I know a guy who climbs bridges for the fun of it. Big ones. He drives to San Francisco, scopes out the Golden Gate, figures out all the ways other folks have decided that people like him can't climb that enormous, achingly beautiful set of curves in the sky, and then he goes back at night with all his gear and climbs.
At the top, he takes pictures that show the world in a whole new way: The glowing strings of headlights below look like a tower going up . It may be an illusion, but it seems from the pictures as if he's climbed so high that you can see the curve of the Earth. City lights twinkle in the distance like a user-friendly computer game. The dark ocean shimmers--not just on the surface, but all the way down. Seen from up here, the world looks great.
My friend, Eugene Ahn, takes other pictures, too--from different angles. It's hard to tell which side is up, and which side is down. But finally, when you get it right, you see a human being perched in the air, looking down at a bridge. Light shines on one young woman's face, or maybe it comes from her face. She's transfixed with joy. She's done this impossible thing!
One time Eugene decided to climb the Golden Gate and took along a buddy whom he affectionately calls The Voice of Fear. "The Voice of Fear was afraid to come along, but he was also afraid not to come," Eugene recalls. "And all the time we were driving north, The Voice of Fear would groan, and then he'd say, 'Oh, my God! What if we die ?' Then he'd say, 'Oh, my God! What if we get caught ?' " (Though The Voice of Fear didn't give voice to them, other questions surely crossed his mind: What if we try and fail? What if we become a laughingstock? What if we shame ourselves, our families and our friends?)
But Eugene wouldn't hear any of it because he wanted to go up. And he eventually did, taking The Voice of Fear with him. That guy felt better later and became The Voice of Flight and height and joy.
One night last year, Eugene rounded up a flock of giddy teen-age girls and herded them through the inhospitable chaparral of the Hollywood Hills, until, with scratched legs and stickers in their hair, these delicate females stood triumphant just below the H in the Hollywood sign, and looked at the city in a whole new way--as if they owned it.
How does Eugene do these things and get away with it? He doesn't do things the regular way. People in charge spend no end of time saying you can't do this and you can't do that. They put up signs and gates and walls. They hold meetings and withhold privileges and get pretty intimidating when other people mess with them because, to them, the status quo is everything. Bridges are for crossing, golf courses are for Republicans, gang colors are for the inner city. The rich should be thin and the poor should be fat. But Eugene says these people are dumb at worst and misguided at best. When you move , he says, everything is different.
I once asked him in a dutiful, motherly way, "Aren't you afraid of death? Haven't you ever come close to dying?"
"Well, yes, once," he answered. "I was climbing a cliff, and I fell right off. I figured I was dying because I kept seeing blue, brown, blue, brown. Sky and earth, over and over."
"Then what happened?" I asked, thinking that he should have learned some kind of lesson from that.
"I fell into a tree. Everything was soft and green. I thought for a minute it might be heaven. It looked really good."
Last week, Eugene really did come close to dying when he parked in Westwood and opened his car door in front of an oncoming bus. "You're breaking the law!" the bus driver shouted.
This column isn't about climbing bridges. It's about taking The Voice of Fear along for the ride and changing the world. For my part, I'd like to turn every school in the Southland into a luxury hotel of education, fix things so that dumped wives end up generating more income than their ex-husbands and place health care within the reach of those who need it most. People in authority say it can't be done. The Voice of Fear keeps blabbing in these hard times. But nobody ever said we had to do it the regular way.