Bridge Break In

So, I came to work the other day to a sheet of plywood covering one of our windows. It seems that some drug addict scaled the bridge to the upper floor and tried to bash the window in with a 2×4. I don’t know what they were hoping to get. There’s nothing much worth stealing in here, especially if you then have to carry it back down to ground level. But ours is not to reason why.

The thing is, the fool tried to do this right at the beginning of the shift, so a coworker caught him in the act and called 911. He bolted, but by some miracle the police caught him right down the street. My coworker identified him, for what it’s worth, but I’m betting he’s walking free again even as I write this.

It’s amazing how much an evil outside force can alter your worldview. I used to feel safe here. Now I keep seeing movement outside the window out of the corner of my eye. And I also wonder what would have happened if the idiot had gained entry, and whoever came to work didn’t notice the broken window, unlocked the sidewalk door, came up the stairs, and was face to face with a drug addict wielding a block of wood. What would have come next?

A friend pointed out that there’s no point in playing the “what if” game. You can’t live your life in constant fear. At least, you shouldn’t do so. And to a certain extent I agree. But it never hurts to have a contingency plan.

From now on, I plan to drive by and take a look at that window before parking. When I unlock the door, I’m going to pause to see if I hear anything, such as the kind of noises one would only hear from an open window. (Or some disembodied voice saying “Redrum,” or something.) I bet the guy didn’t smell very good, either, and I have the nose of a dog. So there’s that.

What I resent most, though, is that my sense of security has been shattered. Take all the stuff you want, but leave my comfort zone alone.

I’m sure I’ll relax again eventually, but until then, I wouldn’t advise you to sneak up on me. You could be in for a nasty surprise.

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Flags Scare Me

The first flags were battle standards used during conflict. In times like those, especially when battles were bloody and fought face to face and you were usually slaughtering your neighbors who looked just like you, it was rather important to indicate whose side you were on.

Think about that for a minute. We have to be able to tell each other apart in order to kill the right people. Because if we were all running around naked and flagless, we would all essentially be the same. In which case, what the hell are we fighting for?

Good freakin’ question. What are we fighting for? I think the last war that was waged even tangentially for moral purposes (rather than purely for greed or racism or religious zealotry or the quest for the control of oil) was World War II. So, yeah, we need those flags, man, or we can’t separate ourselves. Us vs. Them.

Flags are the ultimate symbol of polarization. Either you’re on our team or you’re not. And if you aren’t willing to play by the flag flyers’ rules, then get the hell out. Love it or leave it.

It’s very comforting to be a member of a group. You’re accepted. You’re part of the norm. You’re just like us.

But in order to form a group, you have to be willing to believe that all of your members feel the same way about things. And, hey, you’re a good person, right? So if everyone in your group is just like you, then you must be the good guys.

What does that say about those who are excluded from that group? They must be bad. That only makes sense.

And we (“we”) wonder why we can’t all just get along.

On the anniversary of 9/11, I saw a Facebook post that waxed nostalgic for 9/12. It talked about stores running out of flags to sell because they were being flown everywhere. It talked about us all being Americans before anything else. It talked about us being united.

I remember it quite differently. I remember fear and paranoia and confusion and anger. Yes, I remember flags everywhere. Flags defiantly flown. I remember people getting beat up if they looked the slightest bit Muslim. I remember my employer trying to force me to wear a flag pin, and feeling as though my livelihood would be threatened if I didn’t jump on the bandwagon. I remember not knowing what this angry, enormous mass of “we” was going to do.

That scared the hell out of me. It still does.

I don’t even like rooting for sports teams. I don’t like turning anyone into a them. The only “thems” in my life at the moment are Trump supporters. I don’t understand them. The level of hate they demonstrate terrifies me, because I know that to them, I’m the them.

http _orig06.deviantart.net_404b_f_2008_153_1_5_flags_of_the_world_by_condottiero
So many thems.

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People are Strange

Apparently yesterday was Crazy Dude on the Bridge Day, and nobody warned me. I should actually read the e-mails, I suppose. But no.

My first tip-off was when I heard a blaring of honking horns. (I’m making it official. A group of honking horns is called a blaring.) I looked out, and there was a man standing in the middle of my drawbridge, blocking two of the four lanes of traffic. Aw, shit. Paperwork.

Every time someone tried to veer around him, he’d shuffle sideways so they couldn’t accomplish their goal. All the while, he’s screaming at the top of his lungs. At best he was shredding his voice, and would probably wake up the next day unable to speak without remembering why. Worst case scenario, he was going to get himself killed. Either way, it was obvious that some substance or other was involved. I called 911.

As per usual with 911, they assumed I was a crank caller. “You work where? Which bridge is that?” Then they started getting bombarded with calls from the drivers. I guess that gave me an air of legitimacy. They sat up and took notice then.

Especially when I told them that the guy was now throwing his bicycle at cars. He’d heave the thing, hit a car, then retrieve the bike after the car sped off. Rinse. Repeat.

I saw a pedestrian videoing him with his smart phone. I’d love to see that footage. But I bet the video-er had second thoughts when the guy went over to the bike lane and started hassling bicyclists. Scatter!

This guy needed help. It’s scary to think the republicans just took away the last obstacle to his getting a firearm. But a bike can be a deadly weapon, too.

Naturally, he rode away long before the police arrived. That must have been one sturdy bike. I suspect he went elsewhere and caused more trouble. I bet they could track him through downtown Seattle just by the 911 calls.

Just another day at the office for me.

Brain on Drugs
Your brain on drugs.

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I Just Can’t

For the first time in my life, I will not be watching an American Presidential Inauguration. I’ve always watched them, even when the incoming president wasn’t the person I voted for. I watched them even when I wasn’t old enough to vote. It has always amazed me that this country, since its very founding, has managed a peaceful transfer of power. Every time. That’s pretty freakin’ impressive.

But this one is different. Not only is Trump entering the office with the lowest approval rating and the lowest percentage of American votes in history, but he is the most disrespectful, hate-filled, emotionally unhinged and destructive person ever to hold this office. And I’m terrified.

Part of me thinks I should bear witness. This is history, after all. But the other part of me feels like I need to preserve my sanity and gather my strength for the many battles that lie ahead.

I have to say that I haven’t felt this sick to my stomach since I saw the bodies falling out of the towers on 9/11. And just like back then, I feel utterly helpless and I can’t help but think that the world will never be the same.

So just for today I will avoid the internet and the radio. I’ll take a complete media break. I’ll lift my tear-streaked face up again on Saturday.

Be gentle with yourself, dear readers. Don’t forget to breathe. Live to fight another day.

56th Armed Forces Inaugural Committee

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The Perfectly Wrong Thing

Without a doubt, the absolute worst part about being a bridgetender is the jumpers. When I see someone attempting suicide, it leaves me feeling sick at heart. I truly believe that life is precious, and that no matter how awful it can sometimes be, the pendulum is bound to swing back the other way sooner or later.

But you can’t work on a drawbridge without seeing someone standing on a railing at some point. I have a theory that people who choose manned drawbridges as their place to end it all are doing so as a cry for help. After all, there are plenty of fixed and unoccupied bridges out there, and they’re usually higher. Why choose one that comes with a bridgetender?

This happens a lot more often than the public realizes. Fortunately, in the vast majority of cases, help arrives in time and they’re able to talk the person out of making this final, irreversible decision. Because the first thing I do, of course, is dial 911.

You see, I’m not a trained first responder. I’m not a mental health professional. And even though I have given it a great deal of thought, and have even written a post about what I’d say to a jumper, it’s the most important moment in that person’s life. Here’s someone who has decided that he or she feels completely out of control, and the only power left is to choose to stop living. That’s the last person on earth who needs to hear my ham-handed opinions.

So generally I call 911 and then gaze out the window, saying “Don’t do it… don’t do it… don’t do it” under my breath, like a prayer. I leave it to the professionals, and hope for a happy ending. And then I feel sick and jumpy until the end of my shift, and often vomit out the adrenaline when I get home. Talk about a bad day at the office.

But there was this one time. A time when I did everything wrong. I still have very mixed emotions about that incident.

I had been having a really bad day. I mean, one for the record books. I can’t even remember what the situation was, but I was kind of at the end of my rope myself. And then I looked out and saw a guy on the railing. Great. Just great.

And all of a sudden I got really, really angry. I guess it all became too much. And I thought of someone I loved who had died recently, and I know if he had been given a chance to live he’d have grabbed it with both hands and never let go. And yet here was this guy on the railing, about to throw it all away.

The last thing you should do when someone is contemplating suicide is yell at them. But I was seeing red. My ears were ringing. And before I even knew what I was doing, I threw open the window and shouted, “Do I need to call 911, or are you going to get your ASS off my RAILING???”

This could have ended very, very badly. This could have turned into something I would regret for the rest of my life. This was an extremely stupid thing for me to do. I still can’t believe I did it.

But just like that, he looked at me, meekly said, “Yes, ma’am,” hopped back down to the sidewalk and left. (When did I become a ma’am?)

All’s well that ends well, I suppose. But I guarantee you I will never, ever do something like that again. It was the wrong thing to do. It just happened to turn out all right that time. The bridge gods must have been watching over both of us.

I hope he got the help he needed.

long-way-down

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Doing the Right Thing

It happened again the other day. Someone saw me crossing my bridge on the elevated catwalk and called 911, thinking I was a jumper. This always amuses me. Do I look that miserable going to work? Because I’m not. I happen to love my job. But in order to avoid disrupting the traffic while going from my car to the tower (safety first!), I have to take what probably looks like a precarious route from the public’s perspective.

When the 911 operators get a report of this type during our regular shift change, they know to call us first and check. And I always hear all of them laughing when we confirm that it was a false alarm. They are as used to it as we are.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad when someone makes that call. You can never be sure. Perhaps it is someone who is planning to do the worst, rather than someone who is just trying to make a living, and that would be tragic beyond words. It’s a good citizen who cares that much about a total stranger.

In the same way, it always amuses me when a cashier apologizes for having to ask for my ID when I use a credit card. I WANT them to care about identity theft! I’m glad that if someone tried to use my card without permission, the buck would stop there, so to speak. Having to whip out my driver’s license is a minor inconvenience compared to having my credit card stolen.

And despite popular sentiment, I don’t mind going through a metal detector. It puts my mind at ease that everyone else around me has done the same thing. It’s the not-so-random searches and the confiscation of nail clippers that bug me.

On the rare occasion in my life when I’ve had to call the police regarding a neighbor’s domestic violence, the perpetrator of this violence never appreciates it, but I suspect that deep down, the victim does. If I ever found myself on the receiving end of a fist, I certainly hope my neighbors would step up in that manner.

So go ahead, folks. Make that call. Ask those awkward questions. Take precautions. It’s better to err on the side of caution. Thanks for caring!

catwalk

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My 15th Tender-Versary

On this day back in 2001 I operated a drawbridge for the very first time. It was kind of a strange time to be a bridgetender, because 9/11 was only 6 days past, and everyone was nervous and confused and angry and afraid. And we weren’t sure if it was over. And bridges make great targets.

When I walked on the bridge, the first thing that struck me was that the tenderhouse swayed as the traffic passed beneath it. I wasn’t expecting that. It kind of made me a little sea sick at first. Now I hardly notice. In fact, think it would feel kind of strange to work in a place that didn’t move after all these years.

Instinctively I knew it was important to hide my fear of heights from my coworkers. It’s a respect thing. If they had known I had to fight off a panic attack every time I climbed those metal-grated stairs that were suspended 80 feet above the river, I’d have never been taken seriously. Now I rarely think about it. I trust my bridge and I trust myself.

I was definitely not made to feel welcome. As a trainee I worked with two other operators. One of the first things that was said to me was, “How did you get this job when so many of us are begging for hours?” I replied that I had no idea, but that I wasn’t going anywhere. The other bridgetender did not speak to me for the entire 8 hour shift. (I later discovered that a piss-poor attitude was pretty much her default position, so I learned not to take it personally.)

And at some point I was informed by a supervisor at the Florida Department of Transportation that women should not be bridgetenders. Ah, but I was very familiar with the State of Florida’s 1950-esque organizational mindset. It was the reason I was now a bridgetender with a private contractor in the first place. After being a state employee for 14 years, I was sick of the office politics, the ignorance, the drama, the misogyny, the dress code, the rock-bottom morale, and the prejudice. I was looking for some drawbridge Zen.

Even so, I told myself I’d just take a 6 month drawbridge break to get myself back to a less cynical mind frame, and then I’d plunge right into the state bs again for the better pay and benefits. And yet here I am, 15 years later, with no regrets.

Somewhere along the way I lifted my head and realized that I was exactly where I needed to be. I no longer woke up every single morning thinking, “Ugh! I don’t want to go to work!” My stress level was greatly reduced. I was learning to breathe again, to look around me, and to appreciate the things that I hadn’t had time to take in before.

Somewhere along the way, my bridges healed me. They allowed me to cross over to a much better shore. They let me become who I was supposed to be.

Fremont