The Fickle Finger of Fate

This was supposed to be a triumphant blog post. I had been writing it in my head all day. After my really scary near-death experience where I plunged down a steep hillside in my snowmobile (read more about that here), I decided to get back up on that horse, so to speak, and face my fear. (As a matter of fact, I planned to title the post, “I Got Back on the Horse!”)

Long story short, we went snowmobiling again.

It was a really beautiful day. The sun was shining, so the snow was sparkling like diamonds. I don’t know if my shoulder was aching because I was tense from the PTSD of the previous week’s scare, or if I was tense because my shoulder was aching, but I was really worried about my ability to control this 450 pound machine that had already proven to me that things can go very quickly south when it decides to have a mind of its own. So I was being extra careful.

But I was going to face my fear and emerge triumphant, by God! Even if it killed me. Hubris strikes again.

I actually did conquer that ridge. I rode up the other side of it and then down the 400 vertical feet of incline behind me. It was scary. My heart was pounding. But I did it. I did it! Afterward, my husband took this picture of me below. I was feeling all triumphant. That would have been the perfect end note for that planned blog post.

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Me, triumphant after conquering that ridge. Before everything went to sh*t.

Sadly, that wasn’t the end of our day.

I was feeling all cocky, so when my husband offered to show me other parts of the Sno-Park that I had never seen, but that he’d been to about 50 times, I was all for it.

It was beautiful. Pristine, powdery snow. Mountain views. I was feeling so happy and alive.

And then.

I was following my husband up a track through some trees, and I lost sight of him as he went around a curve. I wasn’t more than a few seconds behind, but when I went around the curve, I still didn’t see him. And then I realized he was way off to the side, and he was on all fours in the snow, coughing. And his snowmobile was further on, wedged in the trees.

I stopped my snowmobile so abruptly that it stalled. I jumped off and started running toward him (if you can call stumbling through a foot of snow running). My mind was in a state of confusion.

“My God, are you okay?”

“It knocked the wind out of me.”

It seems that in that brief period when he was out of my sight, he hit a bump, and just as I did the previous week, he gripped the handlebars tightly, thus squeezing the throttle. The next thing he knew, he was airborne.

The snowmobile flew more than 25 feet and hit the trees. I know this for certain because I saw where the tracks disappeared from the snow. Fortunately, he was thrown (or he threw himself. He can’t remember.) off the snowmobile before it hit. But that also means that his 25 foot flight was abruptly terminated by hitting a tree himself. Thank God he was wearing a rigid safety vest.

So now, here we were, in the middle of nowhere, in the silent, snowy wilderness, in the late afternoon. Beautiful nature suddenly seemed a lot more deadly. This was bad.

Right, then. Time to get his snowmobile out of the trees.

It wouldn’t back out on its own. That would have been too easy. But every attempt to reverse dug the snowmobile deeper into the soft powdery snow that had been accumulating under the trees for weeks. And we had no rope, so we couldn’t tow it out. So we began to shovel the snow from around the smoking machine.

After an hour, we had only been able to drag it about 4 feet, but it still had to go another 8 before it would hit solid snow. I’m not very strong, and my husband seemed less super-heroic than usual. And the sun kept getting lower on the horizon. I was getting kind of nervous.

We had tried contacting people on the emergency radio, but we appeared to have the entire park to ourselves. That seemed like a good thing earlier in the day. Now it seemed like a very, very bad thing. Even if we had been able to get a cell phone signal, it would have been awfully hard to describe where we were, as we were off the established trail.

There was nothing for it. We were both going to have to ride out on my snowmobile, even though it wasn’t made for two people. I climbed on behind my husband, and had to hang on for dear life, leaning back at a severe angle. We hadn’t gone very far at all before I realized I was going to be in a lot of pain quite soon. This was going to be a long 10-mile slog.

I had been thinking about all the ways this could have been worse. He could have died or been impaled by a tree branch. He could have been knocked out. I’m not strong enough to pull the ripcord to start my snowmobile, so I couldn’t have gotten help. I had no idea where we were. I wouldn’t have been able to save him or contact anyone or walk out. We’d have frozen to death. I began to realize that I wasn’t a help in this instance. I was more of a liability. And that made me feel horrible. How could I have been that stupid?

While I was having all those awful thoughts, we came around yet another curve, and there were two beautiful, young, strong guys, sitting on their snowmobiles, having their lunch. I wanted to cry with relief.

They were able to dig Cris’ snowmobile out, and we were ready to go. But it was becoming increasingly apparent to me that my husband was a lot more hurt than he was letting on. He had been calm and collected the whole time, but I think he did that so that I wouldn’t freak out. He could no longer pull the cords to start our engines. Our heroes had to do that.

We were able to drive out of there, but I could tell that my husband was feeling every single bump of that 10 mile trek.

As soon as we got to the truck and manhandled the snowmobiles onto the trailer, we headed straight toward civilization, and finally, gratefully, to an emergency room, where I was promptly kicked out because of a fear of spreading COVID-19.

He was there for hours, and I couldn’t even hold his hand. We found out he had broken two ribs but had no internal injuries or bleeding. By the next day, he looked like I had beaten him with a baseball bat.

He has a 6-8 week recovery ahead of him, but he’s alive. No more snowmobiling for us. We have too much to live for.

A special thank you to Mike and Josh from North Bend, Washington, for saving our lives. I wish I had gotten their last names. Things would have been much worse if they hadn’t been there.

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It All Turns on a Dime

It had been a wonderful evening spent with my husband and a dear friend. Christmas lights, music, delightful conversation. Warm fuzzies all around.

Afterward we were driving my friend home. At least that was the plan. I was a snuggled down contentedly in the car, knowing my husband knew where he was going much better than I did. (I’m a bit geographically challenged at the best of times.)

We were in the midst of a surreal wind storm that had caused power outages all over town. The neighborhood we were in was pitch black, except for the headlights of cars. Everyone was being very cautious and taking turns. It was our turn. Really. It was.

And then, just like that, we were spinning around in an intersection. It all happened in slow motion. I remember thinking, “Oh. I’m spinning. I’ve never spun before.”

It’s funny where your mind goes in these situations.

The idiot, an arrogant 33 year old man fresh from a Christmas Party where he most likely indulged in too much holiday cheer, had blown right through the intersection. Luckily my husband saw what was about to happen and was able to accelerate enough so that the stupid punk hit the rear quarter panel, rather than hitting us broadside and most likely killing us all.

Then comes the standard stuff in these situations. Is everyone all right? Yes, considering. Neck and back discomfort. Nothing broken. No blood. The calling of the cops, who refuse to come out because there were no injuries, and we had managed to roll our car off the road. (If I had a dollar for every time a Seattle cop had refused to come when I called, I could retire now. I’m not impressed. If you live in this town, you’re on your freakin’ own.)

The arrogant punk said he wasn’t speeding. It took everything in me not to launch myself at his throat. Dude, you spun our car around. In an unlit intersection, where every other car was stopped. “Oh, was the power out?” Jesus. Seriously?

And then, as further proof that this was not his first rodeo, he said, “I’m not going to admit to any fault.” You learn to say that at driver’s school, and you usually only go there if you’re trying to avoid points on your license. Thank goodness a witness came forward.

The exchange of information. The calling of a tow truck. The calling of the insurance agency. The calling in sick to work the next day. The gradual realization that our car is most likely toast. The nausea from the adrenaline dump. Fighting the desire to cry so as not to freak out one’s spouse. Getting home 4 hours later than you originally intended. Feeling changed.

I was afraid to go to bed. I figured I had whiplash, and I was going to wake up in agony, and that pain would be with me for weeks, maybe months. Finally, at 2 am, I had no choice.

Lying there, waiting for sleep to take us, we engaged in the useless game of what ifs. What if we had taken another route, as suggested? What if I hadn’t asked for that detour to take pictures of the Lenin Statue, all decked out for the holidays? What if our passenger hadn’t put on her seatbelt? What if her son, one of my favorite kids in the entire world, had been in the car with us? Worst of all, what if my husband hadn’t had the presence of mind to accelerate, and the car had hit him directly in the shoulder and he had been killed, when we’ve only been married for three months? That is how my luck tends to run…

I’ve written about this before, how everything can change in an instant. It was all so surreal. It still is. If we humans kept the fact that the world is entirely arbitrary in the forefront of our minds, I don’t think any one of us could remain sane for long. The sands of life are just a little too shifty to allow us to remain upright.

So it’s official. My song for the season is, “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth… to Remain in My Head as We Spin Out in This Intersection.”

Update: No injuries on our side, and our car was, indeed, totalled. I hope the little punk’s d*** fell off, but at the very least I can comfort myself with the fact that his insurance rates will rise.

 

Lenin
If I hadn’t asked that we stop and take this picture of Lenin, bedecked in a Christmas halo, with blood on his hands, we wouldn’t have been in that intersection at that moment in time. Lenin. The gift that keeps on giving.

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Happy Accidents and More

Recently, I was walking through downtown Seattle. It was raining. (Big shock, right?) It was dusk, and the sky was getting more grey by the second. I was with a group of people, and none of them wanted to slow down when we came across this amazing sculpture. I was forced to take this picture on the fly.

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When I got home and looked at it, I was really disappointed by how blurry it was. But then I looked at it more closely. I decided that it looked like an impressionist painting. Now, the more I look at it, the better I like it.

I had a similar experience back in 2005. I was driving through Colorado, and came upon a gorgeous sunset. The problem was, I was on a highway with many cars behind me, so I couldn’t stop to take the picture. This is what happens when you snap a picture out the window of a moving car, all while trying not to get yourself killed.

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When I showed these to my friend Jennifer Dropkin, she shared one of her own photos. She was taking a picture of a row of books, and her finger slipped. I think this is lovely!

Jens pic

Bob Ross would have called these photos “Happy Accidents,” and I tend to agree.

My friend Linda Cooke then showed me this photo, which she did intentionally, but says it was a lot harder to do than she thought it would be.

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This, in turn, made me remember another photo I took, again, purely by accident. I was on the bow of a boat, trying to take a photo of Seattle’s city skyline. I like how it turned out, even if it wasn’t what I was going for.

mine

I have another friend, Martin Hunt, who intentionally manipulates his photos, and they come out amazing. Here are just a few of them, which I’ve shared with his permission:

Check out more of his photography here.

I guess the lesson here is this: Whether or not the things you create turn out as you originally planned, or whether you decide to make even more of them than anyone else would originally have seen, there’s a lot of potential for creativity and beauty in this world.

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A Surreal Encounter

I love my early Saturday morning commute. Usually. It’s the only time I can expect to have the entire interstate to myself. That’s a rare treat in Seattle.

So, on this particular Saturday I was cruising along, humming my most recent earworm, which is (consider yourself warned) Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwo’Ole. All was right with the world.

And then, as I approached my exit, I could tell something was not right, actually. Not right at all. There was a green van at an odd angle blocking half the road. As I cautiously went around it, I could see that the driver had hit the attenuator head on, and the entire front end of the van was crumpled. One of the tires was lying flat as if some redneck granny was about to plant some geraniums in her yard.  Oh, shit.

So naturally, I stopped. I walked back to the van, and this tiny little woman got out. I said, “My goodness, are you all right?”

She said, “Do I look all right, b***h?”

I stopped in my tracks and went, “Uh… actually… you kind of do.”

That made her stop in her tracks. And then she burst into tears. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m just…”

“I understand. Is there anything I can do?”

“No. I’ve already called 911 and my insurance company.”

“Okay. Well… Maybe I’ll just wait with you until the cops… oh. Here they come.”

“Thanks. Sorry.”

“No worries. Take care.”

And off I went. I wasn’t even late to work. I strongly suspect she was late to wherever it was that she was going, though.

1280px-1998_Toyota_Sienna_LE_IIHS

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Complacency

When someone gets hurt on a drawbridge and it’s determined that it’s the bridgetender’s fault, you’d think it would be a newbie who was at the controls. But no. It’s almost always an operator who has been on the job for many years.

If anything, someone new to the job tends to be hypervigilant. When you’re training someone, you can feel that person’s nervous energy radiating throughout the room. Newbies are like coiled springs. I’ve never tested this theory, but I’m fairly certain that if I were to walk up behind a new operator and say, “BOO!” that person would be clinging to the ceiling like a cartoon cat.

If you make it past your second day, you’re usually a keeper. You’ve seen how quiet and isolated it can be, and yet you’ve come back, so you can handle it. You’ve also seen how important it is that safety be your top priority, and you’ve chosen to take that responsibility on board. Welcome to the trenches!

After a while, you’ll start to relax. You’ll get the hang of things. You’ll know where things are. You’ll have experienced a few bridge malfunctions, and you and the bridge will have survived. You’ll get familiar with every creak and groan that your bridge makes, and what each one means. This is a good thing.

But now your real challenge begins. From here on out, you have to constantly battle complacency. Don’t get lazy. Laziness in this context can equal death. A little voice inside your head might start saying, “Why bother walking across the room to check that blind spot? No one is ever standing in that blind spot.” Or maybe you’ll start rushing from one step to the next. A bridge console should be played like Clair de Lune, not like the Minute Waltz.

You may not even realize you’re floating down that lazy river of complacency. I suspect it happens in increments. You slack off a tiny little bit, and it’s almost unnoticeable. And then a year later, you slack off even more. Before you know it, you’ve developed some really bad habits.

But on this job, laziness can kill someone. And the one time that you assume that no one is standing in that blind spot will be the one time that someone is standing in that blind spot. The bridge Gods can be cruel that way.

So every day when I come to work, I remind myself that what I do is important. Most people don’t even know I’m here, but I have their lives in my hands. That’s a heavy responsibility, and one I take very seriously.

And every day when I leave work in one piece, and no one who has crossed over or under my bridge has been harmed in any way, I give thanks. The biggest thanks I give is to myself for not having gotten complacent, and for never having forgotten why I’m here.

complacency
Avoid that lazy river of complacency.

Help a Family Stay Afloat

Hi everyone. I usually don’t use my blog the way I’m about to, but my family is in crisis at the moment, and I sure could use your help. Even if you can’t help financially, it would mean a great deal to me if you could spread the word about my GoFundMe campaign.

I’m sure you know what it’s like to work hard and do everything right, follow all the rules, and then have tragedy strike and suddenly the rug is pulled right out from under you. That’s what’s happening to my niece and her husband right now. So please help if you can.

The full story is below, and it’s the same text you’ll see if you go to the GoFundMe campaign.

Thanks in advance for your support.

Barb

On July 2nd, 2016 Andrew Hurley was enjoying a much deserved day off with his wife Leah and their three young sons, ages 6, 3 and 1, when tragedy struck. He dove into a seemingly deep river in the Ozarks while Leah was putting the water wings on the kids, and, instead of encountering deep water, he struck his head on a log.

When Leah saw him emerge from the water all she saw was that he was now bleeding profusely, and floating down the river. He was still conscious and said he couldn’t move because he had no feeling in his arms and legs. They didn’t know it at the time but he broke two bones in his neck and fractured several in his back.

No one was around for miles. Leah jumped into the water to save him, and even then he was thinking only of his kids. He wanted her to make sure the kids stayed safe. She was able to pull him to shore, but couldn’t get a phone signal. Fortunately, some kayakers came by and she screamed for help. They responded quickly, and stayed with Andrew and the kids while she ran to the car and found a stronger phone signal to call an ambulance.

At the hospital, they discovered the full extent of his injuries. A concussion, two broken bones in his neck, and several fractured bones in his back. They think that he will be all right eventually, as the feeling in his arms and legs is returning, but he may have also experienced some slight brain injury as well. Worst case scenario, he will be out of work for several months while going through physical and occupational therapy, and at the current time he’s not supposed to do anything, not even lift anything, as he heals.

This is a family that has done everything to achieve the American Dream. Andrew has worked hard as a project manager while Leah went to back to college to become an educator while she also took care of the kids. She just got a job as a teacher of special needs children, and was very excited about improving the quality of their lives as a family. But her new job doesn’t start until this coming school year, and her first paycheck will be at the end of August, with a significant portion already earmarked for child care.

Andrew does have health insurance, thank goodness, but their patient expense portion will add up quickly, and the follow-up care he needs is about two hours away, so there will be gas and food expenses as well. Also, he had only eight days of sick leave at work, and his disability insurance will only pay about half of his earnings. Meanwhile the bills will keep coming.

Andrew isn’t someone who is comfortable asking for help, but the financial stress and anxiety is not helping this family recover. So, those of us who love him are making this GoFundMe for Leah, the kids, and him, so that healing and recovery is less stressful.

Anything you can do to help this hard working, loving family will be appreciated. For those friends and family who can’t contribute money, even offering to babysit, run errands, or cook meals will be extremely helpful.

“It takes a village” was once a way of life for all of us, and it would be great if we can provide that same spirit to help a family that needs it for the short term. Every type of support will appreciated.

Thank you.

Andrew in Brace
Andrew
Leah and Family
My niece Leah, her husband Andrew, and their three sons.

 

Best Laid Plans

‘Twas a rainy Seattle morning, and I was looking forward to a nice quiet shift on the bridge. Most boaters would not be out in this muck. I planned to drink my green tea, write my blog, and just relax.

Then a maintenance crew showed up. I had forgotten they were coming. No big deal. They’re professionals. They know what they’re doing. They need very little help from me. I just need to ensure that I don’t open the bridge while they’re hip-deep in machinery. Easy enough. We have safety procedures in place.

Then I heard the skidding of brakes. That sound instantly puts me on edge. I looked out the window, and there’s a bicyclist lying unconscious in the middle of the street. Not good. In fact, very, very bad. A crowd is already gathering. Traffic is backing up. I call 911. The first responders arrive with lightning speed. Then I call traffic control to let them know the road is blocked. Then the paperwork begins.

All told, the situation lasted less than an hour, but I’m still rattled. Why is that? The woman is going to be all right, but from the looks of her, she won’t be eating soup for quite some time. She landed face first on the grating.

I’m sure part of my feeling is the aftermath of an adrenaline dump. That’s never fun. But there’s also this feeling of being uprooted. I expected to be in one place (a nice quiet control tower, with my green tea and my blog) and was instead thrust headlong into another (your basic SNAFU). I almost felt as though I’d been abducted.

In addition, my ability to plan and organize was ripped from me. I had no time to prepare. These are comfort zones that I dislike having to depart from.

I didn’t panic. Everything went as smoothly as it could, given the circumstances. And while I wish this hadn’t happened to that poor woman, if it had to, it went as well as it could.

And yet I’m still rattled. But I still have my green tea and my blog.

I think I need a hug.

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Not For All the Tea in China

As I write this, I’m sitting on the drawbridge where I work, gazing out the window at the much, much, MUCH higher fixed bridge next door. I have to say my heart is in my throat, because what is happening is there’s a bucket truck on that bridge, and the bucket is being extended out over the water, and down, down, down below the bridge structure. Apparently they’re inspecting the underside of the bridge or doing some welding or repairs or something. But that thing looks like a spindly little Tonka toy from here.

There are two people in the bucket, and they’re 182 feet above the canal. They’ve been at it for hours in the rain. The bucket goes under and they stay there for a looooong time. Then it swings back out, rises up, slides between the girders, and the truck moves further along the bridge. Then the process is repeated.

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I’m sure whatever they’re doing is quite necessary, and I hope that they’re being paid quite well, but my gut reaction is that you couldn’t pay me enough to risk my life like that. It’s just not something I’d want to be doing on a Saturday morning, or any other time of the week for that matter.

When I opened drawbridges in Jacksonville, Florida, we often talked about a mishap with one of those trucks. The bucket arm gave away, and four people were left clinging to a sideways bucket, 200 feet above the St. Johns River. You can see footage of this scary event, complete with interviews with the people involved here. They all survived, fortunately, but what a scary experience.

It is a constant shock to me, what some people are willing to do to make a living.

The Secret Lives of my Dogs

I came home from work today to the smell of pee and saw a look of utter shame on both my dogs’ faces. The worst part about it is I can’t find where they did it. I’ve been crawling around on my hands and knees sniffing away, with no luck. Disgusting.

I wish I could afford to install a hidden camera in the house so I could see what my boys do when I’m not around. Peeing only takes a few seconds. What do they do the rest of the time? Play poker? Throw wild parties? Watch kitty porn? They definitely don’t do housework. And as often as I’ve told them to get a job, the suggestion seems to have fallen on deaf ears. I’m such an enabler.

It’s disconcerting to think that my dogs have lives that I know nothing about. They have secrets. They know more about each other than I do about either one of them.

If they could speak, I wonder what they’d say to me? I wonder what they think about me? It’s a safe bet that they inwardly laugh when they see me crawling around sniffing for pee.

Cough. Gag. Found it! The bath mat. Well, at least it wasn’t the carpet. But still, yuck.

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[Image credit: toplowridersites.com]

 

 

Why are Characters Drawn to Drawbridges?

The other day I was walking up the bridge to work and I saw the Barking Man. I immediately slowed my pace to assess the situation. The Barking Man is a guy who likes to fish off the bridge on mild evenings. When he’s on his medication he’s quite friendly, and we’ll exchange pleasantries. When he’s not, he’ll often lunge at me and do the best imitation of a Pit Bull with Rabies you’re likely to see in your lifetime. He barks. He slobbers. He growls and shakes his head rapidly from side to side. The first time he did that, after months of cordial conversations, I nearly soiled myself. He’ll never actually make physical contact, but to say it can be disconcerting is putting it mildly. And the worst part about it is you’re never quite sure who you’re going to get. Every once in a while at shift change, the oncoming bridgetender will have to tell the offgoing one that the Barking Man is out there and he’s off his meds. That at least gives the person who’s leaving for the night a heads up. But he’s not the first person on a drawbridge to be barking mad, and he won’t be the last.

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Another time, I got stuck on the South end of a vertical lift bridge with the Preaching Man. The bridge went up, leaving me stranded on the roadway with this guy who kept his distance, but was shouting scripture at me. He was very adamant about it. I got on the radio to the guy who was driving the bridge and said, “You better lower this thing as fast as you can, ‘cause I’m out here getting saved whether I like it or not.” The scary thing about the Preaching Man is that I can easily imagine him deciding that one of us is the devil incarnate who needs to be dispatched, and when you’re working the South end, you’re a captive audience.

Same bridge, different day: I’m walking on the sidewalk, clearing traffic and pedestrians so the bridgetender could do a lift for a very large barge. The vessel was bearing down on us, and everyone was cooperating except this one homeless guy. When I told him he had to get off the bridge for an opening, he looked at me suspiciously, turned around and walked back the way he had come. That works for me. I don’t care where you go as long as you go. But just as he was about to step off the part of the bridge that goes up, he looked back at me and turned back around. Shit. Shit. Shit. I got on the radio and told them we had an uncooperative pedestrian, so they couldn’t open the bridge just yet. But meanwhile there’s this barge, he’s coming with the tide, and can’t exactly stop on a dime. And the river is too narrow for him to paddle in circles. We were all starting to panic. Then the guy stopped in the middle of the span, emptied his pockets and threw all his loose change into the river, then ran away. We got the bridge open with only inches to spare.

One night we heard a loud crash. We looked out and saw a car at the end of the bridge angled across both lanes. We ran down to see if anyone was hurt, and it was the strangest thing. There was only one car. The entire back hatch was shattered. And there was no one inside. Or outside. Or…anywhere. We called 911, and in an uncharacteristically prompt response, before we knew it there were cops everywhere. And then a helicopter with a spot light. Then divers. Nothing. They went to the address of the vehicle’s owner, and he was sitting on the couch drunk as a baboon on fermented fruit, and he says, “Oh yeah. I forgot to report that my car was stolen this morning.” Uh huh. Sure it was.

These are just a few of the millions of stories I have about oddballs and drawbridges. We get our fair share of crazies, drunks and jumpers on a regular basis. I’d tell you more but then what would I do the next time I can’t come up with a topic for this blog?

But I’d love to know what it is about drawbridges that seems to draw these people in.