Do a Search of Women and Drawbridges

A friend of mine recently did a Google search of Women and Drawbridges, and what came up was disheartening. Not one word about the many amazing female bridge operators out there. Sadly, nothing about this blog, either.

No. It was all about the stupid things women have done on bridges. Especially this woman, who famously got stuck on an automated bridge as it was rising.


She has become the poster child for all the foolish pedestrians who ignore warnings when a bridge is opening. (And did she have to be wearing that tacky shirt while doing so? Jeez.) I see them every day. (She also happens to be the perfect argument for why drawbridges should never be automated.)

Another thing that pops up is the woman who died after falling from an opening bridge. (Please take those gongs seriously, folks. Getting to your destination on time is rarely worth your life!)

And then there’s this insane and obviously faked video of a woman jumping across an opening bridge. “Do not attempt”, it says. Uh, yeah. That’s putting it mildly.

For what it’s worth, after years of observation, I can say with a certain amount of authority that stupidity on drawbridges knows no gender.

The reason I find these search results so frustrating is that I’ve been a bridgetender for 17 years. I’ve worked with dozens of other female operators, and we are every bit as capable as our male counterparts. And yet inevitably I’ve encountered people in positions of influence who openly state that they don’t think women should be bridgetenders.

What is this, 1950?

Yes, it’s a male-dominated profession. I have no idea why. It’s something that I’ve had to adjust to throughout my career. There’s a constant push back from certain sources. It can be exhausting.

One male coworker refers to a female coworker of mine as “the little blonde,” which completely discounts her intelligence and capabilities, and reduces her to her physical attributes. It makes me want to scream. Another coworker referred to an assault incident between two women as a “cat fight.”

For God’s sake. What an ignorant world we live in. I’d clutch my pearls if I weren’t so busy cleaning the motor oil out from under my fingernails.


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Boycott Automation

I absolutely refuse to go through the self-checkout line at the grocery store. I don’t care how much they urge me. I won’t do it. The way I see it, that’s someone’s job I’d be taking away. The fewer of us who play that game, the fewer grocery stores will think it’s worth trying, and the more people they will have to hire.

I also try to avoid ATM machines whenever possible. I even prefer not to check out my books myself at the library if I have a human option.

Automation is all around us. The trick is not to get used to it. Recently I traveled in Oregon, and was kind of surprised to see that you couldn’t pump your own gas there. I had forgotten that there was once a time when self-service wasn’t an option. How easy it is to forget. Waiting for an attendant was kind of awkward and slow, but it felt good, knowing someone was taking home a paycheck.

I also try to shop at smaller stores and farmers’ markets, and I do my best to eat local and support my neighbors. Am I swimming against the tide? Probably. But these tiny acts of rebellion against corporate America feel good to me. They feel right. And I’ll keep doing them as long as I possibly can.

Power to the people!


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Dodo Bird Jobs

This isn’t the first time engineers have looked into automating one of my drawbridges, and it won’t be the last. People don’t like the idea of paying bridgetenders when they spend the bulk of their time “doing nothing.” These automation ideas generally do not come to fruition, because it’s very easy to get killed on a drawbridge. You want someone with independent judgment at the controls, so as not to crush the life out of passersby. Crunching million-dollar yachts tends to piss off the public as well.

But these recurring threats have made me very sensitive to jobs that are going the way of the dodo bird. For example, take the plight of Hamilton Beale. He’s been working as an elevator operator at Seattle’s gorgeous historic Smith Tower for 18 years. He’s 76 years old, and has kind of become part of the Smith Tower experience. And he’s about to get automated out of a job.

I can well imagine how sad his last day of work will be for him. When you have a unique job that people are curious about, trust me, it becomes a big part of your identity. You take pride in it. I’m sure he loves his elevator as much as I love my bridge. I’m also sure that Seattle will be losing something special when he is no longer on the job.

I’m thrilled to see that someone has decided to create a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds to supplement Mr. Beale’s retirement. I hope you’ll spread the word and consider making a contribution, as I have. Do it for the dodos of the world.

Hamilton Beale

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An Open Letter to White Supremacists

First, let me give you my “bonafides”. According to Ancestry DNA, I’m about as white as a human being can be. That always has, and probably always will give me a leg up in society. I won’t even try to deny it. I also won’t deny that I’ve done little or nothing to earn this leg up. I was born into it, and oh, do I ever take advantage of it.

I can go weeks, months, even years not having to think about pesky racial issues if I so choose. I can live in a white bubble and have absolutely no contact with any minority for days on end. I don’t have to watch “them” on TV, or listen to “them” on the radio if I don’t want to. I can simply close my eyes and clutch my pearls. If I so desire, I can shop exclusively at white-owned stores without putting forth much effort at all. I probably do without even realizing it. I have the luxury of not having to care one way or the other.

People assume I’m law-abiding and honest. People assume I’m non-violent. People assume that I’m supposed to be wherever I happen to be, any time of the day or night. I’m a harmless fat old white woman. I’m as likely to get shot as I am to be struck by lightning. Most people don’t even look at me. I can become invisible. I often feel invisible. It’s lonely, but it has its advantages.

No, I’m not rich. I’m barely middle class, and I’ve only clawed my way up to this precarious and ever-shrinking perch in the past 3 years. I know what it’s like to be down there in that bucket of crabs, where everyone is scrabbling to get out, and just when you think you’ve made it, the other crabs pull you back down. I was there for 50 years. It’s frustrating. It’s heartbreaking. I understand that despair.

But here’s where you and I part company: I don’t assume that all the crabs that have been pulling me down are non-white. I don’t even bother to blame the other crabs regardless of their color. If you’re caught in a crowded, desperate bucket, it’s only natural to want to get your crabby butt out of there. It’s not the other crabs, guys. It’s the freakin’ bucket. There shouldn’t be a bucket.

That bucket was made by rich white people.  It’s the corporations and the politicians and the institutions that are your biggest threat. It’s the military-industrial complex that is using you as cannon fodder and replaceable cogs in the machine.

Railing at your crab-mates is a mere distraction. Glorifying Confederates, who lost for good reason, and Nazis, who lost for good reason, makes you look like fools. Being violent because you’re angry does not further your cause. It will never bring you respect or support or dignity. It won’t get you out of the bucket. Fascism has never benefited the masses, and like it or not, we are part of the masses.

I know it sucks that we’ll never have a delightful and stress-free retirement. I know it’s scary that things are getting more crowded and therefore more competitive. It’s high time you realize that automation is a much bigger threat to your job than other humans are. And most of those machines, by the way, are owned by white people.

If you honestly think for one minute that your crab-mates are out to destroy you or your way of life, ask yourself this: why are all of us striving for the same things? We all want a decent, safe, secure life. A way to feed our children. A roof over our heads. Peace. We have a lot more in common than you seem to think.

Don’t you get it? We are all in this together. And together we are stronger. The very fact that we are a mass is the one thing we have that those bucket manufacturers do not.

The reason you have the day off today is thanks to the labor movement, a movement of the masses. We can do great things if we stand shoulder to shoulder rather than turning our back on each other, or even worse, locking ourselves into mortal combat with each other while the bucket manufacturers gleefully watch from a distance.

Turning on each other is the last thing, the absolute last thing, we should be doing. Don’t be a pawn.


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False Starts

I remembered something last night that I hadn’t thought of in years. I went to travel agency school! I had recently gotten my Bachelor’s Degree in Spanish and Latin American Studies, and my Associates in Sociology, and it was becoming increasingly obvious, to my horror, that I was not going to be able to do a thing with either one of them.

So I got it into my head that one of those fly-by-night train-you-for-a-career-in-next-to-no-time schools was the answer to my problems. And hey, I absolutely LOVE to travel. I adore everything about it. And travel agents get cool perks like free trips to Madrid and things like that. Sounded good to me! Sign me up!

What those career schools don’t tell you is that their goal is not to get you a career. Their goal is to prey on your desire for a career in order to separate you from your money. Don’t believe me? Ask the admissions office for placement statistics for their graduates. I guarantee you, they won’t provide them.

Regardless. I attended that school faithfully, graduated with honors and then… never got a job in the travel industry. You see, by the time I showed up, that industry was already dying. Computers were starting to rear their ugly heads, and now everyone makes their own reservations. When’s the last time you even saw a travel agency? They’re as rare as hen’s teeth.

I did get an interview with Eastern Airlines. They even flew me first class to Miami. That was the first, and probably last time I’ll ever fly first class, unfortunately. But it’s a good thing I didn’t get the job, because Eastern Airlines went belly up about 6 months later.

I seem to do that a lot– Hop onto a trend when it’s already on its downhill slide. I got 8 tracks when everyone was already moving on to cassettes, and cassettes when everyone was getting CDs, and now I have all these CDs that I never listen to, taking up space in my closet. I also went to Dental Lab Technology School and got a third degree at a time when labs are starting to automate. I’m off trend in romance, too, falling for guys who are either not ready or no longer interested or were never interested in the first place. I’ve also made a lot of friends who turned out not to be friends. That hurts like hell.

False starts suck. While you are backtracking, you’re also experiencing a sort of mini mourning period. Then you have to gather your strength to start over. That isn’t so bad when you’re young and you think there will always be a new opportunity just waiting for you, but as you get older, you realize that isn’t always the case, and even if it is, you only have so much energy and time and money to start fresh. And you therefore start to get a little gun shy.

Learning when to go for it and when to listen to your voice of reason and give something a pass is a fine art that seems to elude me. I think moving from Florida to Seattle was my last big hurrah. But I don’t want to turn into one of those people who does less and less until one day I wake up on the couch with daytime television blaring in my ear, a room full of cats, and a serious lack of Vitamin D. That would be tragic.


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Why Drawbridges Should Not Be Automated

I’ve got to confess, I’ve visited the NPR website, where you can find my interview, about a billion times. I’m proud of it (except for the horrible picture in which I weigh about 50 pounds more than I do now). The page also allows for comments, and I’ve participated in those quite a bit, too. It’s been fun to connect with people.

Some of the comments there sparked an interesting discussion. The theory was posed that it makes no sense to stick a “human in a tiny room to literally look out a window and push a button for an 8+ hour shift.” And he goes on to say that this “is the kind of inane cruelty only the State could come up with.”

This amused me quite a bit, because the whole point of the story was that I love my job. Absolutely love it. So how is it cruel? Yes, it isn’t for everybody. The isolation drives some people insane, and they quit after two days. But this job was made for me, and I can no longer imagine doing anything else.

Also, this person has a very, VERY oversimplified concept about what bridgetending entails. If you Google “drawbridge” and “death”, you’ll get some very interesting hits that will demonstrate just how important it is to take this job seriously.

We are responsible for the safety of boaters, drivers, bicyclers and pedestrians, many of whom take insane risks around what is essentially about a million pounds of moving steel and concrete. A machine can’t make independent decisions regarding an unpredictable number of variables. On a daily basis, I’m shown that warning bells and lowering gates is not enough to deter people.

A typical operating console.


And the operation is a lot more complex than pushing a single button. I wish life were that easy. Also, I am expected to maintain and inspect the machinery, report malfunctions, communicate with vessels, contact first responders, write reports, observe and report on some of the most bizarre incidents, and make hundreds of independent decisions a day that mean the difference between life and death as well as the difference between efficient flow of millions of dollars of cargo and financial ruin. I also have to carefully coordinate openings so as not to back traffic up for miles, all while following Coast Guard federal regulations as well as the policies and procedures of my employer.

Not only am I proud of what I do, but I genuinely think it’s vital. No automated system can ensure your life and health as well as a human can. As a reminder, I leave you with this photo of the woman who ignored the multiple warning signals on an automated bridge.

stupid drawbridge woman