Rest in Play, Eclipse

She was love and kindness, dog-ified.

The citizens of Seattle are a little bit more sad today, because our beloved, internationally known, solo bus riding dog has passed away. According to this article, she had cancer and died in her sleep. She was only 10 years old.

I never met Eclipse personally, but as I note in my post entitled One More Thing to Love About Seattle, she was one of the many things that made me really happy to call this area home when I first got here. And this article in NPR entitled, Eclipse the dog, known for riding the bus alone to the dog park, has died tells you everything you need to know about how beloved she was. It includes a twitter post with hundreds of comments by those who will mourn her loss, as well as a delightful YouTube video that was made by King Country Metro about her, which I’ll post below.

Eclipse showed us all that some things transcend species, require no language, and will always make the world a better place. Those things are love and kindness. Thank you, Eclipse, for teaching us all. Since you always had your bus pass on your collar, I’m sure there was a bus waiting to take you to the Rainbow Bridge in style.

Are you wondering what to bring to Thanksgiving dinner? How about my book, Notes on Gratitude? Place your orders now! (Or any other time, since we’re on the subject.) And… thanks!

Arlo Guthrie as a Yardstick

Arlo and I are both rounding out our lives with love and happiness.

One of the very first concerts I saw as a teenager was Arlo Guthrie. My older sister took me. I enjoyed it so much that we got all his albums back when vinyl was the thing. I’ve been going to his concerts ever since. I lost count around number eighteen. He was the beginning of my life-long love affair with folk music, storytelling, and writing.

It’s safe to say that I’m a fan. I’ve even blogged about him here and here. I’ve gotten his autograph a few times. I’ve also spoken to him, but he’s not as outgoing off stage as he is onstage, so mostly he has responded with a blank stare. Of course, I’d always get all flustered when I got close to him, so I’d usually say something inane, like, “I was born the same year Alice’s Restaurant came out!” or, “I think it’s wonderful that you have your kids performing with you now.” or, “I’ve seen you in concert 18 times!”

But the most mortifying encounter was at the Florida Folk Festival in 2004. He was set up under an awning in a field, and the crowd was surrounding him on all 4 sides. We got a patch of grass right behind him. We were so close that I could have slapped him upside the head if the spirit moved me. (Of course, it didn’t.) But before Arlo started performing, my boyfriend at the time gushed, “She’s your number one fan!”

Omigod. Stalk much? The poor man kept glancing nervously over his shoulder at me during the rest of his set. I wanted to crawl under a rock. (But not so much so that I was willing to leave.)

Back in 2012, I lived in Vero Beach, not that far from the home that he lived in when in Sebastian, Florida. No, I didn’t go knock on his door. That would be creepy. But I did keep my eyes open when running errands in town. It would have been cool to bump into him at the hardware store or something. No such luck.

When his wife passed away, I was still living right down the coast from him, and my heart was broken for him. They had been married for 43 years. A year and a half later, my guy also abruptly passed away. We had only been together for 4 years, and I was devastated, so I couldn’t begin to imagine what Arlo was going through after losing a relationship that had lasted ten times as long. I thought about that a lot over the next few months. Both of us in Florida, gazing out at the same ocean, both experiencing waves of crashingly painful emotions.

I’m not going to lie. I have had a bit of a crush on him over the years. He’s a good looking, talented man, and I love his storytelling abilities and his politics and his sense of humor. But I also knew he was happily married, is 17 years older than I am, and way, way cooler than I would ever be. Also, I wouldn’t cope well with the constant touring, and while his Florida home may have been called the CrabShack, Zillow currently places its value at nearly 3 million dollars. I’m not someone who would fit into a million dollar home. And, let’s face it, I really and truly know nothing about the real man. But it was a nice fantasy that made me smile during my darkest hours.

Over the years, I’ve watched his TV appearances, too. I try to watch Alice’s Restaurant every Thanksgiving. I caught him on the Muppet Show when I was really young, and looking at the footage now, I realize he was barely grown himself.

And I watched the show The Byrds of Paradise religiously during its short-lived run in 1994, simply because Arlo had a part in it. If you want a total hoot, check out Arlo rapping and dancing in this clip from that show. He has always charmed me.

Fast forward to February, 2022, when I happened upon this article in the New York Times that hit me with three things I didn’t know, all at once. First, Arlo has had several strokes. Second, because of those strokes, he can’t perform up to his standards and doesn’t walk as well, so he has retired from performing. Third, since 2016 he has been living with someone he loves very much, and they got married officially in December, 2021. They now live together in a much more modest home in that same area of Florida.

I also found out that he told his new wife, “I’m going to take care of you like a man should.” Omigod, crush validated. Having said that, though, I am truly happy for him. He’s 74, and deserves to have love in his life just like I do. (And I’d pick Dear Husband over Arlo every day of the week, now that I’ve I finally found him and have convinced him he needed to find me, too.)

But it did take me several days to absorb all that Arlo news. I couldn’t really understand why it rattled me so much. And then it dawned on me. First of all, I would never see him perform live ever again, and his concerts have been major mileposts throughout my life. Second, one day he’s going to die, and I’ll read about it and probably fall to pieces. I can’t imagine a world without an Arlo Guthrie in it. Third, half the time I was fantasizing about him, he was in love and shacked up, which is further evidence that my inner world is entirely fictional. Fourth, time is going by way too quickly, and therefore feels increasingly poignant to me.

You might say that Arlo has been one of many yardsticks by which I’ve measured my life. It’s a bit unsettling to be hit all at once with the fragility of that yardstick. Things fall apart. The center cannot hold.

But I’m glad that both of us are rounding out our lives with love and happiness. I am exactly where I’m supposed to be, finally. I suspect that that’s the case for Arlo, too. He and his wife garden together. That makes me smile.

Thinking of Arlo as a yardstick and also as a gardener makes me want to leave you with one of my favorite Arlo songs. “Inch by inch…”  Despite the poor quality of the video, I hope you’ll watch it all. It will show you what an amazing performer and storyteller he has always been. It brings happy tears to my eyes. There will never be anyone like him again.

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Meet the Homeless of Seattle

Everyone has their own story.

When I first moved to the Seattle area in the Summer of 2014, I was shocked by the sprawling, garbage-strewn homeless encampments that I saw beside the highway and under the bridges. I had never seen so many homeless people in my entire life. They were, and still are, everywhere in this city.

I kept asking myself why it was so extreme here as compared to Jacksonville, Florida, where I had lived for 30 years. I mean, let’s face it. The weather here is pretty horrible for most of the year. When I see people huddling in makeshift tents in this cold, damp, unforgiving climate, I can’t even begin to imagine what they’re going through. In Florida, on the other hand, you can survive in a tent. As a matter of fact, I did so for what seemed like an endless portion of my childhood.

The general population would love for homelessness to be a simple problem that would come with a simple solution. But there are as many reasons for homelessness as there are homeless people. Society wants to think that all homeless people are either schizophrenics or drug addicts who have brought their problems on themselves. They want to believe that they remain homeless due to a lack of ambition or an inherent laziness. People justify avoiding the beggars on the street corners by assuming that they are all either scammers or part of the criminal element, and that every one of them is out on the lunatic fringe and therefore potentially violent. Or worse yet, they are illegal immigrants that our politicians have convinced us are a disease-laden, dangerous scourge.

I have a theory that the vast majority of Seattleites are skirting on the edge of homelessness whether they care to admit it or not. The cost of living here is outrageous. According to Salary.com, it’s currently 35.7% higher than the national average. Granted, it’s cheaper to live here than it is in San Francisco, New York, or Washington DC, but that’s setting the bar rather high. The average mortgage payment in this town, according to this article, is $3014 per month. The median rent for a one bedroom apartment, according to this article, is $1850 per month, and you can anticipate a 24% increase in rent from one year to the next.

Suffice it to say that it takes a heck of a lot of money to keep a roof over your head in this town, and it takes even more money to plan for all contingencies. If you’re laid off because of the pandemic, you can sink into poverty almost instantly. If you have a catastrophic health condition that causes you to be unable to work, you are screwed. If a natural disaster strikes, or one of your family’s breadwinners unexpectedly dies, what then? The safety net in Seattle is much further away from your tightrope than it is in other communities, and the net is full of holes. Don’t even think about falling. You could very easily find yourself on the pavement along with so many others.

People in Seattle are getting so used to seeing homeless people that they barely even blink anymore. Yes, everyone says that “something has to be done” about them, and every now and then the city will sweep through a camp and throw away everything within it, leaving the people tentless and without even a change of clothing, but that’s quite obviously not a viable or humane solution.

There are no affordable housing options, and not enough hospital beds. The drug rehabilitation facilities are few and far between, and even when you can get in, their success rates are as abysmal as they are everywhere else in the country. There are a lot of high paying jobs here, but you have to be highly educated and trained in a very specific niche to get one, and now with the pandemic, everyone seems to be downsizing, and these plum positions are becoming harder to obtain. Expect to be faced with a lot of competition.

Another factor that makes Seattle’s homeless more evident than Jacksonville’s is that, crammed between the Puget Sound and Lake Washington as it is, Seattle is densely populated. There’s no room for expansion, and there are very few places for the homeless to “hide”. Jacksonville, on the other hand, is a large, sprawling berg where the cost of living is 7.4% below the national average, and there are plenty of open fields and forests.

That, and Jacksonville is very hostile to its homeless. The police have been known to drive them to the county line and dump them off there to walk the 20 miles in the blistering heat that it takes to reach civilization again. They also trash the encampments with annoying frequency, and they make sure all the park benches have arm rests every foot or so to prevent people from lying down. Even so, I’m now hearing from friends that homeless camps are increasing even there, and that makes me really sad.

Bottom line, though, is that all these people may not have homes, but they are fellow human beings, each with their own story. So many of us try to ignore them or avoid them that we tend to dehumanize them. That’s why I was thrilled to stumble upon the “You Know Me Now” website. Visit that site to hear some very poignant stories as told by the homeless people of Seattle. In the future, there will also be a podcast on this site, and I’m very much looking forward to that.

In the meantime, don’t avert your eyes. Look at your fellow humans. From the privacy of your warm, dry home, read their stories. If the 1 percent continue to refuse to allow people to have living wages, there will always be plenty of stories to read. Here’s hoping your story or mine will never need to be told there.

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Seattle Has a SpokesSalmon!

God, but I love Seattle.

God, but I love Seattle. It’s a quirky city, full of distinctive neighborhoods and abundant public art. It’s liberal and highly literate. Its libraries are some of the most patronized ones in the country. It’s very urban but it also has a lot of natural space to enjoy. It delights in the unique. It’s politically active. It has wonderful food and festivals.

While the people can be reserved and sometimes incomprehensible to me, I love the earnest enthusiasm of the city itself. When I first arrived in the summer of 2014, Fremont Bridge, one of the drawbridges in which I work, was being painted. It took many months. During that time, one sidewalk or the other had to be closed to pedestrians and bicycles, and that’s a part of the city where there is a lot of that type of activity. So, to encourage people to cooperate, the city had signs put up on all four corners of the bridge. And they were in the form of poems.

Those signs were what made it official for me. I was in love with a city. I loved that it could poke fun at itself. I had just spent 40 years in Jacksonville, Florida, a city that took itself a lot more seriously than it had any right to do. It would never put up signs like these. Not in a million years. A dear friend used to call Jacksonville a truck stop that had gotten out of control. Needless to say, Seattle was a refreshing change.

Fast forward to 2021, and imagine my joy in discovering that Seattle has a SpokesSalmon. That couldn’t be more perfect, because salmon run right through the center of town. 10,000 a day, during peak season. As a matter of fact, most tourists, while wandering along the downtown waterfront, have no idea that they’re walking right on top of a salmon migration corridor that took four years to build and cost the city $410 million. We love our salmon.

According to this video, Sal the SpokesSalmon is currently living in West Seattle and encouraging people to #FlipYourTrip. In other words, seek alternative forms of transportation such as buses, bikes, and water taxis, to reduce traffic congestion in the city. This is particularly important in West Seattle at the moment because the main exit point from that part of the city is the West Seattle Bridge, which has been shut down for repairs and won’t reopen until 2022. So, yeah, listen to Sal, folks.

Can you understand my love affair with this city? It charms me. It makes me laugh. It makes me think. It never fails to entertain me. And I’m willing to bet that it’s the only city with a SpokesSalmon.

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The Story of a Tragic Life

A story of immigration, broken dreams, and mental illness.

If I look to my left while working at the University Bridge here in Seattle, I can just glimpse a bit of the campus of the University of Washington. I love that place. A drive through campus makes me feel like I’ve entered Hogwarts, such is the castle-like architecture of many of the buildings. And the cherry blossoms blooming on the Quad are breathtaking harbingers of spring for me. I enjoy walking through Red Square, and gazing at the library, and fantasizing that I’m a student again. I wish I had gone to UW. If I had, I’d have made it to Seattle that much sooner. But…

…I recently discovered that I’m extremely glad that I was not on UW’s Red Square on October 30, 2008. That was the day that In Soo Chun chose to set himself on fire.

The fact that I may have walked right over the spot where he immolated himself gives me the chills. It also makes me very, very sad.

In Soo Chun’s life had been nearly as tragic as his death was. He had been a teacher in Korea, a very honorable position in that country, deserving of the highest respect. He came to America in 1977 and attended a few different universities. One article says he got a masters degree, but another says he never completed any of his studies. He became a US citizen in 1983, and divorced his wife that same decade. He was estranged from his only son.

He had already been struggling with mental health issues for many years. One doctor even went so far as to scan Chun’s brain to prove to him that there were no microchips in it. The test revealed no foreign objects at all, but Chun refused to believe it. He said the microchips traveled around his body, sometimes coming to the surface. He refused to seek psychological help.

He lived alone in the Miranda apartments, within walking distance of his job. I’ve driven past that dreary building hundreds of times, never knowing the despair that once engulfed one of its residents. It would be hard not to despair while living at the Miranda, in my opinion.

He also had a long history of ending jobs on a confrontational note. He had sued several employers, but he had not won any of the lawsuits. Chun never felt that his hostility was the problem, despite the fact that it was the common denominator.

Unfortunately, his angry confrontations with fellow custodians at UW caused his supervisor to attempt to assign him to a different building. Rather than accept that assignment, he took a vacation, never returned to work, and was subsequently fired. He attempted to file for Unemployment Compensation, but since he was let go for abandonment of his position, he was not eligible.

And so a very troubled Chun decided to set himself ablaze in Red Square.

A student tried to stop him when he was pouring the gasoline over himself, and he got soaked in the stuff as well, but fortunately was not burned. Chun definitely was, though. Students tried to beat out the flames with their jackets, as well as dousing him with water and using fire extinguishers, but it was too late. He died not long afterward.

He left a 128 page manifesto, alleging that the school was involved in a drug and prostitution business, that the CIA and Korean operatives had infiltrated the Custodial Services Department in order to spy on him, and that the government had planted microchips in his head. He also believed he was the Staff of God, and that the Bush and Clinton families had used him to become politically successful.

I can’t imagine how profoundly effected the witnesses to this tragedy must still be to this very day. A mentally ill Chun may have thought he was making a political statement, but what he did was snuff out his life while traumatizing many others. It’s a heartbreaking end to his story.

In Soo Chun was 61 years old.

If you or anyone you know is contemplating suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Sources for this post:

https://www.dailyuw.com/news/article_6320d067-89a0-5ee9-a30b-8e1455628f55.html

https://www.seattlepi.com/local/article/Man-who-set-self-on-fire-was-custodian-1290349.php

http://nwasianweekly.com/2008/12/letter-in-soo-chun%E2%80%99s-apparent-suicide/

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Making the Most of Florida

Doing my best to reign in my attitude.

Recently Dear Husband and I took a trip that we are calling “Autumn Back East 2021”. Our goal was to visit friends and family, and I wanted to show DH what autumn leaves really look like in a region that isn’t primarily covered in evergreen trees, and introduce him to our nation’s capital.

We flew to Atlanta, picked up a rental car, then drove to Alabama, North Florida, Georgia, Eastern Tennessee, Western North Carolina, and then drove to Washington DC by way of Virginia. Then we flew back home.

It was an amazing trip which lasted 15 days, and since I’m now only blogging every other day, if I gave you a day to day account like I have on trips past, it would take a month, and you’d be heartily sick of the subject before we even left peach country. So I’ve decided to focus on highlights, which I’ll do my best to keep in order. You can find the first post in the series here and a link to the next post in the series, when it becomes available, below.

I had spent 40 years trying to get away from Florida, with its backward politics, its unrelenting heat, and its cockroaches and snakes and fire ants. And yet, here I was, crossing the state line once again. To say I was triggered is putting it mildly. I was fighting a panic attack.

For most of my time in this particular state, I had been lonely, scared, depressed, and desperately poor. I always felt like I didn’t fit in. I was beat up a lot in school, unsupported at home, and underpaid at work. I didn’t want to feel that way again. Not ever. Even worse, I didn’t want Dear Husband to see the person I was back then. It would scare anyone but the most loyal and devoted human on earth, which, fortunately, he is.

Forgive the awful picture. I was freaking out.

We were here to visit friends and family, so I was doing my best to reign in my attitude and look at the positive things. We had only been back in the South for a few days, and already I had noticed a few of those positives that I had forgotten all about.

There were squirrels. Oh, how I miss those. I’ve only seen about 5 in Washington in the past 7 years. I was also looking forward to seeing lizards (actually, anoles, but nobody calls them that). Some of the roads are sparkly. There’s different and familiar signage. The trees are different. The birdsong is different. The stores are familiar and don’t feel foreign. The parking spaces are actually wide enough to park your car in! There seems to be more space in general. The streets are wider. The highways have wider medians and shoulders. There’s more space between businesses.

There’s kudzu everywhere, and most Americans don’t realize that it’s edible, if not sprayed with pesticides. (Here’s how.) That’s a shame, because no one in the South would ever go hungry again. On the other hand, for some reason Florida DOT seems to delight in using Oleanders in their landscaping. I get it: low maintenance, pretty flowers. But they’re also toxic to the point where you shouldn’t even breathe the air if you burn them, let alone touch the sap or ingest any part of them. And please don’t let your dogs near them, either.

Kudzu

I’d forgotten how many billboards there are. You can’t get away from the ugly things. And there are more junk food chain restaurants than you’d see in the Seattle area in a million years. There’s plenty of opportunity to eat unhealthy food in Florida. Oops. There I go, being negative again.

One of the first things we did was buy bananas. I wanted DH to understand why I find the ones we get in Washington State such a crashing disappointment. They must pick them when they’re dark green to travel to Washington, and the result is that they barely have any flavor at all. When DH ate his first Southern banana, he exclaimed that it tasted like banana candy. We ate a lot of bananas on this trip.

North Florida was bringing back a lot of memories. We passed Blackwater River State Park, where I spent a week in summer camp the one and only time I got to go. We passed Eglin Air Force Base, where my oldest sister was once stationed, and where I saw my first burning cross after Cubans were housed here during the Mariel Boatlift. Scary.

Eglin is also where I worked on the Youth Conservation Corps, which I wrote about here. I couldn’t remember where any of my work sites were, and that’s probably for the best. I was really proud of the work I did, and seeing it after 40 years of wear and tear would most likely be heartbreaking.

The Gulf of Mexico is beautiful. I’d forgotten how nice it is to gaze on a body of water and know it will be warm enough to swim in. I wish we had spent more time doing so. Our hotel was in Destin, and a friend of mine says Destin is the place God goes when God goes to the beach. But we didn’t see her anywhere.

We spent our first evening in Florida having dinner with my dear friend Vicky. It was so good to see her after 9 years! I wanted to introduce DH to grouper cheeks, but sadly that restaurant that serves them had gotten taken out by a hurricane. In fact, a lot had changed on this coast. Nature is never kind to Florida. Instead, we ate at Schooners in Panama City Beach. It was wide open, and we had an excellent view of the sunset over the water. We didn’t warn DH until the last possible moment about the cannon they fire off every night at sunset. We did want him to have the opportunity to brace himself and cover his ears, though.

We visited Seaside, Florida, where The Truman Show was filmed. That’s something I had always been meaning to do but never quite did. Like Celebration, Florida (which I wrote about here), it is a community based on the New Urbanism philosophy. Extremely planned, to the point of feeling a bit Stepford Wife-y. Multi-million dollar homes, immaculate shops with cute names like the Blue Giraffe, the Badass Coffee Company, The Surfing Deer, The Perfect Pig, and Pizza by the Sea. Everywhere you looked there were over-privileged teenagers wandering around with nothing to do. The real world will probably hit these kids hard, if they ever see it. Now there’s another overpriced town adjacent to Seaside called Watercolor. More of the same. Cool name, though.

The next day we visited the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park. Think SeaWorld, only smaller. And with an albino alligator! We saw a sea lion show and a dolphin show. It was actually quite crowded, and few people were wearing masks. But it was the ultimate Florida tourism experience.

Then we did something that I’d really been looking forward to for months. We went parasailing! I had done this twice before, once in this very location, and once in Acapulco, so I knew what to expect. It was DH’s first time. We got towed out to the boat on one of those banana boat things. The water was choppy, so I had to cling onto it for dear life with my messed up wrists. That was the only part that scared me.

I highly recommend parasailing. Yes, you’re high up, but you don’t feel like you are. It’s like sitting on a swing. A swing that’s tied to a parachute and 800 feet of line, that’s being towed behind a motor boat, but yeah, a swing. It’s quite peaceful. And of course the views were beautiful. It was wonderful to enjoy the sunshine knowing that we were avoiding two weeks of crappy winter weather in the Pacific Northwest. As he was reeling us in, the captain playfully dunked us in the water as we were nearing the boat. That’s a traditional part of the experience. Refreshing!

We also visited some of the kitschy tourist shops full of plastic sharks and seashells from China. They kind of made me nostalgic, too, oddly enough. Except for the Trump bumper stickers for sale. I could have done without seeing those.

On this Florida leg of our journey, we also got to visit DH’s sisters, who both live in the area with their husbands. It was a pleasure to break bread with them and see their lovely homes. We spent the bulk of our time outside, because we didn’t want to expose anyone to any virus we might have picked up on the airplane.

From there, we went to see one of my oldest, dearest friends, Steve, along with his wife and grandson. I had arranged to meet them at my very favorite place in Florida, Ichetucknee Springs State Park. I wanted to show DH the most beautiful place in the state. That, and I wanted to avoid Jacksonville. I had lived there for 30 years, and for 30 years I struggled to leave. It would be entirely too triggering to go there. Not now. Not yet.

About two hours into our journey, our last hotel called to say that DH had left his laptop behind. Fortunately, his sister was able to pick it up and ship it ahead of us to a FedEx store in Asheville, North Carolina, where we’d be several days later. Crisis averted, but it gives me the opportunity to hit you with a Public Service Announcement: ALWAYS check all the nooks and crannies of your hotel room, even those you think no reasonable person would store stuff in, before checking out!

DH got to meet Steve for the first time as we rafted down the river, past turtles and cranes and cypress knees. The water is not as turquoise blue as it once was, but it did not disappoint. It was a quiet, lazy float. Some of my fondest Florida memories are from this place. Since Ichetucknee is far from the tourist trail, we pretty much had the place to ourselves. (That’s not the case in summer, though, trust me.) Toward the end of our float we punctured our raft on a cypress knee, and I spent the rest of the time trying to hold the hole closed as we slowly sank into the cool spring water. But that, too, is part of the Ichetucknee experience. It kind of made me smile.

Since this bit of paradise is in the middle of nowhere, there weren’t any hotels, so we rented cabins in a campground. Had I known that Steve’s wife is deathly afraid of bugs, I would have made another plan. Not that the cabins were infested, but we were, after all, in the woods. It kind of felt like I was the architect of her torture, and I still feel bad about that. But it was good to have some heart to heart talks with Steve, who gave DH some very high praise, so that made me feel good. His wife liked him, too, and I think that surprised her. Like she herself said, though, she’s seen some of the guys I used to date.

It was sweet, watching DH play with Steve’s 3-year-old grandson. But I’m still glad we don’t have children of our own. It wore me out just watching the little cutie. I don’t know how parents do it. Truly, I don’t.

One of the cool things about my Pokemon Go app is that it shows me nearby points of interest that might otherwise be overlooked. That’s how we came across the very old and neglected Ichetucknee Memorial Cemetery that is right next to the campground, lost in the underbrush. DH and I wandered there, looking at the tragic headstones from the 1800’s. One guy’s tombstone, below, says he was murdered, but I can’t seem to find anything online that describes the circumstances. And there were a lot of babies there who didn’t make it to their first birthday. It was kind of sad, tucking into our cozy cabin for the night, knowing that there were dozens of dead babies out there in the woods. To live in this swampy area of North Florida back then, without air conditioning or medical care, meant you were prone to endless numbers of diseases and viruses. Thank God for vaccinations, sanitation, and civilization.

We slept relatively well, despite the dead babies and the murdered guy and the squeaky, plastic-covered mattresses. We all went to the Waffle House for breakfast the next morning, and then parted ways. I hate saying goodbye to people I care about when I have no idea when I’ll see them again. It chokes me up just thinking about it.

And then, just like that, we left Florida. So simple. Has it always been that simple to leave Florida? No.

And I survived. Well, except for the chigger bites. Weeks later, I’m still trying to heal from them. I definitely do not miss chiggers. That’s what I get for wandering around untended graveyards.

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Twenty Years of Bridgetending

And I’m still enjoying the view.

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.

This was my view from the Ortega River Bridge in Jacksonville, Florida.

Enjoying my view? Then you’ll enjoy my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

A Seven Year Reassessment

Sometimes I’m astounded that this is my life.

Seven years ago in August, I decided my entire life needed a do-over, so I packed up my two dogs and the rest of my stuff and moved 3100 miles from Jacksonville, Florida to Seattle, Washington. I had never been here before. I knew no one. I was 49 years old, and had absolutely no idea what the future held for me. I only knew that my present was dismal and I couldn’t imagine that any change could possibly make it any worse.

Fortunately I did have a job waiting for me on the other end, because the prospect of homelessness held no appeal. I also had a rental house, which I’d only seen in pictures. But other than those two solid-ish things, I felt as though I were jumping into an abyss.

During the 5 days that I drove across the country, I spent much of the time asking myself if I had lost my mind. One of my cousins (who knows me not at all) accused me of running away. I preferred to think of it as running toward, because what I was leaving behind was nothing of value, except for a few really close friends with whom I knew I’d keep in touch. My future in Florida was of me running on the same desperate, depressing hamster wheel I had been running on for the past 40 years. It had gotten me nowhere.

So, with equal parts trepidation, excitement, and hope, I approached the Emerald City, wondering what adventures it held in store for me. The not knowing was the scariest part. The not knowing was also the most exciting part.

I don’t think I realized what a culture shock I was about to experience. Seattle still feels like a foreign country to me to this day, although I’d like to think I’ve learned the language somewhat, as well as the lay of the land. Now I feel like an established expat. Back then, I felt like an alien from outer space.

I had to get used to driving on hills. I had to learn to dress appropriately for the seasons. I had to figure out which grocery stores to shop in, and while a lot of the products were identical, they had different brand names.

The first two years were particularly hard. I spent most of the time just going from work to home and back again, with occasional solo outings to explore the city. I was so lonely it was physically painful. My skin felt like it would atrophy due to lack of touch. That, and the supervisor of my bridge was a full-blown psychopath. Administration knew it and no one did anything about it. I was clearly in it alone. Work was hell, and at home I had nothing better to do than stew about work. Many’s the night that I cried and said to myself, “My God, what have I done?”

But throughout that dark period of adjustment, little glimmers of light kept creeping in. I loved the exotic sounds of morning birdsong, which was nothing like the birdsong on the east coast. I loved the changes in season. I loved the lack of bugs and the absence of oppressive, soul-sucking, sticky heat. I loved the flowers and the fruit and the neighborhood in which I lived. I loved the views from the bridges in which I worked. And I adored the paychecks. Union strong!

It’s hard to make new friends when you’re in your 50’s. People my age usually have established friendships and set routines. That, and the general vibe out here is very reserved. People also seem to be a lot less reliable. I got stood up a lot. I still do. That takes some getting used to.

But I discovered I had some really cool neighbors, and I picked up friends here and there. It was such a relief being able to count on the fact that most people here had my politics. In Florida I felt like a liberal turd in a republican punch bowl.

I joined a few groups and took a class or two. I even tried internet dating, but that was an unmitigated disaster. (I can laugh about that now, but it wasn’t so funny at the time.)

Little by little, day by day, I built myself a life. The psychopath retired. I published a book. I bought myself a house. I found myself someone to love. And now things are so good that they hardly seem real. Some mornings I wake up and I’m astounded that this is my life.

The other day I had a party. I invited 4 friends over to paint rocks and do crafts. We sat on my patio, my favorite room in the house, and laughed and hugged and commiserated and talked about reality TV and insulted anti-vaxxers and ate guacamole. We also talked about what an amazing husband and home I have.

At one point, and I hope nobody noticed, I got tears in my eyes. Happy tears. It’s just that my life has come so far in the past seven years. There were times I would have despaired of ever having a get together like this. It all felt so completely out of reach.

And yet, here I am, feeling the serenity and painting solid, colorful rocks to prove it. It was all worth it. Life is good and the future is bright. What a difference seven years makes.

Cultivate an attitude of gratitude! Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

My Seaplane Adventure

What a wonderful way to celebrate having moved here!

I often see seaplanes floating beneath my drawbridge or flying over it. I never thought I’d get the opportunity to ride in one myself. But Dear Husband decided to treat me to a scenic view of Seattle recently, because it was my 7 year anniversary of moving out here from Florida. What a blast.

Kenmore Air (which I had always stupidly assumed was an air conditioning company) has several seaplane packages. I highly recommend you check them out if you live in the area. Their planes take off from the northern tip of Lake Washington. From there, our excursion took us south to Seattle, and then we flew along the ship canal through the city, where I got to check out all the drawbridges in that area from high above. From there it took us out into Puget Sound, and then back the way we had come.

It was a beautiful, sunny day, with hardly any wind, so most of the time it didn’t even feel like we were up in the air. The take off was just as smooth as the landing, which really surprised me. I thought that on the landing we’d hit the water and lurch forward, but no. It was more like gliding over the surface, then skimming on it, and then plop, you’re all done except for taxiing to the dock.

This trip reinforced for me how beautiful Seattle is. And how rich it is, in general. So many million dollar waterfront homes. It must be a nightmare to be poor in this town. There is no real balance. It’s all on the extreme ends.

But man, what a wonderful way to celebrate having moved here! It is the best decision I ever made, and has allowed so many positives to enter my life, including DH. I will be forever grateful to the 2014 me for taking that leap of faith.

Here’s some pictures we took of the ship canal drawbridges, fixed bridges, and locks, as well as the seaplane itself. Enjoy!

Enjoying my view? Then you’ll enjoy my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Love in Action

I’m one lucky woman.

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, love is both a noun and a verb. Unfortunately, many people fail to realize that. They might be good at professing their love 100 times a day, but when it comes to the down and dirty, the taking action, the making sacrifices, the actively planning for a loving future, they fall short.

Do you love someone? Then prove it. Even if you’re sure they know. It’s important. Create experiences that actively show that you’re taking the other person into consideration and that you want them to feel special.

Here is love in action.

  • Recently, Dear Husband needed to take a trip to Marenakos Rock Center to check out some decorative rock for an upcoming project. He waited for a day when I could come along, because he knows I am a rock geek. We had fun riding the golf cart around the large facility to enjoy the rock pillars, benches, slate, statues, fountains, etc. It was quite fascinating.
  • On that same day, we passed a u-pick-em blueberry farm and decided to stop. I really wasn’t very interested, because it was hot, and for some reason I assumed that blueberry bushes would have thorns like blackberry brambles do. (They don’t.) I’m not even that crazy about blueberries. But I was willing to do it because I know that DH does enjoy them. He was willing to limit the visit to a half hour because he knows I don’t deal with heat well. And it turns out that we both had fun.
  • Love is also picking up the slack for your partner when that person is clearly exhausted or overwhelmed.
  • Love is listening to your partner when that person is exhausted or overwhelmed, and validating their feelings without giving unsolicited advice.
  • Love is removing splinters.
  • Love is planting flowers as well as buying them.
  • Love is going ziplining against your better judgment because your partner wants to.
  • Love is being open to trying new things.
  • Love is sleeping with the light on so your partner can read.
  • Love is making plans for the future based on both people’s needs and desires.
  • Love is taking your partner to the romantic La Rustica restaurant, and then to a delightful candlelight rooftop concert without it necessarily being a special occasion.

I’m one lucky woman. I hope you are lucky, too, dear reader. We all deserve the verb of love.

Enjoying my view? Then you’ll enjoy my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5