The other day I was walking up the bridge to work and I saw the Barking Man. I immediately slowed my pace to assess the situation. The Barking Man is a guy who likes to fish off the bridge on mild evenings. When he’s on his medication he’s quite friendly, and we’ll exchange pleasantries. When he’s not, he’ll often lunge at me and do the best imitation of a Pit Bull with Rabies you’re likely to see in your lifetime. He barks. He slobbers. He growls and shakes his head rapidly from side to side. The first time he did that, after months of cordial conversations, I nearly soiled myself. He’ll never actually make physical contact, but to say it can be disconcerting is putting it mildly. And the worst part about it is you’re never quite sure who you’re going to get. Every once in a while at shift change, the oncoming bridgetender will have to tell the offgoing one that the Barking Man is out there and he’s off his meds. That at least gives the person who’s leaving for the night a heads up. But he’s not the first person on a drawbridge to be barking mad, and he won’t be the last.
Another time, I got stuck on the South end of a vertical lift bridge with the Preaching Man. The bridge went up, leaving me stranded on the roadway with this guy who kept his distance, but was shouting scripture at me. He was very adamant about it. I got on the radio to the guy who was driving the bridge and said, “You better lower this thing as fast as you can, ‘cause I’m out here getting saved whether I like it or not.” The scary thing about the Preaching Man is that I can easily imagine him deciding that one of us is the devil incarnate who needs to be dispatched, and when you’re working the South end, you’re a captive audience.
Same bridge, different day: I’m walking on the sidewalk, clearing traffic and pedestrians so the bridgetender could do a lift for a very large barge. The vessel was bearing down on us, and everyone was cooperating except this one homeless guy. When I told him he had to get off the bridge for an opening, he looked at me suspiciously, turned around and walked back the way he had come. That works for me. I don’t care where you go as long as you go. But just as he was about to step off the part of the bridge that goes up, he looked back at me and turned back around. Shit. Shit. Shit. I got on the radio and told them we had an uncooperative pedestrian, so they couldn’t open the bridge just yet. But meanwhile there’s this barge, he’s coming with the tide, and can’t exactly stop on a dime. And the river is too narrow for him to paddle in circles. We were all starting to panic. Then the guy stopped in the middle of the span, emptied his pockets and threw all his loose change into the river, then ran away. We got the bridge open with only inches to spare.
One night we heard a loud crash. We looked out and saw a car at the end of the bridge angled across both lanes. We ran down to see if anyone was hurt, and it was the strangest thing. There was only one car. The entire back hatch was shattered. And there was no one inside. Or outside. Or…anywhere. We called 911, and in an uncharacteristically prompt response, before we knew it there were cops everywhere. And then a helicopter with a spot light. Then divers. Nothing. They went to the address of the vehicle’s owner, and he was sitting on the couch drunk as a baboon on fermented fruit, and he says, “Oh yeah. I forgot to report that my car was stolen this morning.” Uh huh. Sure it was.
These are just a few of the millions of stories I have about oddballs and drawbridges. We get our fair share of crazies, drunks and jumpers on a regular basis. I’d tell you more but then what would I do the next time I can’t come up with a topic for this blog?
But I’d love to know what it is about drawbridges that seems to draw these people in.