A moment on San Francisco Bay

I was in San Francisco for work last week at a photovoltaics exposition that proved remarkably underwhelming.  After the floor closed, Holly and I walked north to the bay, on our way to dinner with some MIT friends.  The city is beautiful; green grass from winter rains and remarkably warm compared with February in New England, despite the overcast sky.  As an engineer it’s hard not to feel a sense of vicarious pride on contemplating an achievement like the Golden Gate bridge, its massive orange towers spanning nearly a mile of deep, cold water.  Given the era of construction, the audacity and can-do spirit that made the project happen seem at least as striking as the technological achievement itself.  As we took in the scene with the daylight fading I had the sinking feeling that the nation today may lack the optimism and sense of purpose to build the 21st equivalent of the Golden Gate bridge or the Apollo program – and indeed the president recently announced that he was scrapping plans to go back to the moon.  Now, we’ve got no shortage of roads, and I’ve often thought that there are more urgent needs for our billions than sending humans on fact-finding junkets to nearby lifeless rocks, but it’s less the worthiness of the goal than the missing sense of destiny that had me discouraged.  And as if on cue, a giant Hanjin container ship ghosted in silently under the bridge from the west, moving fast and laden with layer upon layer of multicolor corrugated steel boxes, by appearance extending forward off the bow and piled unnaturally high from stem to stern.  And I thought – The spirit didn’t die: it just kept on moving west.

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