Monday, July 18, 2005

One long day of crossing and conflicting time lines ...
Rose early in anticipation of the bay cruise -- weather mixed -- the July inversion pattern brought the usual finger of fog through the Golden Gate -- but the promise of a burn off was surely indicated. It would be a glorious day on the water.

Met my friends for the BART trip to the embarcation point at the Ferry Building (what a wondrous gathering place that is!). We were greeted by jeweler's kiosks and street musicians -- hawkers and artists all ready for the invasion of Sunday visitors. The sidewalk cafes were filled with young people fashionably careless-carefully dressed in high-priced sneakers, muscle shirts, and tans that suggested faraway places (or simply many Sunday brunches on the wharf). Sunday morning in San Francisco is probably equal to the Trevi Plaza in Italy or the boulevards in Paris. Lots of cyclists everywhere and crowds beginning to gather for the annual Walk for AIDS to Golden Gate Park six miles away.

We joined those gathered at the entrance to the pier where our ferry would launch. I would be placed among the presenters -- historians on the Bay Area union movements, the WPA and PWA contributions to its development, authorities on shipbuilding and ports. And then there was Donna Graves, historian who has contributed so much to the development of the new national park, the Rosie Memorial at the Richmond shoreline, and currently gathering oral histories for preservation. And me -- the "Reluctant Rosie." The two other Rosies cancelled at the last minute.

There would be ongoing lectures as we took close up looks at the new Oakland Bay Bridge presently under construction while those currently working on it told us what that was like; the port of Oakland, the Alameda Naval Air Station, Hunter's Point, Angel Islands, and finally, we rounded the Richmond shoreline and ports, the SS Red Oak Victory, the Ford Assembly Plant under-going restoration, and those parts of the new national park that we could identify from the water.

Learned some interesting facts, like: the Port of Oakland was able to take over port dominance from San Francisco because 1) it was the western terminus of the critical railroads, and, 2) it was able to extend the port properties enormously through the good fortune of being the dumping site for all of the soil excavated for the construction of the BART tunnels years ago. And, that the ships that now bring in cargo in 20' containers from everywhere in the world are built large enough to accommodate 8000 in a single shipment. Due to their size, they can no longer move through the Panama Canal! Kinda like the WalMart of shipping. "Giganticism" has taken over the world. It's everywhere; merging corporations, banking systems, information delivery, Costco, WalMart, and now shipping! Every time I catch the sight of that caseload of Costco's toilet tissue that fills my bedroom closet's top shelf -- I have this moment of the giggles. Some folks put their money in stocks and bonds. Mine is in toilet paper!

All-in-all, it was a good day. I spoke my piece about the ugly racial climate of the period. Was surprised to see that these untold stories were, indeed, new information for many in that audience. For some of the obvious gray-haired and balding old Leftists, there were the nods of recognition. But it was quite clear that no one aboard this 3-tiered ferryboat would have considered themselves in any way tainted by such attitudes of racial superiority. These were the Progressives, after all. These were the veterans of the Boilermakers who'd worked to build the ships of the "Good War," and the Longshoremen who live still in the shadow of Harry Bridges who ruled the S.F. Waterfront during the early years of the struggles. These were the machinists and teamsters. Our captain up at the helm was a woman, after all, a proud person in a "non-traditional" role. Surely these were not the offenders. They listened intently and applauded enthusiastically when I finished my presentation; sassy and arrogant though it may have seemed to some.

...but no one appeared to notice that I was the only African American on board. And sixty years have passed since the period of segregation that I spoke of prevailed.

Despite protests to the contrary, one might have cause to wonder just why that is ... .

No comments: