No wonder I have always thought this job was so magical. . .
I absolutely love it when someone says something that makes me look at things in a completely different light. That happened today, and the topic was drawbridges. After working on drawbridges for 21 years, you’d think I’d have contemplated them from every possible angle, but this was a fresh perspective for me, and I was delighted.
The comment in question was added to one of my most popular blog posts, entitled Bridge Symbolism. I don’t know Shubhanshi Gupta personally, but she writes a blog called Petrichor, and, based on my admittedly brief glance, it seems to be quite full of profound thoughts. I may have to give it a closer look.
In the meantime, here is the comment she left for me:
“what I find interesting about is how they manage to integrate two different worlds together at the same time- land and water. It’s like the bridge is rooted in the ground under the water body, and it’s surrounded by water everywhere till eyes can see, but deep down, it’s touching land at the base and both it’s two ends. And in spite of all this, it lets us transit over water without having to touch it.”
Whoa. It’s as if she has stripped bridges down to their most basic components. And she draws attention to the fact that they are straddling two elements, earth and water, protecting us from one, and transporting us to the other. Bridges are portals, if you think about it. They help us transition from one place to another.
Perhaps that’s why so many people linger on my bridge and gaze down at the water. They are gathering themselves for what’s on the other side, while perhaps feeling nostalgic about what, or whom, they just left. No wonder I have always thought this job was so magical. I may never look at a bridge in the same way again.
Thank you, Shubhanshi, for your insight! I hope you’ll share many more with us on my blog. I always enjoy new perspectives. The broader the horizon, the more one gets to see.
I’ll leave you with another delightful perspective in the form of art:
All drains lead to the ocean, regardless of the optics.
I am a bridgetender, and there are a variety of ways that I tend to my drawbridge. Not only do I open and close it for vessels upon request, but I also help to keep the machinery in working order. I want my bridge to be in tip top shape. I take pride in that. I love this job.
Having said that, I have to admit that on the rare occasion that it snows around here, I absolutely hate my job. You can’t safely open and close a bridge with the extra weight that several inches of snow provides. That means that the snow has got to go, and that isn’t easy.
We pretreat the bridge surfaces with environmentally correct brine so that the snow theoretically won’t stick. Lugging 25 gallons or so of the stuff up and down the stairs and then spreading it is no mean feat, either. And after all that sweat, coming away smelling like a pickle, with my shoes and clothes encrusted with brine, it doesn’t seem to make much difference in terms of snow abatement. We also spread salt pellets once the snow has fallen, but that has little effect, either.
On my bridge, I am expected to shovel the equivalent of 8 driveways plus a quarter mile of sidewalks, by hand, sometimes more than once per shift, depending on the snowfall. No human being can do that. It’s impossible. My heart would explode.
Yes, we have snowblowers, but only two for the entire city. And we personally are not allowed to operate them. A crew does its best to come out and help us out, but they are spread very thinly, and can only do so much. I’m always thrilled to see them, but when they promise to come back out again later in the shift, I take it with a grain of salt, because it has been my experience that they never do. So I do what I can, and am often berated because it never seems to be enough.
You would think that under those circumstances, our city would do its best to provide us with better equipment, but since these incidents are rare, I think they don’t want to spend the money. But if they got a plow shovel that could be fitted to the front of one of our little pickup trucks, that would get rid of a lot of the snow. I’d only have to focus on the sidewalks then. But no.
So every snowfall, I trudge out there and shovel for hours on end, even as the snow continues to fall. All the while, I know that I’ll be accused of having done nothing. That isn’t exactly a recipe for good morale.
And here’s where the situation gets more idiotic. We are told that we can’t shovel the snow into the waterway, because it would be bad for the environment. The public would complain.
I care about the environment very much. I am more than willing to bend over backwards for it. But there comes a time when people have to be more realistic. Yes, we spread the environmentally friendly salt products, but as I said, they barely work, and what the complaining public seems to overlook, regardless of our efforts, is that all drains lead to the ocean.
If the bridge weren’t there and the snow fell, it would fall into the canal. If the bridge were there and we did nothing about the snow on it, the snow would eventually melt and drain into the canal. If the snow lands on the parts of the bridge with metal grating, it falls into the canal. Water drains from the bridge all the time in the form of rain, and that, too, goes into the canal nearly every day.
It’s not as if we’re neatly stacking the snow on pallets at either end of the bridge, to be carted off to a hazardous waste facility. One way or another, it winds up in the canal. But we are not allowed to be SEEN putting it into the canal ourselves. It’s all about the optics. And that means it causes 10 times the backbreaking work.
For example, the snowblower can’t blow the snow into the canal. Heaven forbid. So as the picture shows below, it blows it back into the roadway of the bridge. This doesn’t immediately do anything to reduce the snow weight, but since it’s landing on the grate in the middle of the bridge, that snow eventually falls, you guessed it, into the canal.
And when I’m shoveling the sidewalks, I’m not allowed to easily push it over the sidewalk lip and into the canal. Oh no. I have to fill the shovel, lift it over the curb on the other side of the sidewalk, and deposit it onto the grate in the bike lane, where it will, yup, fall into the canal. And I repeat this process thousands of times, until my back and shoulders feel like they’re breaking.
Oh, and by the way, before you ask, yes, I’ve tried lifting the bridge so that the snow will fall off and land in more manageable piles on either end. I’ve lifted the bridge to full open, straight up and down, and I’ve even let it sit like that for several minutes. Not even one snowflake falls off that bridge. The snow is so wet it’s like cement. But I digress.
Bureaucracies are all about appearances. And our bureaucracy would much rather trash their employees’ bodies as well as their morale, to avoid any public outcry, which could easily be dealt with with a little bit of public relations and education, all from a comfy chair in a well-heated administrative office.
You may not see the snow going into the waterway, folks, but it’s going there, one way or another. That may not be ideal, but that’s where all water drainage goes for every street and bridge and skyscraper and sidewalk built by man. It sucks for the planet, but it’s unavoidable. Being forced to make that drainage happen the “good optics” way is at the expense of my aching back, but the result is the same, environmentally. Any municipality that tries to tell you otherwise is lying.
Think of that the next time you are enjoying a winter wonderland amongst things built by man.
DC has multiple drawbridges and at the same time has zero drawbridges.
Recently Dear Husband and I took a trip that we are calling “Autumn Back East 2021”. Our goal was to visit friends and family, and I wanted to show DH what autumn leaves really look like in a region that isn’t primarily covered in evergreen trees, and introduce him to our nation’s capital.
We flew to Atlanta, picked up a rental car, then drove to Alabama, North Florida, Georgia, Eastern Tennessee, Western North Carolina, and then drove to Washington DC by way of Virginia. Then we flew back home.
It was an amazing trip which lasted 15 days, and since I’m now only blogging every other day, if I gave you a day to day account like I have on trips past, it would take a month, and you’d be heartily sick of the subject before we even left peach country. So I’ve decided to focus on highlights, which I’ll do my best to keep in order. You can find the first post in the series here, and a link to the next post in the series, when it becomes available, below.
We arrived in Washington DC from North Carolina just before dusk, and after about 8 hours in the car, I was in a bit of a stupor. And I hadn’t even been the one doing the driving.
Crossing the Potomac felt rather surreal. Most people who arrive via Interstate 395 would probably tell you that their first glimpse of DC was the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument. Clearly these people aren’t bridgetenders like I am.
The first thing I saw was quite unexpected. I saw a tenderhouse, which is where a bridge operator opens and closes a drawbridge. It was a beauty, too. For some reason that I still can’t figure out, the windows reflected a rainbow. I had to snap the pictures quickly, because DC traffic is horrible enough without us coming to a dead stop on a major entryway to the metropolis. I could swear I saw a bridgetender in the windows, and I still maintain I can see one in these pictures.
I remember thinking, “Wow, what a cool gig! You get to have a spectacular view, and you can explore this amazing city on your days off. Sign me up! I hope they are paid well, because living around here must be expensive. I wonder where they park their cars? I wish I had time to go knock on their door, but we’re only here for a few days, and our itinerary is packed solid. But I don’t see a bascule… How does the bridge open? What’s going on?”
We were staying at the Hotel Hyatt Place, right across from NASA Headquarters, and very close to the National Mall, with its Smithsonian museums. That would be our primary focus. But that night, my primary focus was to get all our luggage out of the car and into our hotel room, and then collapse into a deep sleep.
While I slept, Dear Husband went to dinner with his nephew. After doing all the driving, I’m really impressed that he found the energy. He brought me back some takeout afterward, which I gratefully ate, and then we drove around the city and took pictures of it after dark as we’d be turning in the rental car the next day, but those amazing photos will be for another post.
When we got back to the room, we read books for a while, and then I was able to fall right back to sleep again despite my deep evening nap. Usually I struggle to sleep on my first night in a strange place. And I was excited about all the things we were going to see during this visit. I hadn’t been to DC in decades, and back then I had very little time and even less money to do much of anything. So you’d think I’d be doing a mind grind in anticipation of our several days here. But no. I slept the sleep of the profoundly exhausted.
By the next morning, I had forgotten all about that intriguing tenderhouse, and in fact I didn’t think of it again until I was reviewing our photographs while planning for my next blog post. But there it was, bold as brass. Which is crazy, because I had never even heard of a drawbridge in DC. Clearly I had some homework to do.
After some digging I discovered that DC has multiple drawbridges, and at the same time has zero drawbridges. There’s definitely more to this city than meets the eye. So follow me, if you will, down a really interesting internet rabbit hole.
According to Wikipedia, the bridge we crossed is part of the 14th Street Bridge complex. That takes a bit of explaining. This complex includes two train bridges and three automobile bridges.
The Long Bridge carries railroad trains. The Charles R Fenwick Bridge carries metro trains. There’s a southbound span called the George Mason Memorial Bridge, and that one is for cars but also includes a side path for pedestrians and cyclists. There’s also a two-way span called the Rochambeau Bridge.
But the bridge we’re interested in is the northbound only span, complete with its pretty tenderhouse. This bridge was named the 14th Street Bridge when it first opened in 1950 and was the first of the automobile bridges in this complex little complex of ours. It was renamed the Rochambeau Bridge in 1958, thirteen years before the current Rochambeau Bridge was built. Our bridge was then renamed the Arland D. Williams Jr Memorial Bridge in 1983, so the Rochambeau name was foisted off on its current bridge, which had gone years with no name at all.
Whew. Are you still with me? Because it gets even more interesting.
There actually used to be a sixth bridge, called the Highway Bridge, that was built in 1906 for streetcars and horses and wagons and the like. It has a kind of sad ending. It was torn down in 1968 and taken to the Naval Surface Warfare Center to be used for bombing practice.
Removing the bits and pieces of the Highway Bridge in 1968 required a crane and barge to be floated up the river. When that equipment was no longer needed, it required the Long Bridge and our Williams Bridge to open their spans for the very last time, on March 3rd, 1969. In fact, the Long Bridge had been welded shut a few years previously, so they had to remove those welds in order to open that one.
It’s a sad day for bridgetenders everywhere when drawbridges are decommissioned. Why was this happening? Well, the Mason Bridge, a fixed span, was built in 1962, and it only has about 15 feet of clearance. Needless to say, that eliminated passage for the majority of the seagoing vessels that had taken this route. As our drawbridge had less and less to do, it slowly ground to a halt until it completely stopped operations in 1969. In 1976 the bascule was removed altogether, but the tower still stands.
Our bridge must have a serious identity crisis. Not only is it a drawbridge without a bascule, but it’s also had a confusing array of names. It makes sense that it was originally called the 14th Street Bridge, because that’s the street in DC where this whole tangle of bridges dumps out at. But you know, politicians always have to put their two cents in, so in 1956 this huge debate began, which you can read about on the Wikipedia page if you really care. Suffice it to say it was eventually named the Rochambeau due to a compromise. Rochambeau was a French General who helped us defeat the British in the Revolutionary War.
So why, then, after all that arguing, was it later renamed the Arland D Williams Jr. Memorial Bridge? That’s a rather sad story. I’ll let Wikipedia tell it.
“On January 13, 1982, the Williams Bridge was damaged by the crash of Air Florida Flight 90. The Boeing 737-222, which had accumulated ice while idling on the runway at National Airport, stalled soon after takeoff, fell on the bridge, and slammed into the iced-over Potomac River. The crash killed 74 passengers and crew, plus four people in cars on the bridge. The repaired span was renamed the Arland D. Williams, Jr. Memorial Bridge on March 13, 1985 – following a December 4, 1984 vote – after one of the passengers, who passed a lifeline to five survivors before permitting himself to be rescued. He succumbed to hypothermia and drowned while rescuers worked to rescue the last of the survivors.”
You can see a brief video of one of the survivors on Youtube here.
There’s also an even longer video that pops up, explaining why the tragedy happened, but I didn’t feel like getting that upset, so you’re on your own with that one.
So that’s the story of the bridge and the tenderhouse that I saw in DC. I can’t tell you why I thought I saw a man standing inside, when the building has been locked up for years. I swear you can see him in the pictures above. Maybe he’s the Ghost of Bridgetenders Past. I’ll let you decide.
But while doing research for this post, I came across yet another DC drawbridge that’s no longer a drawbridge, and I crossed it multiple times during my visit without even realizing what I was crossing. The Arlington Memorial Bridge is a lovely span with big beautiful statues depicting valor and sacrifice. The bridge takes you to the Western End of the National Mall, right behind the Lincoln Memorial.
This bridge was built in 1932, and would have been built several decades earlier were it not for a lot of political foolishness that you can read about on its Wikipedia page. The reason I didn’t recognize it as a drawbridge is that it was replaced by a fixed span in 2018. But the original moveable span hadn’t opened since 1961. It also fell victim to the Mason Bridge effect.
There’s no tenderhouse to see, but this bridge does have an interesting secret that is only revealed to boaters who cross under it. According to Atlas Obscura, under the middle section of the span, you can see a large control room that apparently hasn’t been entered since 1976. Inside is the 91 year old machinery that used to operate the bridge when it was a draw. Apparently the 4 million pound counterweights are still down there as well. (Because why move 4 million pounds if you don’t have to?)
Man, I’d give my right arm to be able to go down there and explore that control room! That would have been the highlight of my already amazing trip to this city. Alas, I have no pull in our nation’s capital.
I have a confession to make. I was actually operating under the illusion that I could write about my time in Washington DC in two or three posts. Poppycock. There’s just so much to see and do in our Nation’s capital that it will take me forever to tell you of all the wonders I beheld. Which is fine, but I fear I might scare off some of my readers who really aren’t interested in travel posts. Therefore, from here on out in this series, I’m going to make every other post about DC until I’m done. In between these posts, I’ll write about other things. In other words, expect the next Washington DC post in 4 days, but the next blog post about heaven knows what in 2 days. Thanks, Dear Reader, for sticking with me!
The ultimate form of recycling: Buy my book, read it, and then donate it to your local public library or your neighborhood little free library!http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5
Yesterday was my 20th anniversary as a bridgetender. I’m one of those rare, fortunate people who happen to love their occupation. That makes an enormous difference in terms of quality of life.
If I could give a young person one piece of advice, it would be to figure out what types of things give you the most satisfaction, and only then seek an education that allows you to apply for jobs that provide those things. Don’t think about prestige or pay unless those are actually your primary sources of satisfaction. Think about what you need to be personally fulfilled. (My second piece of advice would be to take a picture of your butt now, while it still looks awesome, because some day you will miss it. But I digress.)
I thrive on peace and quiet, an opportunity to think and work independently, and I enjoy making a significant difference (in this case, by ensuring the safety of the traveling public) without being in the spotlight. What I enjoy most is the chance to closely and quietly observe things in great detail over long periods of time. And I always have a fantastic view. I love opening drawbridges. I don’t think I’m fit for anything else at this point.
It’s hard for people to understand the level of responsibility a bridge operator has each time he or she opens a bridge. People have died during bridge openings (but not on my watch). Property damage can quickly mount up to the hundreds of thousands of dollars if you’re not careful. Bridgetending isn’t just pushing a button. You have to be vigilant. A lot can go wrong. People don’t always cooperate or heed the warning signals.
During my career, I’ve noticed there’s a cultural difference from one place to the next in terms of public cooperation. In Florida, for the most part, pedestrians heed the flashing lights and gongs and stop outside the traffic gates before an opening commences. Not so in Seattle. Here, pedestrians ignore everything except their desire to get across that bridge. They will crawl under closed gates, and sometimes even jump across a widening gap. It’s amazing to me that we don’t have deaths every single day. (That says a lot about our extensive training program and our excellent staff who take safety so seriously.)
On the other hand, in Seattle, cars will usually heed the red lights and stop in time, but in Florida they take out the gates constantly. I even once had someone hit a gate so hard that it spun through the air and stuck the landing, swaying back and forth, but perfectly vertical, on the muddy shoreline. It was a sight to behold.
Here are some bits of wisdom I’ve picked up along the way that will apply to most jobs:
Union jobs will always be 1000 times better than non-union jobs, because most of your employer’s abuses will be kept in check no matter how hard they try to apply them. On the other hand, you’ll find that you have to put up with a lot of people who really don’t care to do the job.
If you’re being paid to do a job, do it well. It’s a fair trade for the money, and you’ll be able to look at yourself in the mirror and also avoid the wrath of your coworkers.
Don’t ever bother to file a complaint with the Human Resources department. They don’t give a sh** about you. They only exist to protect the employer from liability.
If you get sick leave, hold on to it as best you can, because you never know when you’ll desperately need it.
If you have to point out a problem, always try to include a potential solution thereto.
Don’t fire off a pissed off e-mail response. Give yourself time to calm down and think before you answer.
Make yourself a healthy lunch and bring it with you. It’s a good habit to get into.
This one is from my mother: If you make a mistake and can fix it, do so and don’t tell anybody. If you make a mistake and can’t fix it, own up to it.
Don’t share too much of your personal life with your coworkers. It will get passed around and embellished, and that mythology will follow you where ever you go.
Set aside a fixed amount from each paycheck toward retirement. That amount should slightly hurt. The older you will thank you when the time comes.
For the love of God, clean up after yourself, wear deodorant and brush your teeth.
I hope you have a job that you love, dear reader. It’s more precious than all the gold in the world. I’m not yet at the sunset of my career. I have about 11 years to go if all goes well. But I’m happy to say I’m still enjoying the view.
What a wonderful way to celebrate having moved here!
I often see seaplanes floating beneath my drawbridge or flying over it. I never thought I’d get the opportunity to ride in one myself. But Dear Husband decided to treat me to a scenic view of Seattle recently, because it was my 7 year anniversary of moving out here from Florida. What a blast.
Kenmore Air (which I had always stupidly assumed was an air conditioning company) has several seaplane packages. I highly recommend you check them out if you live in the area. Their planes take off from the northern tip of Lake Washington. From there, our excursion took us south to Seattle, and then we flew along the ship canal through the city, where I got to check out all the drawbridges in that area from high above. From there it took us out into Puget Sound, and then back the way we had come.
It was a beautiful, sunny day, with hardly any wind, so most of the time it didn’t even feel like we were up in the air. The take off was just as smooth as the landing, which really surprised me. I thought that on the landing we’d hit the water and lurch forward, but no. It was more like gliding over the surface, then skimming on it, and then plop, you’re all done except for taxiing to the dock.
This trip reinforced for me how beautiful Seattle is. And how rich it is, in general. So many million dollar waterfront homes. It must be a nightmare to be poor in this town. There is no real balance. It’s all on the extreme ends.
But man, what a wonderful way to celebrate having moved here! It is the best decision I ever made, and has allowed so many positives to enter my life, including DH. I will be forever grateful to the 2014 me for taking that leap of faith.
Here’s some pictures we took of the ship canal drawbridges, fixed bridges, and locks, as well as the seaplane itself. Enjoy!
Seattle’s bridges were included in two new works of art!
One of the things I love most about the City of Seattle is that it sometimes has the courage to think outside the box. One example of this is that they occasionally have artists in residence at two of our drawbridges. This cycle, the genre was graphic art, and the artists in question were E.T. Russian at the University Bridge and Roger Fernandes at the Fremont Bridge.
Sadly, I never got the opportunity to meet Roger, but I had many a pleasant chat with E.T. Even though this drawing below is actually of E.T. looking down from the south tower, I like to pretend that that’s me depicted in the north tower. It’s a page from their amazing mini-comic. I’m the only bridgetender who works at University regularly who has longish hair, so I am taking the opportunity to place myself in their world, just as they placed themselves in mine. I look at this picture and smile every time.
If you go to this page in the City of Seattle’s Art Beat Blog, you can learn more about the artists, and if you scroll down, you can see their completed work as artists in residence, scanned in page by page. They both did such an amazing job that it brings tears to my eyes.
Bridgetenders are easy to overlook. Many people don’t even realize that there’s a person operating these bridges. For the most part, we prefer it that way. But personally I’m proud that our bridges were included in these two wonderful works of art.
Thanks E.T. and Roger! Keep on adding beauty and perspective to the world!
You see a lot of strange things when you gaze out of a drawbridge tower’s window. Especially late at night. There is no end to late night drawbridge shenanigans.
Some things, like suicides or assaults, are so horrible that you wish you could un-see them. Other things are delightful, such as marriage proposals. But what I saw the other night was unprecedented, and it was a pure joy to experience.
The reason I even bothered to look up is that I heard a shout. It didn’t sound like a shout of anger. It was more like a happy shout. Still, it got my attention.
And right there, in the glow of a street lamp, and (unfortunately) right in the middle of the bike lane, were two young men. And they were dancing.
You could tell that these two were close friends. There was a give and take going on that you only experience with people whom you trust. They were showing each other moves. They were teaching, and learning. They were having fun.
I didn’t have any boats on the horizon, so I doubted I would have to open the drawbridge anytime soon. I let them do their thing. They were out there for about two hours. I have no idea whether they were good or bad. Nor did I care. It was an entertaining way to pass part of my shift.
It did my heart good to see two people being able to let loose and have fun again. It was nice to see that kind of connection. It reminded me that people still need one another, and can do beautiful things, if given the chance. I wish I had had the opportunity to thank them for that gift, but by the end of my shift, they had already left.
I’ll leave you with a few videos of them. I didn’t want to intrude too much, so I kept them short. I wish I could have heard the music, but they were too far away.
Some people collect baseball cards. I collect drawbridge stuff.
Given the number of people who have expressed shock that there’s “actually someone up there operating the drawbridge” when I tell them I’m a bridgetender, it doesn’t surprise me that there isn’t lots of drawbridge memorabilia floating around. I mean, why memorialize something that you don’t think about?
Well, unless you mean London Bridge. It seems to be the rock star of drawbridges. Tourists adore that bridge. It even has its own song. I hope the bridges I work on aren’t too jealous.
But I have managed to accumulate a little bit of drawbridge memorabilia over the almost 20 years of my career. What follows are pictures of my collection, in no particular order, and some descriptions thereof. Hope you like them!
Given the number of people who are foolish enough to crawl under the traffic gates when I’m opening my drawbridge, I suggested that we make a safety brochure with a keepsake drawbridge picture, and leave them outside the tower doors. I was asked to write the content, and so I did. They chopped 75 percent of my suggestions out, and then came up with this brochure, and printed about a thousand copies. Then someone decided that it was too controversial for some bizarre reason, so they are gathering dust in a closet somewhere. Aren’t bureaucracies the best?
Is that everything? I feel like I’m forgetting something. (Sorry if it was something you gave me.)
Also, somewhere amongst all of my clutter I have various chunks of various bridges that I’ve come across over time, but I couldn’t find any of them for this post.
There you have it. Some people collect baseball cards or antique bottles. I collect drawbridge stuff. That works out well, because due to its scarcity it doesn’t take too much space.
Depression can be debilitating, especially in the wintertime when you can go weeks without seeing the sun. And it’s even worse this year, because this pandemic is isolating all of us. It almost seems like the final insult when there’s all this extra financial and emotional pressure during the holiday season. Everyone is expected to be constantly merry, and if you tend toward depression, that gives you this sense of failure on top of everything else. It can be draining.
For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a bridgetender and I love my job. Opening drawbridges is such a delight. I feel lucky that I’m someone who actually enjoys going to work.
But this job does have a dark side, and it is ramped up at this time of year. I get to see a lot of attempted suicides on my bridge and on other bridges nearby. Most of the ones I see have, thank God, been thwarted. First responders, in my experience, are very good at talking people off of railings. And some people make the jump and survive.
But there is a certain percentage who make good on their attempts, and it’s heartbreaking to bear witness to that. It happens a lot more often than the public realizes. These things often go unreported because the community doesn’t want to have copycats.
Jumpers are people in a great deal of pain, attempting to take control at a time when the rest of their lives seem so out of control. It’s sad to say that choosing whether or not to remain alive is the one power we all can exercise. These people, for whatever reason, cannot see beyond their despair, so they don’t realize the heartbreak and trauma they cause with their actions. Suicide doesn’t only impact the families and friends. It also impacts the first responders and everyone who gets to witness the suicide.
I know I’ve shed more than a few tears for people who have leapt off my bridge over the past 19 years. Tears flow for the jumper, for their family, and for me, because I couldn’t do anything to prevent the act. And also, selfishly, I shed tears because I know the image of those final moments will be forever etched in my mind. I carry many such images with me, and they feel like Marley’s chains in a Christmas Carol.
But I didn’t really intend to make this about me. What I wanted to say was that if you’re reading this and you’re in despair, there are people who can help you. You aren’t alone. If you are feeling hopeless or helpless, visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or call them at 1-800-273-8255.
Thank goodness it had been a slow night on the drawbridge. Very few vessels had come up to ask for a bridge opening. My coworker was sitting alone in the tower with the lights out to maintain his night vision. He was enjoying the peace and quiet and a nice cup of tea.
He happened to look up and noticed a man carrying a package. He thought nothing of it. The sidewalk is public property after all.
But then the man stopped at the center of the span. Still on the sidewalk, he put his package down right on the crack that rises and widens when a bridge opening is in progress. As there were no tall vessels on the horizon, again, my coworker didn’t make too much of it. But he did get curious, and continued to watch.
The man dropped to his knees and began carefully opening the package. My coworker recognized the IKEA label on the box. Fascinating.
As with all things IKEA, some assembly was required. The man began reading instructions, and identifying various pieces and parts. He then set about putting together his project.
The man was taking this all very seriously. Clearly he wanted the item to be just right. When he was done, what stood before him was a tall and, according to my coworker, quite nice floor lamp.
The man centered the lamp on the sidewalk, gathered up all the packaging, and walked away. He never gave the abandoned lamp a backward glance. Apparently he had accomplished his mission.
My coworker was both bemused and confused. He sat alone and looked out the window at the lamp for a while. But he couldn’t just leave it there. It was in a precarious place if a sailboat were to approach. During the next lift, the lamp would either fall on the boat as it crossed under, or it would fall down the increasingly sloping sidewalk, possibly hitting a pedestrian. So he went down and carried the lamp off the moveable part of the span.
He left it in a visible place, hoping the man would come back and retrieve it. But it sat there for hours, alone and neglected. And it really was a nice lamp.
So, late that night, at the end of his shift, my coworker took the lamp home. It still sits in his living room to this day. Sometimes, as he sits beside it, he’ll take a break from his reading to think about the man whom he never formally met. He remembers how he was entertained by him for a time on a quiet, lonely night on the bridge and how, because of that, they will always be connected.