Bridges as Barriers

Bridges should never be politicized.

As a bridgetender for nearly two decades, I’ve come to view bridges as ways to connect people. They can often be the fastest route from one side of a river to another. They’re a delightful transition from here to there.

At the same time, I’ve known many people who see bridges as things to avoid. If it takes you 5 miles to get from point A to point B, and there’s a bridge along the route, many people will go 7 miles to avoid what they see as a bottleneck. The thing is, they’re often using interstates to avoid these bridges, even though the distance between exits is much longer than the average bridge, and in fact they’re often going over several overpasses in the process. Interstates tend to jam a lot more often than drawbridges. So I don’t get this aversion that people seem to have about them.

This is not the first time I’ve ranted about this subject, so when a friend came across an article entitled, “In Lori Lightfoot’s Chicago, Bridges Have Become Barricades”, she naturally thought of me. (Thanks, Jen!) But this adds a whole new spin to my rant. Mayor Lightfoot is intentionally causing bridges to hinder passage. This horrifies me.

It seems that during recent Chicago riots, the mayor has been ordering the city to raise the drawbridges and keep them raised. Yes, I’m sure this is rather effective in keeping looters from their targets, but there are several issues with this concept that bother me. First of all, I can’t imagine that this is putting the city’s bridgetenders in the most comfortable position. They can now be targeted by the rioters and will be every bit as trapped as the rioters are. Also, I would hate for Chicago’s beautiful bridges to be the focus of vandalism.

But the thing that bugs me the most about this concept is the inhibition of the free flow of Americans. I’ve spent my entire career trying to make my bridge openings as short as possible to avoid impeding traffic too much. We are even told that we should continue our bridge openings even if there’s an ambulance or a firetruck en route so as to speed the vessel’s passage through and close as soon as possible, but every bridgetender worth his or her salt will raise a traffic gate back up for an emergency vehicle if it’s at all possible.

Using a bridge as a barricade is making it perfectly clear that some neighborhoods are better than others. It sends the message that more privileged areas need to be protected from the unwashed masses. It pits one part of a city against another.

I love bridges. I look at them as sacred. I hate the idea that they are being politicized in this fashion.

I think a better idea is making the protestors feel heard. Listen to their needs. They deserve accommodation as much as any other citizen does. If they’re treated with dignity rather than met with teargas and walls, they will be more willing take pride in the community in which they are an integral part.

Another side rant is that the article I link to above refers to us as “bridge tenders”. Would you call someone a bar tender? No. It’s bartender. It’s bridgetender. I don’t care what your spell check says. Get it right.


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What Do You Do?

Americans sometimes shock people from other countries by asking them what they do for a living. In many places this is considered rude. Here, it’s almost as if you can’t really decide what to think about a person until you know what’s on their resume.

In Seattle, I often hesitate to tell people I’m a bridgetender. Oh, the initial reaction is the same as it was in Florida. “That’s so cool!” “Wow, I thought bridges were automated.” “I’ve never met a bridgetender. What’s it like?”

These questions make me smile. I am proud of my unique job. I love to talk about it.

But at some point I sense a shift. People are willing to ask me questions, but they’re not going to invite me to their dinner parties. This is a highly successful town, and I’m a blue collar girl. I don’t wear a suit to the office. As far as they’re concerned, I’m a glorified security guard. Fascinating to query, yes, but shouldn’t you be using the service entrance, dear? Be sure and wipe your feet.

I find this intensely frustrating because I have three college degrees, an extremely high IQ, and I’m now a published author. I’m much more than my scruffy work shoes.

I’ve even been passed over for dates because of my job. For example, I can meet a guy and really hit it off. Things can be going well. Then the career thing comes up, and he can’t disappear fast enough. I don’t know if he suddenly thinks I’m a gold digger or if he’s concluded that he couldn’t show me off to his friends, but poof! He’s gone.

I’ve also gotten the impression that once I reveal that I’m in in a traditionally male job, suddenly my sexual orientation comes into question. I get that a lot, actually. I usually don’t care unless I’m looking for romance.

Plain and simple: I am what I am, but that’s not all that I am. But I’m getting a little too old and tired to work up the energy to break through barriers that I myself haven’t erected.


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Thwart a Terrorist — Build a Bridge

As I’ve mentioned before, my most viewed blog entry is the one on Bridge Symbolism. It’s viewed about 25 times a day, by people all over the world. I have no idea why, but it gratifies me. Now more than ever.

Bridges symbolize connection more than anything else. They join places and people together that might otherwise find it difficult to interact. They link us. They allow us to reach out.

In a world where terrorism seems to be on the rise (as we have all seen recently), it is more important than ever to connect. Terrorists are the very opposite of bridges. They want to cause disconnection. They want us to stop interacting and communicating and learning about one another. They do not want us to be linked. In fact, they want to block our paths. They want us to be afraid to go around the next corner or across the next border.

So I implore you to reject all forms of disconnection and isolation. Cast off all forms of hatred. Extend your hand to your neighbor. Cross over. Make someone welcome. Be a bridge.

[Image credit:]

Language Barriers

When I was around 14 I rode the bus to school every day with a bunch of kids from migrant worker families. I was the only one on the bus who didn’t speak Spanish. It drove me crazy and they knew it. They’d say something, look over at me, and laugh. I hated being left out of the conversation. I despised the idea that I might be missing something important, which is part of the reason I majored in Spanish and Latin American Studies the first time I went to college, thus inadvertently starting down my lifelong path of pursuing useless degrees. But hey, at least now I can listen in on the conversations of a much larger portion of the population of the world, so that’s good, right?

I spent the summer after my freshman year in college in the Netherlands with my sister, who was stationed there in the Air Force. We’d go to restaurants and people would of course be speaking Dutch all around us, and once again I was completely at a loss. I spent that three months highly frustrated. But when I came home and went to restaurants, I discovered something quite interesting while eaves dropping on people’s dinner conversations: Most people have absolutely nothing interesting to say. In fact, my hyper-focus on the conversations of total strangers in subsequent weeks made me realize that I was actually better off when I didn’t understand what people were saying.

After that, during my many trips to other countries I relaxed a little and actually enjoyed the challenge of getting my point across without being fluent in the native tongue. Inability to speak makes the connections that you do manage to form all that more poignant. (Except, maybe, in France, where they take that stuff very seriously. I was once cursed out in French when I accidentally broke something at a bed and breakfast. When I asked a woman what the lady had said, she said, “You don’t want to know.”)

During my trips to the western United States, I delight in tuning my radio to KTNN, the Navajo radio station. Much to the irritation of my fellow passengers, when not playing music, the announcers on this station can ramble on for hours in Navajo, punctuating every few phrases with something that sounds like “Aye-doo-di-Ah-Jay” to me. I find that listening to a conversation in which I don’t really have to pay attention to be a massive relief. I can just be hypnotized by the sounds and the emotions I perceive behind them and let my thoughts wander.

But I also learned another very good lesson while studying abroad in Mexico. I walked up to an American friend of mine who was talking to one of the most gorgeous men I’d ever seen in my life, and I said to her, in English, something to the effect of, “My God, but he’s hot. If he were looking at me right now the way he’s looking at you, I’d probably melt into a big old greasy puddle.” He turned to me and said, “Oh, you would, would you?” The 18 year old me wanted to die right on the spot. Turns out he grew up in California. To my chagrin, he didn’t ever take a liking to me.

You never know when barriers are going to be breached, but when they aren’t, you never know if you might not just be better off.


[Image credit:]

Bridge Symbolism

Having worked on drawbridges for over 12 years, I’ve come to know how strongly many people feel about bridges in general. Just publish your plans to demolish or replace one, and brace yourself for the public outcry. People love to walk and jog across bridges, and many’s the time I’ve witnessed marriage proposals. Fishermen often have their regular spots staked out, and people love to hop out of their cars during bridge openings to enjoy the weather. For some inexplicable reason, the mentally ill are drawn to bridges as well.

Another strange thing about bridges is that people view them as bigger barriers than regular streets, even if they are fixed span bridges with no chance of causing a delay. People will not hesitate to take a 10 minute drive on an interstate which has the same length of road without exits as even the largest of bridges possesses, but if their route contains a bridge, that same 10 minute drive is viewed as a hassle to be avoided.

What do bridges symbolize to people? In the tarot, the bridge card means progress, connections, and stability. Often people view bridges as the only way to reach a destination, and therefore bridges are a way to overcome obstacles. Bridges also represent transitions. “Crossing over” is a euphemism for taking that journey from life to death. Perhaps that’s also why so many people use bridges when they’ve made the unfortunate decision to end their lives, a decision which, speaking from personal observation, is made far more frequently than is reported in the media, and is also a decision which they instantly regret, judging from their screams on the way down. You can be fairly certain that any bridge that you cross that is more than 40 feet above the water has been a place where someone has died.

Perhaps my favorite bridge symbol, though, is that of hope. If you can just get over that bridge, you may find yourself in a better place on the other side. Some bridges are harder to cross than others. If you’re afraid of heights they can be scary. If feeling the surface shaking below your feet unsettles you, then your crossing can pose a challenge, but trust me, that challenge is deceiving. You do NOT want to be on a rigid and inflexible bridge. Not if you want to live. So in some ways bridges can represent a struggle, but one with the prospect of better things on the far shore. I find that inspiring.

If you’re reading this, welcome to my most popular blog entry! The fact that it’s so popular has me flattered and also confused. So I’d love it if you’d tell me why you’re here in the comments below! Thanks!

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