“What is abstract for you” – A concept or theory, an artwork or query, a math problem, a description, philosophy or music, the very universe … —Two Cents Tuesday Challenge
I am the first to admit it: Calculus kicked my ass in college. Give me Geometry, give me Trigonometry—heck, I am even up for a healthy dose of Descriptive Geometry, but do not give me Calculus. It is too abstract for me.
My first trip up one of the Main Cables of the Golden Gate Bridge was on my third day at work. I followed Ray, hiking about three-eighths of a mile uphill on the 3-foot diameter cable to change the light bulb in West Cable Outline Light #2. I also passed the first test: No problems with the height. Then the second test presented itself: Could I let go of the guide cables and use both hands to open the fixture and replace the lamp? Yes, I could and I did.
After securing the top of the light fixture, Ray and I checked out the view from our elevated perch. The Farallon Islands were visible to the West and I didn’t realize it at the time, but Ray was testing my nerves: Would I freak out while we lingered and looked up, down and out at the magnificent view at over 600 feet in the air?
As I gazed to my right and took in the view of San Francisco, my attention locked onto the curved silhouette of the East Main Cable and the vertical Suspender Cables reaching down to support the Roadway below. It was a vaguely familiar sight and I started to chuckle, and then to laugh heartily, as my mind flashed back over 30 years to my days suffering through a year of Engineering Calculus classes.
Ray said, “Are you OK?”
The area under the curve was vividly illustrated at last, King Kong style! “Yes, yes, I am fine, Ray. I just realized that I am a point on a curve, that WE are points on a curve. Look at the area below that East Cable,” I pointed in the distance, “we could calculate it if I had only paid more attention in 1966!”
Ray looked at me and said, “You sure you’re OK?”
“Yeah, Ray, I am doing just fine,” I said. “The value of this concept never got through my thick head when I was in school.”
Ray shook his head from side-to-side and said, “Then take us down the cable and back to the shop.”
I turned around and saw The Big Picture, in Hi Definition panoramic color. From our perspective the Main Cables converged into the distance at mid-span and rose gradually up to the top of the South Tower. Ray had led the way up the cable and now that we had turned around, there was nothing and no one in front of me. I stood still and took a quick breath.
“That view is somethin’ else, isn’t it?” Ray said with a laugh.
After a short pause I said, “Y-yeah, I have never seen anything like it before.”
“When we get back I’ll tell the Chief that you passed with flying colors—unless we don’t make it down from here. Welcome to the Golden Gate Bridge.”
My union, The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, sent a media team to the GGB to do a short video about electricians who work on bridges. Normally two of us go out on the Cable to work on a fixture, but on this day we had an FNG, Jamie, who was starting his second week with us. It was also his first time on the Back-span, a 20.5 degree slope.
This video captures the three of us walking out onto the East Back-span of the South Tower and replacing the light bulb in East Cable Outline Light #8.
I have been replaced by a New Guy following my recent retirement. Looking back, I can see that I stood on the shoulders of giants—men who refused to be stopped in their mission to span the Golden Gate Strait with an engineering icon that was destined to become known world-wide.
The Golden Gate Bridge is “The Bridge that couldn’t be built” and it was my pleasure to be a part of maintaining it for future generations.