&%#$ Drawbridges!

I’ve been making people late to work for more than 18 years. I open drawbridges for a living. And I love my job. Getting cursed at is, unfortunately, part of that job.

Once, a supervisor gave me some sage advice. “If you’ve safely opened the bridge and then you hear someone shout, don’t look. Because you probably won’t like the gesture or projectile that follows.”

It’s true. I’ve been pelted with eggs, rotten vegetables, and once, a full glass beer bottle, which shattered and drenched my clothes. I’ve also been flipped off, threatened, and called any number of unsavory names. Par for the course.

Here’s the thing. (Yes, there’s always a thing.) Bridgetenders are not trying to ruin your day. Truly, we aren’t. There are simply certain rules and federal regulations we are required to follow. Specifically, Coastguard Federal Regulations 33 Part 117. These regulations dictate when a bridge must open, when it can be delayed, what signals we must use, what equipment we must have, how we operate in an emergency.

Not only are we required to follow these federal regulations, but according to 33 U.S. Code 499, if we don’t, we can be fined up to $2000 and/or be thrown in jail for a year. Nothing personal, but I’d much rather make you late to work.

In less legal terms, consider this: Maritime law was around hundreds of years before cars existed. And heavy vessels can’t exactly slam on the brakes or take a side street if some bridgetender doesn’t want to hurt a motorist’s feelings.

So, yeah, from street level it may seem really annoying when one slow moving boat is backing up traffic for a mile. Even worse, the bridge may require an opening for maintenance purposes when there are no boats in sight. It may make you want to curse and throw things. But, you know, you should have thought of that before you chose this particular route. (Harsh, but true.)

So next time you’re waiting impatiently for a drawbridge to close, please remember that the bridgetender’s one and only goal is to maintain the safety of the traveling public. All of them, including you. And that may mean you have to wait your turn. At least try to enjoy the spectacular view while doing so.

For a really interesting podcast on this same subject, check out KUOW’s SoundQs “Um, why does that boat get priority over Seattle drivers?”

St Lucie River Drawbridge

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Positively Inspiring

There is a reason I haven’t given up all hope for the future. It’s that I keep coming across so many amazing young people who identify a problem and then come up with brilliant ideas to try to solve it. One such person is Paige Hunter, of Sunderland, England.

Paige has gone through some hard times herself, so she started to think about those people in despair who choose to jump off bridges. As a bridgetender, I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about them, too. But Paige turned her concerns into positive action.

Some of the messages she attached to the Wearmouth Bridge, along with the phone number to a support hotline for people in emotional distress, include:

  • If you end it now, you will be so deeply missed.
  • Even though things are difficult, your life matters. You’re a shining light in a dark world. Just hold on.
  • When things go wrong, don’t go with them.
  • You matter, you are loved, and people would be worse off if you died.
  • Fight with all you have. Tomorrow is always a better day.
  • Hope is enough (even if hope is all you have.)
  • If you’re reading this, I want to tell you how amazing you are.
  • You have the power to say, “This is not how my story will end.”
  • Look how far you have come… and then keep going.
  • Don’t you dare give up on this life. Not tonight. Not tomorrow. Not ever.
  • Step back. You’re worth it.
  • Pause. Stop. Breathe. There are better options, and so many people love you.
  • This isn’t how it ENDS.
  • Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start now and make a brand new ending.
  • It will be better. Please hold on.
  • It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you DO NOT STOP

What an amazing young lady. Due to her efforts, she got a commendation from the Northumbria Police Department. And this has created a great deal of media attention.

Due to that attention, she decided to do yet another positive thing, and raise funds for mental health. I’ll say it again: what an amazing young lady! Won’t you join me in contributing to her GoFundMe campaign? It’s in British Pounds, but your credit card will figure it out. Lets keep this positivity going!

Paige Hunter, I predict great things from you! Thank you!

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Anticipatory Stress

The 4th of July is the worst day to be an American bridgetender. Drunken boaters and pedestrians are out in force. There’s plenty of stress and aggravation, and a lot of people to avoid injuring due to their own foolishness. While you are out enjoying your fireworks, we bridgetenders are trying to avoid nervous breakdowns.

And yes, I got to work the 4th of July this year. Lucky me. I spent a lot of time politely bellowing at people through the bullhorn. It may not sound like it, but I do it because I care. I’d really rather not kill anyone if I can avoid it.

At a certain point, I realized that a great deal of my tension was purely anticipatory. I knew the night was going to suck. And sure enough, it did. But stressing out over things that have yet to happen is counterproductive at best. Fight or flight should be reserved for the moment when you spot the mountain lion, not for when you’ve heard that there might be one within a 10 mile radius. Caution is great, but becoming adrenalized before the fact does nothing but make you feel exhausted and sick to your stomach.

So I spent a great deal of the night checking in with myself. What is happening now? What are my rational concerns at this moment in time? Breathe…

This takes practice. I never really thought about how much time I waste anticipating disaster. All the more reason to try to stay centered in time.

Hope you had a better 4th than I did!

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What’s the Actual View?

It occurs to me that despite this blog’s name, I haven’t shown you the actual view from one of my drawbridges in quite some time. This view is what inspires my writing, and this job is what gives me the time to write, so I’m very grateful for both.

What follows are some pictures I took on the official opening day of boating season on the Ship Canal here in Seattle this year. As you can see, the fireboat got in on the fun as well.

During boat-related festivals, if a drawbridge is involved, it’s fairly safe to say that there is a bridgetender under an enormous amount of stress while you’re having your good time. Boaters should never mix boating with alcohol, but they often do, and that makes them operate their vessels erratically. And of course these festivals also bring out their fair share of pedestrians, who seem to think that warning signals on drawbridges do not apply to them, or that they’re immortal.

Have fun, but stay safe, everyone.

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Repeating Decimals

The other day I had an experience that made me think of the optometrist’s office that I used to visit as a child. I was always excited to get new glasses. (I must say, though, that looking at old photos makes me question my taste. But I’m going to blame that on my mother. I was just a kid, after all.)

The reason this optometrist’s office sticks in my mind is that his glasses were displayed in a long narrow room, with mirrors along both sides of its entire length. This meant that you’d be in this tunnel of what seemed like infinite reflections. As a child I thought that was very cool. As an adult, my first thought is that the feng shui must have been really off, and I’m amazed he was able to sell any frames at all. How could you focus on the product when there was so much going on, visually?

Ever since then, I’ve always called that never-ending feedback loop experience a “repeating decimal”. When I get into some sort of infinity room, whether it be literal or figurative, it makes me feel like I’m caught observing parallel universes, in a place where time has no end.

The other day I was standing in my drawbridge tower, getting ready to open my bridge for a barge. As it got closer, I realized that the tugboat was actually pushing a pontoon that was part of the old 520 bridge that’s being dismantled in Lake Washington here in Seattle. But even more interesting, it was the section of the bridge that included the drawbridge tower.

I gazed at that tower as it floated by. I thought about the many bridgetenders who had worked in it over the years. It looked like it was still in very good shape. I wondered what was to become of it.

So here I was, in a tower, opening a drawbridge for a drawbridge tower. A mathematical repeating decimal of sorts. I was tempted to look over my shoulder to see if there was another bridgetender looking down at me from above, doing… what, exactly?

I don’t know. And I’m not sure I’d want to know. But it was rather surreal.

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A Crisis You’re Not Even Aware Of

I just discovered that the last college I attended, Indian River State College, no longer offers the degree I earned there: Dental Laboratory Technology and Management. This is very sad news. It was the last school in Florida to offer that program. Now, if you’re a Floridian and want to study this subject, the closest schools would be in San Antonio, Texas or Detroit, Michigan. In fact, there are only seven colleges left in the country that offer this degree. Seven.

Why should you care?

First of all, let me clarify what Dental Lab Techs do. They are not, repeat, not, dental hygienists. They don’t clean your teeth. Many of them never come in direct contact with another person’s mouth (at least, not in a professional sense). The majority don’t work in a dentist’s office. They usually work in labs, sometimes one man operations, sometimes large assembly line type outfits, to fabricate dentures, retainers, crowns, night guards, bridges and other dental appliances.

There’s a great need for Dental Lab Techs, as 40 percent of them are expected to retire in the next decade. This career has a faster than average job growth projection, as an aging population has a greater need for dental appliances, and baby boomers visit dentists more often than previous generations did.

Many labs are now resorting to on the job training, and there’s no problem with that if it’s done well. But without an educational system, there are no core standards and there will be no uniformity in the field. (Field trained techs are often not taught basic oral anatomy, for example.) It also makes it much harder for these highly skilled individuals to be considered professionals, and therefore demand adequate compensation. This, in turn, will discourage people from pursuing this career.

More and more appliances, therefore, are being shipped overseas to be fabricated. This is a problem for you on a number of levels. There is no quality control. There have been reports of appliances in third world countries containing toxic substances. The last place you want to encounter lead or radioactive material, for example, is in your mouth. Also, some of the dental impressions your dentist takes of your mouth are heat sensitive and therefore don’t ship well. This means that the device you get back from some far flung location is quite likely not going to fit as well as one created in a local lab would have. The end result is pain for you and/or an appliance that does not function properly. I strongly suggest you ask your dentist where your appliance will be coming from, and urge him or her to source local labs.

Why are Dental Laboratory Technology schools disappearing? The equipment required to adequately teach this subject is extremely expensive. And in order to be certified by the American Dental Association, schools have to maintain a very low student to teacher ratio. From the standpoint of a college, this means more cost in terms of equipment and salary, and very little return in terms of tuition. Can you blame them for not wanting to shoulder this burden?

To be honest, I don’t know what the solution to this problem is. But if you don’t want outrageously expensive dental appliances that are poorly made and potentially dangerous, we had better come up with one, and soon.

dental-appliance
Do you really want some barely trained kid off the street making this for you?

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Doing the Right Thing

It happened again the other day. Someone saw me crossing my bridge on the elevated catwalk and called 911, thinking I was a jumper. This always amuses me. Do I look that miserable going to work? Because I’m not. I happen to love my job. But in order to avoid disrupting the traffic while going from my car to the tower (safety first!), I have to take what probably looks like a precarious route from the public’s perspective.

When the 911 operators get a report of this type during our regular shift change, they know to call us first and check. And I always hear all of them laughing when we confirm that it was a false alarm. They are as used to it as we are.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad when someone makes that call. You can never be sure. Perhaps it is someone who is planning to do the worst, rather than someone who is just trying to make a living, and that would be tragic beyond words. It’s a good citizen who cares that much about a total stranger.

In the same way, it always amuses me when a cashier apologizes for having to ask for my ID when I use a credit card. I WANT them to care about identity theft! I’m glad that if someone tried to use my card without permission, the buck would stop there, so to speak. Having to whip out my driver’s license is a minor inconvenience compared to having my credit card stolen.

And despite popular sentiment, I don’t mind going through a metal detector. It puts my mind at ease that everyone else around me has done the same thing. It’s the not-so-random searches and the confiscation of nail clippers that bug me.

On the rare occasion in my life when I’ve had to call the police regarding a neighbor’s domestic violence, the perpetrator of this violence never appreciates it, but I suspect that deep down, the victim does. If I ever found myself on the receiving end of a fist, I certainly hope my neighbors would step up in that manner.

So go ahead, folks. Make that call. Ask those awkward questions. Take precautions. It’s better to err on the side of caution. Thanks for caring!

catwalk

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