Bridgetender vs. Bridge Operator

I’ve been opening drawbridges since 2001. When I moved to the Seattle area three years ago, my official title became “Bridge Operator”. You will never hear me call myself that. I’m a bridgetender. Pure and simple.

I have no idea how you’ve managed to overlook this controversy (Shame on you! Shame!), but this whole bridgetender vs. bridge operator thingie is very emotionally fraught for some people. Civil war could break out any minute. A lot of people are offended if you call them  bridgetenders. Personally, I think it’s all stuff and nonsense.

Calling a bridgetender a bridge operator is like calling a garbage collector a sanitation engineer. Does anyone give those employees more respect with that elevated title? Believe me, no one on earth thinks you have an engineering degree when you are coping with rot and maggots all day long.

I think the title change came about because people meant well. They wanted us to be taken seriously. They wanted us not to be dismissed as unskilled laborers. They wanted us to “sound like” we “deserve” our pay. I appreciate that sentiment. People’s lives are in our hands every day.

But I think this kind of backfires. What’s wrong with the old title? Weren’t we good enough? Didn’t our work have value all along? The job is the same. Here’s a thought: just treat us with respect.

When a coworker calls him or herself a bridge operator, I long to ask that person who he or she is when not operating the bridge. Most of us might actually do openings about 20 minutes for every 8 hour shift.

I like tending to my bridge. I operate it, yes, but I also take care of it. I do maintenance. I make sure it’s running properly. I nag people for repairs. I keep it clean. I run off graffiti artists and thrill seekers. I know its every bolt and groan. I love my bridge. Tender-ly.

I get called many things during the course of a day. Most of those things are shouted by irate commuters, and won’t be repeated here. More times than I care to admit, boaters who talk to me on the radio will call me sir. That kind of hurts my feelings. A couple friends call me the river goddess, which makes me smile.

Occasionally, someone will call me a bridge master. Now that… I could get used to that…


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6 thoughts on “Bridgetender vs. Bridge Operator

  1. I would note, though, that “sir” is often used without regard to gender these days. I suspect that’s in part because so many people seem to hate the word “ma’am” (most women I know hate being addressed that way unless the situation calls for major sucking up, or they’re travelling in the south). Or it could just be the drive-thru speaker effect: “I’d like a hamburger and fries please.” “Mphbrbrnfrsnythngdrnk.”

    1. I suppose that’s true. I can be hypersensitive because this is a male dominated job and people often assume we’re all guys, and that makes me crazy because “that appendage” is not required to operate or maintain a bridge. But yeah, you make good points. Thanks, Kevin!

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