The other day, a mysterious package showed up at my door. They had our address correct, but we hadn’t ordered anything. And the person it was addressed to was someone we had never heard of.
In more stimulating times, we’d probably just write “return to sender, addressee unknown” on the package and let the postal service sort it out. But we’re under lockdown, just like everyone else, and frankly, I’m bored silly. So I decided to be super sleuth.
The person’s name was rather rare. For the purposes of this blog, I’ll say it was Kwinn Kovey. She shouldn’t be hard to track down in this age of internet. So I tried looking her up on Facebook. Much to my surprise, there were about 30 people with her name on there, and none of them identified our city. Well, shoot.
Then I tried WhitePages.com. Sure enough, there was a woman by that name in our city, but in order to find her address, phone number, or e-mail, I’d have to pay. Nope. I wasn’t willing to go that far.
So then I just googled her name and our city. It seems she’s on Linked In. She’s around my age, and it showed a local place of business. So I tried calling there. But they, too, are shuttered due to COVID-19. I thought of leaving her a message on Linked In, but I know that I almost never pay attention to my messages there (sorry if you’ve tried to contact me), and I didn’t want this box sitting on my back patio forever. And for all I knew it was time sensitive (although I checked the sending company and it was a cheap jewelry store, and the package weighed next to nothing).
I clicked on another link for a company that would gladly tell me everything about Kwinn if I was willing to pay. But this one gave me more hints. It gave me a partial e-mail. Kwinnfirstname.lastname@example.org. I noticed that the number of stars was the same number of letters in her last name, so I figured it was worth a shot. And sure enough, she responded immediately.
She was very apologetic for the inconvenience. But I actually thanked her for giving me something to do during this quarantine! She arranged for a time to come pick the box up, and I left it on the hood of my car, so we could remain socially distant. We got to wave at each other through the window, and she said thank you.
That was the most exciting thing I had done all week. Times, they are a-changing.
So here we are, all sheltering in place as much as humanly possible. It’s the smart thing to do. Stay safe, everyone, and wash your hands.
As an introvert, I thought I would cope better with the situation than I am. But it turns out that it’s one thing to hang out at home alone when it’s your choice, but quite another when it isn’t. Bottom line: I’m going nuts with boredom.
While casting about for something to do, I decided to consult that font of all human knowledge: my Facebook friends. From them I received a lot of great ideas. They seem to break out into several categories.
If you have any additional ideas, please add them to the comments!
Assemble a puzzle.
Play a board game.
Play cards. Maybe even teach yourself a new card game from on line.
Read that book that’s been on your nightstand for 6 months.
Play fetch with your dog.
Hike in a remote area.
Binge watch TV.
Take a hot bath.
Talk to loved ones on phone or skype.
Feed the birds.
Get a jump on your homemade Christmas presents.
Knit or crochet or sew.
Do a renewed push on those New Years Resolutions that you’ve already abandoned.
Make your own jewelry.
Take a nap.
Listen to podcasts.
Join a virtual book club, or create your own with friends.
I hear a lot of people talk about moving when they retire. They want to head to a third world country to get the biggest bang for their buck. Or they talk about moving way out in the boonies, where housing prices are lower and the cost of living, in general, isn’t as costly. These ideas make sense, but there are several factors to consider.
First and foremost, to my mind, is healthcare. The older you get, the more prone you are to catastrophic health issues. Do you have quick access to a hospital if you have a heart attack or stroke? More importantly, is it a hospital you feel you can trust to give you the best care? It’s all well and good to live in a shack on an island in the middle of the south Pacific, but it would be unfortunate to have to fly 3,000 miles to cope with an unexpected allergic reaction to coconuts.
Another thing to consider is the isolation factor. The older you get, the more isolated you become. Younger people get impatient with your slower pace and your antiquated opinions and your oft-repeated stories. That seems to be a part of the circle of life. But do you want to isolate yourself even further by putting miles between yourself and your family and friends? Sure, Skype exists, but it doesn’t feel as good as a hug.
Also, it’s important to remember that rural locations don’t have as much ready access to the services you might well need. Counseling. Grief support. Adult Protective Services. Home health aids. Tow trucks. Public transportation. Grocery stores. Maids. Airports. Libraries. Pizza delivery. While it’s possible to get by without these things, it’s a lot less pleasant.
The thing that would drive me the most crazy would be the boredom. And boredom, combined with isolation, can lead to depression. I never thought I’d say this, but you can only read so many books, especially if your eyesight is failing. You can only play so many games of solitaire, or watch so much TV.
I’d miss being able to go to restaurants and concerts and movies and festivals. I’d miss having options. I don’t want to bury myself in a casket before my time. I will want to continue doing things when the mood strikes, even if it doesn’t strike as often as it once did.
Yes, it’s a great idea to stretch your retirement dollar, but look before you leap. The sacrifice you make may be more extreme than you intended. You get what you pay for. Find a healthy balance.
“How about guest writing a post for my daily blog? Give me a day off. Please. I’m begging you.”
“I don’t think I’d be compatible with your viewing audience,” was his reply.
That instantly gave me a flashback to my childhood.
“Ma… I’m so bored!” I used to say when I was little. (Especially during the Watergate Hearings. I thought I’d lose my mind.)
“Read a book,” she’d say, “Or go ride your bike. Or write a letter.” Or any of a million other valid suggestions, up to and including, “Clean your room.”
But I usually didn’t want to do those things.
Well, congratulations to my friend, and to the me of my childhood. That means you’re not bored after all. Because if you are truly bored, then you’d jump at the chance to do just about anything. Boredom is for people with no options.
No. What you are is a person who wants to be entertained. That’s a completely different animal. Entertain me! I want it NOW!
What did I expect my mother to say? “Oh, you’re bored? I’m so sorry! Let’s run out and buy you a pony!”
When did we become so eaten up by our own sense of exceptionalism? What makes us so special, that we expect to be entertained every waking minute? Is it because entertainment is usually so readily available these days?
I fear that in this world of instant gratification, we are losing our ability to use our imaginations. While traveling in some of the poorer parts of Turkey, I watched the children there amuse themselves with soda straws and bottle caps, for crying out loud. Can you imagine an American child doing that?
I think we should read more books, write more letters, and ride more bikes. Maybe if we had a chance to experience true boredom, we’d do those things. Maybe we should lock ourselves in empty rooms with a soda straw and a bottle cap, and see what we come up with. It might do us good.
And for the love of GOD, if you have an idea for a guest post, or even just a topic, for this blog, speak up. You’d be amazed at how open I’d be to that idea. I’m not bored. I’m overwhelmed.
Holy moly, it got up to 88 degrees here the other day. If I were back in Florida, I’d be thanking my lucky stars for that nice, cool respite. Here in Seattle, the land of no air conditioners, 88 degrees is pure, unadulterated hell. It’s really hard to sleep when it’s that hot. People start getting cranky and acting crazy. Welcome to summer.
When I was a kid, I used to long for summer. I’d daydream about summer vacation while sitting at my school desk. (I daydreamed quite a bit. I was usually about a dozen lessons ahead of my classmates.) School was tedious for me. I could have moved much faster along my academic path if I didn’t have to drag all that dead weight behind me.
So summer vacation, for me, meant freedom. It was a time of lightening my load. It was my idea of Shangri-la.
I have absolutely no idea why I felt that way. The reality of summer never fit with my fantasies. I came from a hard working, very poor family. It’s not like we summered in the Hamptons or something. My mother had to work. If we went anywhere, we rarely went far, and we didn’t stay for long.
The reality of summer for me was lots and lots and lots of horrible daytime television, interspersed with the escape of library books, and naps. Blessed naps to break up the suffocating boredom. Often by the end of summer I was sleeping all day and watching TV all night.
It’s a wonder I didn’t lose my mind. Maybe I did. Because as soon as school started back up again, I would revert back to counting the days until the next summer vacation. It took me years to stop looking forward with miserable longing. Now is where it’s at, baby.
So, there’s actually a person making the bridge open and close?
Yep. I get that a lot. Nice to meet you. While there are some automated drawbridges out there (mostly railroad bridges in remote locations with little or no pedestrian traffic), the vast majority of drawbridges have a human operator. Safety is our primary concern, and they have yet to invent a computer with an algorithm to adapt to the unpredictable behaviors of pedestrians, motorists, bicyclists, and boaters. Every few years some fool decides to spend a taxpayer’s fortune to do a study about automating bridges, and it always turns out to be a really, really bad idea.
Don’t you get bored? What do you do between bridge openings? Don’t you go stir crazy? Do you sleep a lot?
I can’t speak for every bridgetender, but it’s a point of pride with me that I never sleep, and it frustrates me when people assume that I do. It’s insulting. I take my job very seriously. There’s a lot more to the job than simply sitting there and waiting for a boat to come along. There’s more paperwork than you’d expect. Opening statistics. Accident reports. Long opening reports. Maintenance requests. Log books. Safety lock outs. Supply requests. Many of us are also required to do maintenance, such as the greasing and/or cleaning of various pieces of equipment, the constant battle with pigeon poop and rat abatement, general cleaning, and inspections.
But yes, there’s plenty of down time, too. If you are the type to go stir crazy, you won’t last long on this particular career path. Everyone has their own way of keeping entertained, and every bridge has different policies as to what’s allowed. Some provide TVs and DVDs and/or allow you to bring your laptop to work. Some bridgetenders read books or newspapers or do crossword puzzles. Some of us are writers. I once knew someone who knitted a king sized blanket while listening to the radio. I sometimes sit here and pay my bills.
I also used to know of a bridge that didn’t allow its employees to do anything at all. That, to me, constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, and those bridge operators slept all the time. I think it’s much better to keep busy and alert, and continually scan the waterway for approaching vessels.
How do you know when someone needs an opening?
Generally they will call us on the marine radio or give us a horn signal. Others will just come up to the bridge and sit there, but since we’re not mind readers, they will most likely sit there for quite some time. If you have a boat, it’s very important to familiarize yourself with the Coastguard Federal Regulations, particularly as they pertain to communicating with drawbridges.
Is the bridge manned 24 hours a day? How many hours a day do you work?
That varies from bridge to bridge. The Coastguard regulates when each bridge is not required to open for vessels. Some bridges do not have a graveyard shift. Some bridges share one employee who drives from bridge to bridge to do openings as each vessel transits the waterway. Some bridges over water that ices up are only opened seasonally, or by appointment only. Most of us work 8 hour shifts, but I do know of a few who work 12 hour shifts. Some bridges only allow part time employees to avoid providing benefits.
How much money do you make?
It’s unbelievable how much variation there is from region to region. Some bridgetenders only make minimum wage and get no benefits whatsoever. I’ve known some railroad bridge operators who make 45 dollars an hour and have retirement and every benefit under the sun. The primary difference seems to be whether you have a union or not. I strongly urge unionization to every bridgetender. Power to the people!
How do you get a job as a bridgetender? Do you need special training?
Let’s face it. This isn’t rocket science. If you can read and write, and have functional arms and legs, and good hearing and eyesight, you can be trained on the job. Some important skills to emphasize in an interview are taking safety seriously, customer service, and reliability. Since some bridges are operated by states, some by counties, others by cities, and still others by subcontractors or railroads, it’s best to just approach a bridgetender on the job and ask them who to contact. (Just don’t sneak up on us. We hate that.)
How often do you open the bridge?
That varies greatly from bridge to bridge, and from season to season. Some bridges only open a few times a year. Here in Seattle, I can go several days without an opening in the dead of winter, and then get 15 openings in a shift on a summer holiday weekend. My alltime record was opening for 225 vessels in an 8 hour shift in Florida. Granted, I let several boats through each time, but still, I didn’t get to eat lunch, and had to get kind of rude just to take a bathroom break.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
Witnessing suicide attempts. And it happens more often than you might think.
Why is there such a long delay between the time the bridge closes and the time the traffic gates go up to let cars through again?
Patience, grasshopper. Once the bridge is seated, a lock has to be driven along the underside of the structure so that the bridge doesn’t bounce open while you drive over it. From the point of view of a car, it may seem like nothing is happening at that time, but we cannot raise the gates to let you through until those locks are driven.
If you have any other questions, feel free to ask them in the comments section below!
I was just the right age to be tortured by the Watergate hearings. I was 8 years old in 1973 and those hearings pre-empted daytime television for weeks. At that age, it felt like years. I had no idea that a gripping piece of political history was unfolding before my eyes. I thought I would lose my mind, since television was one of my primary forms of after school entertainment back then. I remember wailing, “I’m bored!!!” to my mother, and she’d reply wearily, “Read a book.” Usually I’d just sit on my swing and cry. I was such a brat.
I have no idea where I got the idea that I should be entertained at all times. It’s insane, when you think about it. Saying you’re bored is like saying you are entitled to constant pleasure. I don’t know anyone who enjoys that level of privilege. Even the super-rich have to suffer through board meetings and long flights to Australia. Boredom visits us all.
I suspect that Generation Z will have an even harder time coping with boredom, because they have so many different ways to avoid it. If they’re treated to presidential investigations (fingers crossed, here), well, there’s always Netflix. I would have killed to binge watch something, anything, I Love Lucy, whatever, back in 1973.
Nowadays I’m kind of grateful for boredom. Please, God, give me a routine, predictable day with no surprises. Because the older you get, the more you experience those moments of “un-boredom” that are exciting little tastes of hell. The death of loved ones. Waiting for medical test results. Those times when your kid drops off the radar. Political shenanigans. Work SNAFUs. That strange noise in the back yard when you’re home alone.
You’re not bored at those moments, believe you me! Not even a little bit! That’s when you realize that boredom is actually a luxury.
So boredom can visit me any time it wants. I’m always grateful for an excuse to take a nap. And yeah, okay, my mother was right. You can never read too many books.
Within 5 minutes of meeting a new bridgetender, I can tell if he or she is going to last. And I’m never wrong. Opening drawbridges isn’t for everyone.
Some people don’t even last for that 5 minutes. They take one look at the catwalks and stairways, suspended precariously high above the water, and they quit right on the spot. And some tenderhouses are considerably shabbier than others (when they’re gross, they’re very, very gross), and that can turn people off as well.
Others quit after a few days. They can’t take the isolation and/or the boredom. Very few people are accustomed to no human interaction whatsoever for 8 hours at a stretch. That amount of introspection can be very uncomfortable if it’s not your thing. Solitary confinement is considered to be a form of torture, after all.
If you are used to spending your holidays at home with family, this is definitely not the job for you. And if you’re the type of person who likes to show up late, the coworker you are relieving will kill you sooner rather than later. If you have only a passing relationship with the concept of ensuring the safety of the traveling public, then we’d all rather that you go away.
If you are inflexible, you won’t thrive when working on a bridge. Yes, for the most part this is a sedentary job, but that’s punctuated with times of great activity. Doing maintenance. Responding to emergencies. Opening the bridge (well, duh). If you come to resent those parts of the job, or think the world owes you a living for doing absolutely nothing, ever, then you will not be happy here.
Sadly, there’s no uniformity of benefits or pay scale for this job. In some parts of the country the compensation is absolutely abysmal. (I can’t stress this enough: UNION.)
I’ve also run into short timers who were hesitant to talk on the marine radio, or couldn’t read or write well (there’s a lot more paperwork than you’d suspect), or were afraid to step outside alone at night or in inclement weather when things needed doing. These are always red flags.
Rereading this, I realize that I make it sound as if this is the worst job in the world. On the contrary. I’ve written about my love for this job in this blog on numerous occasions. But as with any other profession, you have to be suited to it. You have to have a certain je ne sais quoi. I may not be able to describe it to you, but I can spot a bridgetender with staying power at 50 paces.
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I’m bored, bored, bored. Uninspired. Unmotivated. Disinterested. In an attempt to stimulate my brain, I check out my blog. Respond to any comments. See what countries have come to visit. Then I hop over to Facebook. See if anyone is on line and wants to chat. Nope. Respond to comments. Put my two cents in on my friends’ posts. Check out the news feed. Become temporarily mesmerized by one spider devouring another outside my window.
Bored. I do the physical therapy exercises for my wrist. Ouch. I watch people walking and jogging and biking across my bridge. I break out the binoculars and check out the peregrine falcon nest for activity. Wrong time of year.
I try to think of something to write in my blog. I got nothin’. I should read a book. Not in the mood. I dance around the room to the music inside my head, until I feel a little silly.
So I do my last resort thing. I go to Wikipedia and click on the “random articles” tab. Sometimes this is quite entertaining. Other times it simply makes me more bored. Here’s what I got today.
Paul Couvret was the 34th Shire President of Warringah in New South Wales.
De Beque Canyon is a 15 mile long canyon in Colorado.
Naptown is a nickname for both Annapolis, Maryland and Indianapolis, Indiana.
Frank McGuinness is an Irish writer who wrote, among other things, Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme.
Orthogonius monolophus is a species of ground beetle.
While these things might help me win at trivia, they aren’t particularly entertaining.
I used to like to say that I couldn’t get through the day without at least one good flirtation. I’ve had to scale that back considerably in the past year, because now that I’ve moved to Seattle without knowing a soul, the vast majority of my human contact is with coworkers. Flirting with coworkers is a bear trap I absolutely refuse to step into.
But slowly, agonizingly slowly, I’m starting to meet people outside of the workplace. So the other day, I blew the dust off my flirty self and let her come out to play. What a rush. I was actually much more bold than I’ve ever been before. Making up for lost time? Dealing from a deck of frustration and boredom and loneliness? Nothing ventured, nothing gained? Probably some combination of all of the above.
Actually, ever since my recent epiphany about loneliness (which was yesterday’s blog entry), I haven’t really been feeling lonely at all. Maybe that has liberated me to flirt with impunity. If you don’t feel lonely when you flirt, you won’t be inhibited by fears of rejection. The flirt becomes the thing, rather than the other person’s reaction to that flirt. You can’t really go down in flames if you’re not that heavily invested.
So I just had fun being slightly wicked and playful. And I suspect the recipient of my attention was more than a little experienced with flirtation as well, because his response left me rather uncertain as to his thoughts on the subject. Positive, I think, but I’m not at all sure. That kind of makes it fun, too, because it means I might, or might not, have something to look forward to.