People Really Do Care

On an undisclosed drawbridge in an undisclosed city at an undisclosed time (for privacy’s sake), the phone rang. It was the harbor patrol, asking me if I would be on the look out for any jumpers on the railing. They were en route to see for themselves. But no one was in sight at that time. The person in question was described as a teenage boy.

I saw the harbor patrol speeding toward my bridge, and wondered what the whole story was. Usually there was only this type of rush if the actual jumper was in sight (which happens more frequently than the general public knows), and in that case, it’s the bridgetender who calls the police, not the other way around.

I waited and worried and continually scanned the sidewalks, as the patrol boat searched the bay in a grid pattern and a half dozen police cars crossed the bridge. They gathered at the south end.

I could think of nothing else, and an hour later, an officer knocked on my door. I let him in, knowing he wanted to look at the camera footage before it disappeared. And that’s when more of the story came out.

The young man had left the house the night before, and a family member went looking for him. He was not answering his phone. That family member came upon his car. It was abandoned just south of the bridge.

But the worst part is that a 50 pound weight was missing from the house, and it was not in the car. When I heard that, my heart sank.

The officer and I scanned the camera footage from the time the young man left his house to the time the car was found, but they saw nothing. After the officer left, I thought, “You know, a jumper with a 50 pound weight would make one helluva splash.”

It was a horrible thought to have, but I wanted to help. I proceeded to scan the cameras that are directed toward the channel that flows under the bridge. I sat there, all alone in the tower, staring at the light playing on the dark water, praying that I would not see anything. That was a very long few hours, in which I was afraid to even blink for fear of missing something. Again, I saw nothing. I knew I’d probably never hear how that story ended.

For the rest of the shift, I could not get out of my mind the horrific idea that that young man was possibly very near me, but just out of reach, while people worried about him. Worst case scenario, he was beyond worry, but his family was distraught, I was heartbroken, and dozens of police officers were frantically trying to find him so they could bring him home.

Then I received an e-mail from a friend of the family, asking me to check my camera footage. Since I write this blog, I’m pretty easy to find. I cried a little as I told her I had already done so, and that I was so very sorry this was happening, and that I was keeping watch on the waterway, and that I hoped he’d be found safe and sound. I also requested that she let me know.

Days later, I saw divers in the channel. That’s never good. And then, one evening while cuddling with my husband in front of the television, I received an e-mail from the boy’s mother. She said his body was found beneath my bridge. She thanked me for keeping him safe. I burst into tears.

I wish I had kept him safe. I wish I could have done something, anything, to prevent this from happening. All I did was sit helpless in my tower, suspecting that my worst fears had been realized, and indeed they were. This young man will be forever in my memory.

Whenever I work the swing shift, I blow the horn at 8pm for the frontline workers who are having to deal with this pandemic. Now I will also be blowing it for this young man and others like him who are struggling to see their value in this precious world of ours. What a horrific loss.

I just wanted to say to anyone who may be reading this who is in despair, that people really do care. You’d be surprised at how many people care. First responders take the jobs that they’ve taken because they care. Total strangers like me who are drawn into the situation care. Family cares.

There are people who can help you. You are not alone. If you are feeling hopeless or helpless, visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or call them at 1-800-273-8255.

You matter. Your life has value. You won’t always feel this way. I promise. Please don’t discard your potential. Stay with us.

Because no picture seemed appropriate for this post…

Let Someone Else Deal with It

It had been a quiet morning on the drawbridge. A pleasant, sunny day, and yet no sailboats were out on the water. (I’ve given up trying to predict which days will be busy and which will not.)

I was taking advantage of the peace and quiet. I was blogging away. Yes, I kept a regular watch of the waterway, and I was also monitoring the marine radio for opening requests. That has become second nature to me. But it never occurred to me to look up at the sidewalk camera, because I usually only do that when I’m about to have a bridge opening. Safety first, after all.

The next thing I knew, about a dozen emergency vehicles came roaring onto the bridge and came to a stop on the center of the span. And that’s when I saw him. A man, collapsed on the bike lane. That’ll make you knock over your coffee cup.

I went down to street level to find out what was going on for my reports, and to render drawbridge assistance if needed. Based on the extensive blood trail, it seems that this guy got stabbed just south of the bridge. At 9am on a sunny day. (What’s the world coming to?)

They believed he would live, but there was so much blood on the bridge that the fire department had to hose it down with some sort of cleaning solution. The police asked to see our camera footage, and when I rewound it, I was horrified by what I saw. Unfortunately, you couldn’t see the actual stabbing. That was too far away. But what you did see was bad enough.

The man, already bleeding profusely, weaves up and down the bike lane for 15 minutes, discarding various pieces of clothing. And people walk past him, jog past him, and bike past him, and nobody, nobody offers to help. You could tell they knew something was wrong. And there was so much blood that it would have been difficult to overlook. But nobody did anything.

That is, until he collapsed. Then a jogger called 911. Finally. But he didn’t stay with the guy after the call.

And here I was, in the tower, just blogging away, oblivious to the drama unfolding across the street and 70 yards away from me, if that. That part of the bridge is out of my line of sight, and my main focus is the waterway, but if I had looked up at the camera monitor, I’d have seen him.

But I didn’t. That will always bother me. I look at that camera a lot more often now.

The guy was not cooperating with the police, so the working theory was that it was a drug deal gone wrong. I don’t suppose I’ll ever hear how the story played out. But apparently he survived. Thank goodness for that.

I’ll never forget the number of people who passed this man by as he bled all over the bridge. It makes me lose even more faith in humanity, if that’s even possible after this year. People suck.

Too many of us say, “Let someone else deal with it.” “That’s not my problem.” “I can’t be bothered.”

And that, dear reader, is a problem, indeed.

No, I didn’t take this picture. It’s just a random picture from cyberspace.

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A Brief Lesson in Patience

It had been a long shift on the drawbridge. Some days seem like Stupid Pedestrian Day, and I never get the memo soon enough to call in sick. People had been risking their lives all day, completely ignoring warning gongs and flashing lights. Many were willfully going under gates just as I was about to raise the bridge.

That’s not funny. That’s a good way to die. And it’s definitely a great way to put a bridgetender in a foul mood. I don’t care how much of a hurry you’re in, it’s not worth your very existence, and it certainly isn’t worth my job.

The shift was nearing its end, and I was anxious to go home and take a bath. This, of course, meant that all the sailboats were hiding around the corner and wanting an opening one by one, 5 minutes apart. Grrrr.

On the last opening of the shift, I looked up to see a guy weaving back and forth down the sidewalk. Clearly he was drunk, and taking his sweet time. It’s a good thing I work alone. I let off a series of invectives that would have singed off your eyelashes.

I mean, COME ON!!!! What’s the FREAKING hold up? *&%^%$$@!@

Finally, finally, this stupid idiot made it across the bridge, and I was able to complete my bridge opening. Sheesh. Some people are just soooo inconsiderate!

After the boat went through and I completed the opening, I looked up to see the guy hadn’t made it very far past the bridge. Dude. Go home and sleep it off. Have some self respect.

That’s also when I saw that he had two artificial legs.

I have never felt so horribly intolerant in my entire life. I’m so glad no one could hear me jump to my negative and hostile conclusions a few minutes previously. I was ashamed of myself. I still am, just thinking about it. It’s really uncomfortable, putting this ugly side of me out there for your scrutiny. But this is an important lesson.

What if some of these “stupid pedestrians” aren’t as stupid as I think? What if some of them are deaf, or blind, or unable to walk quickly? What if they’re going as fast as they can?

Clearly this was a lesson that was, for me, long overdue. I truly believe that lessons pop up exactly when they are needed. I’m going to try really hard to be more patient with people. I doubt I’ll always succeed. But I’ll try.

Thanks, universe.

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Peaceful Protesters Aren’t Rioters

There’s definitely a lot to protest about these days. Personally, I’m emotionally drained by it all. My whole life, I’ve never been more horrified by what’s going on in this country than I am at this moment. I’m sure you can fill in the blanks with your own set of horrors. That’s the worst part about it. The list is endless.

The truth is that I’m glad people are protesting. It’s the only way that our voices will be heard. I’ve participated in a few protests myself. And every single one has been peaceful and nondestructive.

I get so frustrated when people equate all forms of protest with riots, looters, and vandals. Those things are a sickening side note that has nothing to do with the protests themselves. When a riot breaks out at a sporting event, as so often happens, do you blame everyone who attended the sporting event for that? When looters come in after a hurricane, do you blame the evacuees or the hurricane for that? When vandals tag a blank wall, do you blame the architect or the construction workers or the building for that? No? Then why are you blaming peaceful protesters? Is it because you really think it’s their fault, or because you want to add additional pressure to shut them up because you don’t agree with them?

In fact, according to this article, there is growing evidence that the trouble makers at these protests hold views directly opposite to those of the protestors. They’re trying to give them a bad name, when in fact it’s the right wing militia/domestic terrorists who should be accused. It’s horrific.

A lot of people are really angry right now. And unfortunately, some of those people are choosing to express that anger in very violent and destructive ways. That does not further their cause. In fact, it causes a lot of people to get hurt, tensions to ratchet up, and our tax dollars to be stretched even thinner to clean up after them, which depletes our ability to provide social services that might have prevented these problems in the first place.

But I genuinely don’t think looting, riots and vandalism have anything to do with the protests themselves. These destructive people are not trying to urge others to see their point of view. They’re just having a public tantrum, and using a protest as an excuse to get away with things that they normally couldn’t get away with.

I strongly encourage people to peacefully protest, and I genuinely believe that the vast majority of protests are, indeed, peaceful. There’s no need or excuse for things to escalate into violence or destruction. That would play right into the hands of those whom you are protesting against. Protesters know that. Please don’t lump them into the same pile with the destructive forces of this world. If anything, protesters care very deeply about this country and want to see it change for the better. Destruction doesn’t achieve that end.

What follows is the aftermath of some vandalism that happened at South Park Bridge in Seattle the other day. It’s a beautiful bridge, or at least it was. This does not win people over to your point of view, but I doubt that was the agenda in this instance.

As a bridgetender, I realize that I’m biased. I always hate to see a bridge damaged. It feels like a violation. It makes me sad.

Nineteen Years a Bridgetender

Well, tempus certainly does fugit, doesn’t it? When I first got a job as a bridgetender in Florida, six short, surreal days after 9/11, I figured I’d only be at it for 6 months or so. I looked at it as a brief respite from “real work”. Now, after opening 9 different bridges in 3 different states, I honestly don’t think I’m fit to do anything else.

When you consider that for the first 13 years of my career, I was in Florida, a “right to work” state, and got paid peanuts and had no real benefits to speak of, you have to chalk up my staying power to a real love for the job. And I do love it. I always have. It suits me. Very little human interaction, minimal supervision, and plenty of time to blog. Perfect.

Plus, I’ll admit, it’s pretty darned cool. Whenever I tell someone I’m a bridgetender, they’re fascinated and want to hear more. I wouldn’t get that reaction if I were a… well, just about any other job I can think of. I was even asked for my autograph once. That was amusing.

And I’m constantly surprised that this job constantly surprises me. The weirdest things can happen on a drawbridge. People can be really strange. I enjoy observing them from a distance. This job is an excellent source for blog posts.

Growing up, this was not the life I had envisioned for myself.

It’s so much better.

Who, me?

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Just a Leisurely Swim in the Shipping Lane

The drawbridge I work on is the University Bridge in Seattle, Washington. It’s located between Lake Union and Portage Bay. There are a lot of houseboats in the area, as well as people who live aboard their boats. It’s also a heavily trafficked waterway, used by sailboats, pleasure craft, research vessels, cruise ships, Coastguard cutters, and the daily transit of a 3000 gross ton gravel barge.

So imagine my shock when I looked out the window to see something I’ve never seen before in the 6 years I’ve worked here. There was a woman doing a leisurely backstroke in the shipping lane. What could possibly go wrong? Oh, where to begin.

I immediately jumped on the marine radio to warn a very large research vessel that was headed my way. He was grateful for the head’s up. But not all vessels monitor their radios, as stupid as that may sound.

As a matter of fact, a very inattentive motorboat was aimed straight at her, and she was too busy enjoying her swim to notice. I tried calling the boat. No response. I tried blowing my horn. No reaction. I tried shouting out the window. Nothing. They missed caving in her head by about 12 inches. She behaved as if this was business as usual.

I called 911, but by the time the Harbor Patrol arrived, she had already swum back to her boat. She did a few pull ups on her ladder for good measure, then calmly toweled off, and entered the cabin. I told the Harbor Patrol which vessel it was, and they approached it, but she either refused to come out or miraculously didn’t hear them.

I am stunned that there are so many people in this world who don’t think of the consequences of their actions. Get yourself killed through your own stupidity all you want, but don’t do it at the mental and emotional expense of the person who accidentally kills you or those of us who have to bear witness. That’s just not right.

If anyone knows the woman on the blue-hulled vessel called the Jenny II here in Seattle, please tell her, for me, that she’s a selfish fool who is very lucky to be alive.

Jenny II, the home of the errant bather.

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StoryCorps Has Animated Me!!!

Recently, and/or a lifetime ago, before this pandemic made the world fall apart, I was contacted by StoryCorps. I was thrilled. I love StoryCorps. Whenever I’ve been in touch with them, it has changed my life.

My first encounter with them was back in 2009, when I lived in Jacksonville, Florida. I signed up to do a StoryCorps interview about what it was like to be a bridgetender. By then, I had been at it for 8 years, and I was chock full o’ stories. At the time, I figured that I have a unique job, so why not talk about it?

Anyone can record an interview with StoryCorps. And that 40 minute conversation is now easier to do than ever before. Check out their website for details. And the coolest part about it is that you become a part of history. The recordings are archived at the Library of Congress. I genuinely believe that everyone has a story, so I strongly encourage you to contact StoryCorps and tell yours. And also support them while you’re at it!

It was really fun, entering that little trailer and speaking in that sound booth. And they gave me a CD of the interview to keep. Nifty!

I have to admit that I didn’t think much more about it after that. Part of it was played on my local NPR station and some of my friends heard it, so that was cool. But the world continued to revolve around the sun.

Having done that interview planted a seed in me, though. It made me realize that I could tell stories. Maybe I had something to say after all. But back then I was so weighed down by poverty and depression that I really couldn’t see my way clear to do anything about it.

I didn’t start this daily blog until December of 2012. I thought it might be a 6 month experiment, because surely I’d run out of things to say by then, but no, it’s been going strong ever since. I genuinely credit StoryCorps for planting that seed within me.

So imagine my surprise when StoryCorps contacted me again, wanting to include my interview in an anthology that their founder, Dave Isay, was putting out entitled, Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work. By then I had moved to Seattle, and was building my life back up from scratch, so needless to say, I was thrilled to participate! I’ll take whatever positive energy I can get! The book came out in April of 2016. You can find me right there on page 17.

From there, things got really crazy. Dave Isay did a promotional tour of the book, and one of the stories he featured in the tour was mine. And he sort of called me a poet. Wow.

Next, as part of the book’s promotion, I was featured on NPR’s Morning Edition, in Parade Magazine (which you’ve probably seen inserted in your local newspaper, back when people still read actual newspapers.) From there I wound up in O Magazine in the September, 2016 issue. Which means Oprah Winfrey knew my name for about 2 seconds. Imagine. I was also mentioned in Time Magazine and Forbes. When I googled my name just now, I got well over 3,000 results. It still blows me away, just thinking about it.

Needless to say, all this positive attention gave me a great deal of self confidence, and from there, with a lot of help from friends, I had the courage to publish an anthology of my own. Taken from some of my favorite posts from my blog, it’s called, “A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude”. I donate a dollar from every sale to StoryCorps. Sales are modest in the extreme, but hey, every penny counts.

Fame, of course, is fleeting, and all the hubbub died down eventually. Which was actually fine with me. I didn’t become a bridgetender because I enjoy the roar of the crowd. I started settling into life in Seattle, where I could write my daily blog while at work on my bridge, and I could come home and hug my dogs.

Every once in a while someone will recognize me as “that bridgetender who blogs”. It always startles me. It also makes me proud.

My husband-to-be actually got to know me through my daily blog. That’s what won him over. So I guess you could say that StoryCorps is what caused my happy marriage, too.

Even though they have been an integral part of my life, I was not at all expecting to hear from StoryCorps again. And yet hear from them I did, just prior to the pandemic. They asked if it was okay to turn excerpts of my 2009 interview into one of their animated shorts. Uh… heck yeah!

They said that they had been wanting to do so for years, because they felt that what I said was poetry. (Again with the poet thing! It makes me blush.) But each season they pick a theme, and my story never quite fit the theme. But this time it did.

After that, they asked me to send pictures of the bridge I used to work on, and pictures of the view, and of me, and they had me sign a release. Then there was nothing to do but wait.

Once the pandemic came along, all deadlines sort of fell by the wayside, and if I’m honest, I kind of forgot about it unless a friend asked the status of the project. I didn’t really want to think about it, because I didn’t want to jinx it or get disappointed. Life went on, and my bridge continued to open and close, day after day.

And then suddenly in August they contacted me with a link to the preview! I was under strict orders not to share the link with anyone. It’s their copyright, after all, and it hadn’t been released yet. But that was hard. I wanted to share it with the world.

It was beautiful. They really captured the view from Ortega River Bridge perfectly. So perfectly, in fact, that it gives me goose bumps. It’s a work of art. And they drew me skinny! Woo hoo!

I kind of feel bad, because the first thing I say is that the pay is horrible and the benefits are worse. That was and still is true for bridgetenders in Florida, a “right to work” state, but it’s not at all true here in Seattle, where I have a union, and the pay is fantastic and the benefits are even better. So I have all of the joy for the job that I had back then, but none of the anxiety. Life is good.

So there you have it. I’m now animated. If you’d like to see The View From Here, here are the links. You can see it on the StoryCorps Website, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Right now I’m feeling like the luckiest woman on earth.

Thank you, StoryCorps, for all that you’ve done for me.

TheViewFromHere
A still capture from The View From Here, Copyright StoryCorps. To actually see the video, click on one of the links above in the blog post.

A Brief Taste of Green River Gorge Resort

To celebrate the 6th anniversary of my having moved to Seattle sight unseen, we decided to visit some other unseen sights. I’ve already blogged about Flaming Geyser State Park, and I will soon post a blog about the ghost town of Franklin, Washington, and when I do, you’ll be able to find it here. But between those two stops, we also popped into the Green River Gorge Resort.

There’s a lot of breathtaking beauty to this place. But to enjoy much of it, you have to be willing to descend into the gorge itself. While I wouldn’t have minded do that, I would have minded the ascent back up quite a bit indeed. And I was anxious to check out the ghost town, so we only had a brief taste of this amazing place. I suspect we’ll be back. If you’d like to see more of the gorge in this area, check out this post by a fellow blogger, Lisa Parsons. Her photos and descriptions are a delight.

Instead of climbing, we chose to park and walk out onto the one lane bridge that crosses the gorge. Hoo, but it’s a long way down! From there we could see the lovely Green River, and the swimmers who were basking in the sun. I definitely can see why people make the effort to go down there, but this was just not the day for it, for me at least.

Washington State has such a varied landscape. Here I was, still in the county in which I reside, gazing at this paradise! Moving out here was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.

After enjoying the bridge, we went back to the parking lot, and there was a stunning spring. It was crystal clear, and poured down to various pools before waterfalling into the gorge itself. There were hoses set up so you could fill your own receptacles with spring water. We happened to have a gallon jug in the car, so we filled up and dropped a donation in the box. It’s wonderful water. You can taste the minerals. I felt healthier for having drunk from this spring.

What follows are some photos we took during this brief stop. We didn’t linger, because there was a ghost town in our future. Watch this space!

 

 

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Officially Odd

Recently, this sign was installed on all four corners of my drawbridge.

Bridge Sign

No one gave me a heads up about this. I just looked up one day and saw the workmen drilling holes on my beautiful bridge. It kind of felt like a violation. I take pride in my job and I love this bridge.

First of all, let me just say that I agree that jumping from a bridge is a really bad idea. You don’t know what jagged, rusty debris has been lodged beneath the surface over the years. You could hit a protection pier and break every bone in your body. (This has happened.) You could hit a passing boat. If the bridge is tall enough, it’s most likely going to be suicide by stupidity.

But can I just say that this is a very weirdly worded sign? Fist of all, why is “consequences” capitalized? Second, not all jumps are fatal. Third, “tragic” is a little vague. And why would it come after fatal, and not before? Aren’t fatalities tragic? Do they have to be broken out into their own little horrifying groups?

For an official city sign, it seems rather foreboding, emotional and repetitive. And dare I say that these signs are not going to prevent the stupid young boys, who are wont to do the jumping, from exercising this particular Seattle rite of passage? I wish people took signs seriously, but they don’t. If they did, I can think of a half dozen other signs that are needed here, based on the daily shenanigans that I witness.

I have no idea who designed these signs, or what prompted them to be put up at this particular moment in history, but here they are. I suspect that we’ve merely provided people with another place for their graffiti. I also suspect that these signs will always bug me. But these things are way beyond my paygrade.

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A Bridgetender Thanks Frontline Workers

About two months ago, I decided to blow my bridge horn every night at 8 pm, to thank frontline workers for all they are doing in the face of this horrible pandemic. I’ve been doing it every time I work swing shift ever since. I’ve blogged about it in more detail here.

I’ve gotten some positive feedback from people in the neighborhood. And often, when I blow my horn, some of the larger vessels in the area join in. It’s all very gratifying.

But the sound of my horn only goes so far. And mine is a humble little blog, only read by a limited number of people. And I really want to thank all the frontline workers that I can. It’s the very least I can do.

So I made this video and posted it on Youtube. You can tell I wasn’t exactly made to be in front of a camera. I’m nervous. The words aren’t  flowing smoothly. Hitchcock and Tarantino would not exactly be jealous if they saw this thing. But hey, it’s heartfelt.

Please, if you know any frontline workers at all, whether they’re in the healthcare field or are first responders or are considered essential workers in any way, it would mean a great deal if you would share this video with them.

Thank you. Stay safe.

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