San Francisco Bay: 4:30 in the morning. I am later than planned because of the time it took to clear myself with a policeman who pulled me over in San Anselmo for "suspicious behavior." Was it the generally fishy odor about the car that, in the end, convinced the law of my innocence? I don't know. In any case, we parted amicably.
I park the car near a maintenance station on the Marin County side of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. Frank has not arrived, so I decide to walk out on the span for a quick preview.
Along the way, rats scurry for cover behind a screen of shabby shrubs. These would not be big Norways, the kind you expect to see in the tropics sitting boldly in a palm while you sip rum and tonic on the veranda. No, the pusillanimous rodents that people my morning are inclined to cower behind slimy rocks near the freeway, struggling on an equal footing with Marfak for control of the last strands of seaweed or waiting in crevices for the next colloidal high tide.
I brush past the PEDESTRIANS PROHIBITED sign, jump the low guardrail and trot to the second lamppost. There is no traffic in sight but from the north I hear a big diesel shift down on the bridge approach. He will be doing 70 when he reaches me so I hook one leg over the railing, grip the light standard and try to be inconspicuous. I would rather not be sucked under the wheels of a tractor-trailer full of rutabagas. He goes by with a blast and the bridge vibrates as his taillights fade away. I run to the next lamppost and look down. A dozen dark forms are finning in the shadow beneath the bridge. The largest is a striped bass of more than 30 pounds. To the right, a pod of smelt is easing near on a tangent certain to prompt an attack. The little fish are attracted by the brilliant light overhead. In their lack of purpose they seem ephemeral, like a quivering translucent curtain, while the heavy predators lurking in the dark are deliberate and potent. In a moment the black shapes explode, sending the smelt showering away in a radius of flashing bodies.
Satisfied, I turn back and see a California Highway Patrol car coming at me, its nose down under heavy braking.
"What are you doing here, buddy?"
"Going fishing as soon as it's legal time. Just looking to see if there were any stripers."
"That your car back at the maintenance building?"
"Better move it. It's parked illegally. And don't walk out here anymore."