&%#$ Drawbridges!

I’ve been making people late to work for more than 18 years. I open drawbridges for a living. And I love my job. Getting cursed at is, unfortunately, part of that job.

Once, a supervisor gave me some sage advice. “If you’ve safely opened the bridge and then you hear someone shout, don’t look. Because you probably won’t like the gesture or projectile that follows.”

It’s true. I’ve been pelted with eggs, rotten vegetables, and once, a full glass beer bottle, which shattered and drenched my clothes. I’ve also been flipped off, threatened, and called any number of unsavory names. Par for the course.

Here’s the thing. (Yes, there’s always a thing.) Bridgetenders are not trying to ruin your day. Truly, we aren’t. There are simply certain rules and federal regulations we are required to follow. Specifically, Coastguard Federal Regulations 33 Part 117. These regulations dictate when a bridge must open, when it can be delayed, what signals we must use, what equipment we must have, how we operate in an emergency.

Not only are we required to follow these federal regulations, but according to 33 U.S. Code 499, if we don’t, we can be fined up to $2000 and/or be thrown in jail for a year. Nothing personal, but I’d much rather make you late to work.

In less legal terms, consider this: Maritime law was around hundreds of years before cars existed. And heavy vessels can’t exactly slam on the brakes or take a side street if some bridgetender doesn’t want to hurt a motorist’s feelings.

So, yeah, from street level it may seem really annoying when one slow moving boat is backing up traffic for a mile. Even worse, the bridge may require an opening for maintenance purposes when there are no boats in sight. It may make you want to curse and throw things. But, you know, you should have thought of that before you chose this particular route. (Harsh, but true.)

So next time you’re waiting impatiently for a drawbridge to close, please remember that the bridgetender’s one and only goal is to maintain the safety of the traveling public. All of them, including you. And that may mean you have to wait your turn. At least try to enjoy the spectacular view while doing so.

For a really interesting podcast on this same subject, check out KUOW’s SoundQs “Um, why does that boat get priority over Seattle drivers?”

St Lucie River Drawbridge

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A Heaping Helping of Immortality

At the risk of sounding outrageously egotistical, if you know me or read this blog with any regularity, then you most likely think of me whenever you see a drawbridge. They’re rare enough, and most bridgetenders tend to keep a low profile, so yeah, I am rather rare myself.

I like the concept that even years from now, some poor shmuck will be stuck at an open bridge and will say to his or her passenger, “I used to read a blog by someone who opens a drawbridge…”

That’s the closest I’ll ever get (and indeed the closest I want to get) to immortality. Some people have kids. I blog. If you do anything unique that makes people think of you when you’re not present, then you have that immortality thing going on, too. Feels pretty cool, doesn’t it?

I also get a kick out of the idea that if you’re not thinking of me when you see a drawbridge, maybe you’re thinking of Vincent Van Gogh. Or both of us. For a split second, I get to stand beside an amazing artist. I’m honored.

Don’t worry, though. I’m not going to cut my ear off. I’m practically blind without my glasses.

Incidentally, if you are into drawbridges, please consider joining my Drawbridge Lovers group on Facebook!

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Looks Can Be Deceiving

At work, I spend a great deal of time watching boats float by on Seattle’s Lake Washington Ship Canal. After a while, you start thinking of it as just another road. It’s water, but it seems solid. Slippery, yes, but solid.

Until it doesn’t. It’s a transit system, but people swim in it, and jump in it. People fall off paddle boards with a screech. Dogs leap in after balls. Fish jump out of it, and back in. Raptors dive in and pluck those same fish out. Occasionally a vessel sinks. People drown.

The one time I had the opportunity to take a kayak on it was very unsettling. Suddenly the whole depth thing was very, very, real. That, and if I wasn’t careful, I could actually get wet. What a concept!

It’s hard to remember how deep the water is, because all you deal with, usually, is the surface. (Before you ask, it has an average depth of 32 feet. But I had to look that up.)

You stop thinking about what lies beneath. The truth is, you can never be completely certain what’s down there. We humans do not enjoy uncertainty.

Looks can certainly be deceiving. But that’s mainly because most of us never bother to delve deeper. I think we’d all be much better off if we did.

Ship Canal

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Getting Greasy

On the day I wrote this, I got grease all over the cuff of my favorite work jacket. And I’m not talking grease from an order of French fries, here. I’m talking industrial grade mechanical grease, nearly the consistency of peanut butter. (SWEPCO 113, for those of you who are curious.)

It made me smile.

Don’t get me wrong. I tried to avoid it. It’s a royal pain in the butt to get out. I’m soaking the sleeve in simple green even as we speak, and will probably do so for about 24 hours before washing. But as a bridgetender, I have to do my part to keep my drawbridge operating smoothly, so greasy I’m bound to get every now and then.

What made me smile is that if you were profiling me, you wouldn’t expect that I was the sort of woman who even comes in contact with grease, let alone gets it all over her clothes. If I were on What’s My Line, you’d never guess correctly.

And yet, here I am. Pushing the boundaries. Breaking the stereotypes.

I was tempted to smear some of that grease on my cheekbones while I was at it. A badge of honor. A shot across the frontal lobe of your pigeon-holing mind.

Every time I surprise someone by walking down the street in my hardhat, or by adding insulation to the subfloor of my house, or even by offering someone the use of my jumper cables, I’m broadening their worldview just a tiny bit. And I like that.

Because every time I take a tiny chip out of your typecast, it makes it all the more easy for the women who come behind me to be themselves. It may not be much, but if we all keep chip, chip, chipping away, ignorance and hate will lose, and those of us who don’t mind getting greasy will find it more possible to do so.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go dig the crud out from under my short, raggedy nails.

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Another Disappearing Drawbridge

As a bridgetender, I tend to take it personally when a drawbridge disappears. And it happens all too often. Lower drawbridges get replaced by much taller, fixed spans. People lose their livelihood. And the neighborhood loses a great deal of its character. Folks blast on past without even slowing down anymore. They don’t take in the view. It’s tragic.

So when I saw this article entitled How drawbridge is drowning, I had that first, visceral reaction. Oh no. Not another one. Then I discovered that this story isn’t about a drawbridge. (Well, actually, it is, and it isn’t. You’ll see.)

Drawbridge, California started off with a population of one. George Mundersheitz’s cabin was built there in 1876, so that he could operate the two railroad swing bridges in the area. They were about a half mile apart, and George would walk to each one and hand crank them as needed to let vessels through. That must have been a real pain in inclement weather. And it must have been a very lonely existence.

But it seems that George was an enterprising man, because by 1880, that part of San Francisco Bay had become a duck hunting mecca of sorts, now that there was railroad access, and George started charging people 50 cents a night to stay in his cabin.

Eventually the unincorporated town was named by the railroad, as was often the case, and this place became known as Drawbridge. At its height in 1928, it had 90 cabins and 2 hotels, and hundreds of ducks were shot in the area every single day.

The town never had a city council or a school or law enforcement of any kind. And even with that small population, there were divisions. On the south side of town, people were Catholic. The Protestants dominated the north side. The two groups rarely mixed.

Unfortunately, Drawbridge was not sustainable. The duck population predictably declined, and the marshland began to sink as area metropolises undermined the watershed. The navigable waters began to silt up, and there was no longer a need for a drawbridge. The tides did not clear away the sewage like they used to, and the place began to stink. Needless to say, swimming and fishing drastically declined. And people got tired of having to raise their cabins as their foundations sank with the marsh. Trains no longer stopped in Drawbridge by 1955.

As residency declined, looters came in with annoying frequency. The last resident, Charles Luce, became known for driving people away with a shotgun. He left in 1979 when he was bought out by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Now no one goes to Drawbridge. It’s surrounded by salt lakes, and most of the buildings have been burned by looters or have rotted into the ground. As the waters rise due to climate change, the island itself will disappear entirely, and only those of us who are fascinated by history will even know that there was once a thriving community in this unforgiving place.

Rest in peace, Drawbridge. Rest in peace.

The ghost town of Drawbridge
Drawbridge, California’s first building: The bridgetender’s cabin.

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Because Why?

So, the other day, some idiot left a rental bike on the movable part of one of our drawbridges here in Seattle. It’s not the first time someone has gotten that bright idea, and it probably won’t be the last. But this one was destructive and expensive. I’m glad I wasn’t on duty.

Unfortunately, the bike was parked in such a way that the bridgetender couldn’t see it prior to opening the bridge for a boat. The movement caused the bike to be caught in the span, and when the operator attempted to close the bridge, he couldn’t. He had to raise the bridge up a bit, and with the help of a pedestrian, he was then able to pull the bike out.

bike

But then when he tried to close the bridge again, the bridge wasn’t in the mood to cooperate. Mechanics had to be called. The bridge couldn’t be opened for traffic or for vessels for 1 hour and 45 minutes.

The things pranksters don’t ever seem to take into account are consequences.

  • If that bike had fallen during the opening, it could have severely hurt, or possibly even killed, a pedestrian.

  • If it had fallen into the canal, it could have struck someone in a vessel crossing under the bridge.

  • The bike was ruined, and those things aren’t cheap.

  • The bridge was damaged, causing the taxpayers of Seattle a great deal of expense.

  • Traffic was backed up for miles. People may have lost jobs because they arrived late to work. Sick people might not have gotten to the doctor. Kids may have missed school, thus increasing the potential that they, too, will be stupid enough to pull a trick like this someday.

  • Idling cars caused pollution.

  • Road rage spiked.

  • Commercial vessels were not able to transit the canal, and were therefore unable to deliver their payloads on schedule, which caused independent truckers at the docks to lose time and money.

I hope you got a good laugh, genius. Oh, and by the way, if you were the last person to rent that bike before dumping it on the drawbridge (which is highly likely, since the back wheel won’t roll without credit card authorization), I hope they’re tracking you down via your card even as we speak. If so, the joke is going to be on you.

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Space Invaders

I wanted to write a creepy post for Halloween, and I asked several friends for suggestions. Every single one of them, without exception, said I should write about Trump. That, in itself, is pretty darned scary. But I think we are so used to being scared by him that it’s hard to feel the fear anymore. So I decided to write the below, instead.)

In the house I bought, there are dozens of large dents on both steel exterior doors, and on one wooden bedroom door as well. The only thing the previous owner would tell me was that there was “an incident” involving a tenant and her boyfriend. The fact that he would not go into detail leaves my imagination to run wild.

Given that these are sturdy storm doors, whatever blunt object was used to do this damage must have been heavy, and the sound must have been loud and terrifying. No person in his right mind does a thing like that. And if the damage to the bedroom door happened at the same time, then the perpetrator gained entry. The thought of that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up.

Whether we are conscious of it or not, we all walk around in this bubble of security, and when it is popped, it’s beyond frightening. It challenges your sense of reality. It makes you feel as if there’s nowhere to hide. The reason most of us reside in this bubble is that knowing that it’s all an illusion would make it impossible to cope.

I used to work the graveyard shift on this tiny little bridge with an office the size of a closet. I was surrounded by windows for increased visibility when I had to do a bridge opening, but that basically meant that I was in a goldfish bowl, and anyone who wanted to mess with me could easily do so. Needless to say, I kept the blinds closed whenever possible. But that also meant I couldn’t see what was going on out on the street.

It was a very isolated job, which normally suits me just fine. Even though I was in a metropolitan area, at 3 a.m. it often felt as if I were the only person on the planet. And when the fog rolled in, that tiny room seemed like a coffin. (People with claustrophobia didn’t last in that job for very long.)

Late one night, I was on duty, and two teenage boys started pounding on the door. (Isn’t it always teenage boys? They should be sent to roam in packs on some remote Pacific island from the age of 14 to 25. I truly believe our crime rate would plummet.)

I nearly soiled myself. I peeked out the blinds and said, “What the #### do you want?”

The ringleader says, “Let us in. We want to see you do a bridge opening.”

My reply, of course, was, “F*** off, before I call the cops.”

But they continued to pound on the door and rattle the knob. (Years later, I can’t get the image of that rattling doorknob out of my head.) It occurred to me that there was just a thin film of bullet-resistant glass between me and these nut jobs, and the stuff was feeling pretty darned flimsy at that moment. And out there on my bridge, no one would hear me scream. Also, by the time the cops got there, well, it would be bad. (And by the way, the cops never showed up. As per usual.)

Eventually they left without getting in, or getting me. But then I got to spend the rest of the shift worrying that they might have vandalized my car. (They hadn’t. Not that time. They just threw the heavy duty trash can at the foot of the bridge into the river. )

Oh, and did I mention that in order to use the bathroom on that bridge you had to go across the street to the other building? Wonderful.

My point is, the reason the thought of the boogeyman in your closet or the thing under the bed or the clown in the storm drain is so unsettling for most of us is that these things violate your bubble of security. Clearly, they are up to no good. They rattle your doorknob. They shake your foundations.

And that’s completely understandable. Because sometimes you’re not being paranoid. Sometimes they really are out to get you.

Happy Halloween.

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