciating experience.

“When you’re on the bridge and you’re stuck on there from 45 minutes to an hour,” she said, “you know you could have run across by then.”

1 Comment

  1. ken o on October 29, 2009 at 12:24 am

    and now people will temporarily appreciate public transit more…maybe?

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