Without a doubt, the highlight of my first visit to San Francisco was seeing (and then crossing) the Golden Gate Bridge. As famous architectural icons go, it stands with the Taj Mahal, The Empire State Building, The Statue of Liberty, The Eiffel Tower, and Sydney Opera House.
Not only that, the Golden Gate Bridge is an authentic color blindness test. You see, I could have sworn that the Golden Gate Bridge was red. In every photograph of it, scene in a movie, or opening TV credits of a San Francisco based sit-com or drama, the Golden Gate Bridge looks red to me…but no, it is apparently orange.
I was told/misinformed that there was one man whose single job responsibility was to paint the illustrious bridge. He starts painting at one end, and by the time he gets across to the other side of the bridge, effectively finishing the job, it’s time to repaint the thing all over again. The painter’s name is Frank, and he is responsible for making sure that the bridge stays its famous color, which is apparently called International Orange.
When I heard of this, I told anyone that would listen that the Golden Gate Bridge was red, and I would not hear of it being referred to as orange—International or otherwise.
When I first traversed the bridge, it was near sunset and I wondered whether Frank the lone painter was still at work. Perhaps he was hoping to finish just one more little stretch of column before calling it a day. I imagined the monotony of such a lonely profession.
What did he think about, day in and day out? When he closed his eyes at night, did he see that same red-orange color?
Maybe he dreamed about coming into work and painting the bridge a different international color. I wondered how much of the bridge he could get painted before his boss, or the Five O’clock News, caught wind of his little game?
I imagined Frank going into the paint store holding a small book of color swatches, which yesterday—perched on top of the Golden Gate Bridge—he had held up against the San Francisco skyline.
“Ten thousand gallons of the usual today, Frank?” the paint store manager asked, happy to see his best customer.
“Yeah, I suppose,” said Frank firmly clasping the swatches. “Actually, instead of making that International Orange, have you got any Equatorial Turquoise or Continental Mauve?”
“Ooh, not ten thousand gallons, I’d have to special order that,” said the manager.
“Could you have it by Thursday?”
“I could try. Say—you’re not planning on painting the Golden Gate Bridge turquoise, are you?” asked the manager suspiciously.
“Me? No, no no, heavens no. The turquoise is for—another job I’m doing further up north.”
“Okay, Frank, whatever you say, but I’m going to need you to pay for this up front, since it’s not for the bridge an’ all.”
“That’s fine,” said Frank. He nervously opened his wallet and placed his credit card on the counter. The manager picked up the card, and the two men silently waited for the transaction to process. Frank scratched a larger fleck of International Orange paint off of his dark blue overalls.
The payment came through, Frank signed the credit card slip and left the store. The painter jumped into his truck and drove off. As soon as the store manager saw the truck was out of sight, he picked up the phone.
“Get me the Five O’clock News.”
Happy Birthday, Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Area would be a lot less awesome without you.
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