I was on my way back to the city from Marin County, where I had just gotten a cavity filled (tsk tsk, my sugar habit) by my dentist in Tiburon. Suddenly, I brought my junky Ford Escape to a screeching halt somewhere just before the Sausalito exit in order to avoid a wall of cars already there. Seconds later, cops whizzed by in the emergency left lane, lights ablaze, and I wondered: accident or jumper?
The latter would not be farfetched (someone jumps from the GG Bridge about once every two weeks), but on this occasion it was the former -- a six car pile-up from a head-on collision that forced the police to close off both sides of the the highway onto the bridge. We were told by the radio announcers to hang in there because we weren't going anywhere fast.
The people in the cars around me must have been listening to the same announcement because at that same moment I saw the mood on the highway change considerably. Rather than the usual stop-and-go-is-this-lane-better-than-that-lane sort of urgency, people could no longer fuss because they couldn't rush. They couldn't move, period. And so they accepted their situation and made do.
A makeshift community of stopped motorists temporarily flourished. One woman smoked a cigarette out her car window while she read a book with her legs propped up on the dashboard. People began to emerge from their cars. One man put his hazard lights on before approaching the car in front of his to flirt with its driver. Children from various traveling parties chased each other between lanes, often narrowly avoiding the swerving motorcyclists on their perpetual mission to get to the front of everything. A father bounced his child on his shoulders, encouraging her to wave, as though a parade were passing, at the few Northbound cars on the other side of median. A tall woman used her cell phone to snap photos of a view none of us would have noticed were we not paused at that unusual spot on the highway. Meanwhile, I blasted a CD I purchased at Amoeba yesterday -- yes, nice and loud so as to impose my impeccable musical taste on my captive audience. Fortunately, the woman taking pictures seemed to like it and threw me a rock fist (perhaps inappropriately, given the nature of the music).
Eventually, some voice on a loudspeaker (much like the one that commands us every tuesday at noon from Lone Mountain) instructed us all to return to our vehicles. Cars began to whoosh by on the opposite side of the road, faster and faster until, finally, it sounded like a highway again. Hearing this, cars around me started up and suddenly we were all inching forward once again, just as irritated with each other as we were before we learned we'd be stuck. The block party was over!
Although I don't regret the moment (as long as it doesn't happen often!), I also feel I must consider the gravity of the accident that caused it. Those who have driven over the Golden Gate Bridge know how daunting the middle lanes are -- a slight move to the left and your car is heading into oncoming traffic. I generally move to the right lane for this very reason. You can see in the video above (hit mute if you have a low tolerance for John Mayer) how close the passing cars come to one another.
Traditionally, the most interesting argument concerning the bridge involves whether or not we put up a net of sorts to prevent bridge suicides; however, given today's event, I think it would be wise -- and relatively easy -- to focus on putting a median in there first.