Observations in the Field

A guy trying to cut the tail off a gator with a Swiss Army knife.

Before I became a bridgetender, I was a Maintenance Management Systems Engineer for the State of Florida, Department of Transportation, based in St. Augustine. I loved the work, but I hated the job, because the morale in that office was abysmal. The tension there was so thick that you could cut it with a knife, and management, to a man, was insane at worst and irrational and paranoid at best. One of the best things I ever did for myself was to become a bridgetender, but for several years there I just had to keep my head down and muddle through in a job I didn’t want to go on most days.

Fortunately, much of my work was out in the field. I jumped on every opportunity to get out there, away from the office, away from the idiots. I function best when I’m left alone to do my job.

I was tasked with doing crew studies, to ensure that work crews were making efficient use of materials, equipment and time, and that they were correctly completing their paperwork to account for same. It always made me inwardly laugh when they’d see me coming and immediately stop leaning on their shovels and actually work. I wasn’t the crew police. I wasn’t there to get them in trouble. I was more of an efficiency expert. But they never seemed to relax around me.

Another one of my duties was taking road inventory. This was driving along the state roads, determining the number of signs, pipes, road markings, drainage ditches,  deliniators, attenuators, and raised pavement markers per mile, so that we could better determine how much to budget in order to maintain those things. Geek that I am, I actually found this rather fun.

The counties in my territory were extremely rural. I often had the highway to myself. But I spent many hours out there, and I saw quite a few really strange things in my time. Here are a few:

  • A pickup truck’s wheel came off, with the axle still attached. Needless to say, the truck came to an abrupt halt, but the wheel and axle rolled an unbelievably long way (about 200 yards) before it finally came to rest in a ditch.

  • A woman’s black lace thong on the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere, next to a potato field.

  • A leatherback turtle trying to dig a hole to lay her eggs, right next to a busy highway. I had to stop a guy who was waiting around to take the eggs, and I had to relocate the turtle (per advice from the Fish and Game Department) before she started laying. She was not at all pleased with me.

  • I used to do road inventory near a rural Border Collie Rescue facility. I had to walk down the road, measuring stuff. About a hundred Border Collies would run up to the fence line and silently walk with me, the entire length of the field. (I really looked forward to working that stretch of road, but didn’t get to do it very often.)

  • Several water moccasins chasing my van as I was measuring the circumference of a retention pond. (They were extremely persistent. I was grateful that the van didn’t stall or get stuck or it would have been grounds for a really bad movie. Snakes on a Van.)

  • A cop car blasted past me, sirens wailing, out in the boonies. Turns out he was in a hurry to get to the bar-b-cue place 2 miles further down the road, where I, too, stopped to have lunch. (Can you say abuse of power?)

  • People putting superglue in our padlocks on retention ponds that were 15 miles away from civilization.

  • An unmelted scoop of ice cream in the middle of a hot summer road, with no one in sight.

  • A burning rag on the side of the interstate during fire season.

  • A terrified chihuahua running down the interstate.

  • A guy trying to cut the tail off a dead alligator with a Swiss Army knife. I suspect he’s the one who ran it over.

I sure have seen some things. You’d never guess how exciting the middle of nowhere can be. Fieldwork can be a fascinating adventure. I miss it.

Rural Florida Highway

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Author: The View from a Drawbridge

I have been a bridgetender since 2001, and gives me plenty of time to think and observe the world.

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