Yesterday was my 20th anniversary as a bridgetender. I’m one of those rare, fortunate people who happen to love their occupation. That makes an enormous difference in terms of quality of life.
If I could give a young person one piece of advice, it would be to figure out what types of things give you the most satisfaction, and only then seek an education that allows you to apply for jobs that provide those things. Don’t think about prestige or pay unless those are actually your primary sources of satisfaction. Think about what you need to be personally fulfilled. (My second piece of advice would be to take a picture of your butt now, while it still looks awesome, because some day you will miss it. But I digress.)
I thrive on peace and quiet, an opportunity to think and work independently, and I enjoy making a significant difference (in this case, by ensuring the safety of the traveling public) without being in the spotlight. What I enjoy most is the chance to closely and quietly observe things in great detail over long periods of time. And I always have a fantastic view. I love opening drawbridges. I don’t think I’m fit for anything else at this point.
It’s hard for people to understand the level of responsibility a bridge operator has each time he or she opens a bridge. People have died during bridge openings (but not on my watch). Property damage can quickly mount up to the hundreds of thousands of dollars if you’re not careful. Bridgetending isn’t just pushing a button. You have to be vigilant. A lot can go wrong. People don’t always cooperate or heed the warning signals.
During my career, I’ve noticed there’s a cultural difference from one place to the next in terms of public cooperation. In Florida, for the most part, pedestrians heed the flashing lights and gongs and stop outside the traffic gates before an opening commences. Not so in Seattle. Here, pedestrians ignore everything except their desire to get across that bridge. They will crawl under closed gates, and sometimes even jump across a widening gap. It’s amazing to me that we don’t have deaths every single day. (That says a lot about our extensive training program and our excellent staff who take safety so seriously.)
On the other hand, in Seattle, cars will usually heed the red lights and stop in time, but in Florida they take out the gates constantly. I even once had someone hit a gate so hard that it spun through the air and stuck the landing, swaying back and forth, but perfectly vertical, on the muddy shoreline. It was a sight to behold.
Here are some bits of wisdom I’ve picked up along the way that will apply to most jobs:
- Union jobs will always be 1000 times better than non-union jobs, because most of your employer’s abuses will be kept in check no matter how hard they try to apply them. On the other hand, you’ll find that you have to put up with a lot of people who really don’t care to do the job.
- If you’re being paid to do a job, do it well. It’s a fair trade for the money, and you’ll be able to look at yourself in the mirror and also avoid the wrath of your coworkers.
- Don’t ever bother to file a complaint with the Human Resources department. They don’t give a sh** about you. They only exist to protect the employer from liability.
- If you get sick leave, hold on to it as best you can, because you never know when you’ll desperately need it.
- If you have to point out a problem, always try to include a potential solution thereto.
- Don’t fire off a pissed off e-mail response. Give yourself time to calm down and think before you answer.
- Make yourself a healthy lunch and bring it with you. It’s a good habit to get into.
- This one is from my mother: If you make a mistake and can fix it, do so and don’t tell anybody. If you make a mistake and can’t fix it, own up to it.
- Don’t share too much of your personal life with your coworkers. It will get passed around and embellished, and that mythology will follow you where ever you go.
- Set aside a fixed amount from each paycheck toward retirement. That amount should slightly hurt. The older you will thank you when the time comes.
- For the love of God, clean up after yourself, wear deodorant and brush your teeth.
I hope you have a job that you love, dear reader. It’s more precious than all the gold in the world. I’m not yet at the sunset of my career. I have about 11 years to go if all goes well. But I’m happy to say I’m still enjoying the view.
Enjoying my view? Then you’ll enjoy my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5