The Cubic Yard Test

I have one pet peeve about my employer, the City of Seattle Department of Transportation. Of the 99 field positions, only about 5 of them are filled by women. In my opinion, there are two main reasons for this, both of which could be solved if, in fact, SDOT actually wanted women in their field positions. But I see no real evidence that they do.

The first is that they don’t reach out to women who are qualified for these jobs. There are all sorts of organizations, such as the National Association of Women in Construction, Women Who Weld, and Washington Women in Trades, that they could partner with. I’ve pointed this out, but it goes unheard.

The most SDOT seems to do is set up a table at the annual Women in Trades convention here in town. And behind that table is the next reason that we have so few women in field positions: The cubic yard test.

As far as I know, this test has been SDOT’s way of weeding out the unworthy for field positions for decades. Before you’re hired, you must be able to shovel a cubic yard of sand (in other words, three feet by three feet by three feet) over a three foot wall in a ridiculously short amount of time. I know I couldn’t do it. (And why should anyone? Just get the dang dump truck to dump the sand on the other side of the freakin’ wall!)

Here’s the thing. I’ve spoken to many, many field employees about this, and when I ask them how often they are required to do such strenuous work, they all say that they’ve had to do something like that maybe once or twice in their decades-long careers. So why set the bar so high? Obviously, because there are certain people you don’t want to get the job.

One year, I volunteered at the Women in Trades convention. They had me timing the women who were shoveling the sand. In the hot summer sun. Without water. It was painful to watch. Only two women could do it.

I’m sure I’d understand this hurdle if it were logical. But since it isn’t, it never fails to set my teeth on edge. For such a progressive city, this is a backward test, not unlike the way the South used to require literacy tests before allowing people to vote. It’s time to make a change. And the most frustrating thing is that this change would be so easy to make.

And yet here we are.


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Architectural Salvage Yards

“Hey, where was that place that you got all the cool used doors and grates and glass blocks for the house you used to own here in Jacksonville?” He asked.

“Burkhalters,” I replied, and a tsunami of nostalgia washed over me.

I absolutely love salvage yards. I don’t know why more people don’t take advantage of them. If it’s true that “they don’t make ‘em like they used to,” then why not make use of older construction elements?

All over the country, beautiful old houses and buildings get torn down, and you better believe that those parts of the construction that can be resold will be. So why not get some gorgeous old handmade French doors instead of the uninspiring new ones that are on the market these days? Put a little copper-colored rustoleum on a wrought iron heating grate and you have a gorgeous design element for your home. Think of it as the ultimate form of recycling. The possibilities are endless.

That’s why I love salvage. The possibilities. But you have to leave your expectations at home. You can’t go in with preconceived notions. You can think, “I’m looking for a door,” for example, but if you’ve got it in your head that you want an 8 panel door with an arc of stained glass windows across the top, brass handles and a peep hole, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

Salvage yards are an entirely different spiritual shopping journey. They are not just one more errand on the old to-do list. They’re an adventure. Close cousins to junk yards, they’re often in sketchy neighborhoods. You don’t walk in to a nice, clean, orderly space, grab everything that’s on your list and walk out. You have vague ideas. And then you wander around, sometimes seeing rats scurrying about from the corner of your eye. You dig through piles of stuff with sharp, rusty edges. You wait until something speaks to your soul. You imagine how something would look once you slap a coat of paint on it. You expect to get dirty. You also expect to have to go back more than once. Patience, Grasshopper.

Right now I’m at the beginning stage of the relationship with my new (to me) house. Things I’m doing now, like adding insulation, require new product. But once those elements are dealt with, I can’t wait to get down and even dirtier to make my house unique!


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My Late Night Symphony

Have you ever been so tired that it felt like your mattress was hugging you? You sink into it’s soft embrace and feel a sweet relief like no other. It makes you wonder why you ever resisted bedtime as a child.

This night was one of those nights. It had been a long day at work. The annual Seafair in Seattle always brings out a lot of boats, which translates to a lot of drawbridge openings for me to perform. That, and it was brutally hot. The control tower is poorly insulated, and the window AC was not keeping up. It was so hot, in fact, that we had to hose down the bridge because the metal had expanded so much that we couldn’t raise it without risk of damage. And to add to the drama, it was septic tank pump day. So I had a lot of comings and goings, openings and closings. And poop smells.

And, also due to Seafair, my commute home was even worse than the usual nightmare. Nothing says Seattle like being able to put your car in park on the interstate on 5 separate occasions on your way home. I had mixed emotions about coming home, already sweaty, to my hot house and my hungry dog, but I knew one thing for sure: I wanted my bed. Desperately.

After throwing open every window and turning on every fan, and then feeding Quagmire (who always acts like he’s starving), I made myself a sandwich so I wouldn’t have to turn on the oven. Then I took a cool shower.

When I finally climbed into my beloved bed, I lay there, flat on my back, feeling like a bag of wet cement. I stared at the ceiling. I doubt I could have saved myself if the house caught fire.

Have you ever been too tired to sleep? Yeah. Like that. I was in a stupor for a good couple hours, I think, based on the number of times Quagmire came to check on me. I just lay there waiting for the sun to stop torturing my time zone.

Finally, around 9:45, I managed to reach over and turn off the light, and roll over onto my stomach, which is my preferred starting position for the journey at hand. Quagmire curled up by my hip, which, I have to say, is the most comforting feeling on earth. Sweet, sweet rest.

Oh, how to describe what happened next. Actually, I was at a loss, so I Googled “the sound a jackhammer makes”, just for you. Apparently the official spelling is:


I’d say that’s pretty accurate. I speak with a certain amount of authority because it was happening less than half a block from my bedroom window. At 10 pm.

Please tell me. For the love of all things holy, who runs a FREAKING jackhammer in a residential neighborhood at 10 pm? Who?

Surely this wouldn’t last long, I thought. No one could possibly have the NERVE to keep this up for any length of time at this hour.

Wrong. It lasted all night long. All. Night. Long.

Interspersed with that sound was the distinctive sound of heavy equipment backing up.

Beep Beep Beep Beep…

And for some reason two trucks were signaling each other by horn.

Toot. (Pause.) Toot toot.

Apparently the double toot was a signal to back up, because no one, of course, could be bothered to used a two way radio. Oh, no. Of course not. So what I got was:

Toot. (Pause.) Toot toot. Beep Beep Beep Beep…

All. Night. Long.

And I wasn’t the only one suffering. At one point I heard my neighbor shouting at them. For all the good it did. And another neighbor went outside and started blaring HIS horn. I’m not sure about his thought process, but I definitely related to his frustration. I think if any of us owned pitchforks or torches, it would have been mayhem.

Meanwhile, I was in a fog, desperately rummaging through my unpacked boxes in search of ear plugs. I never found them. I tried putting a pillow over my head. I closed all the windows, despite the heat. Even Quaggie started to get desperate and began to bark and moan. I may have even shed a few tears. I can’t remember. If I got a total of two hours of sleep, in fits and starts, it’s a miracle.

When I left for work, they were still at it. And they didn’t look even halfway done. I fantasized about crushing the jackhammer beneath the wheels of my car. They are completely repaving a road that, in my opinion, was already in excellent shape.

I’m buying ear plugs on the way home tonight. And maybe a pitchfork. If this goes on for two nights in a row, no court in the land could possibly hold me responsible for my actions.


Cheer me up. Buy my book.


Peace and Quiet

As I write this, a construction crew is tearing up the pavement on my bridge. It’s long overdue, and I’m really looking forward to not having potholes in my parking space anymore, but still, they are making an ungodly racket. I’ve actually had to resort to wearing earplugs, which is making it quite a challenge to hear boats when they request a bridge opening.

Peace is closely linked to quiet for a very good reason. I’m finding it really hard to concentrate due to this hullabaloo, and even harder to write. I’ve noticed I’m shaking my leg again, just like I did throughout my teen years. That’s evidence of an unsettled spirit.

If you don’t have quiet, you can’t think clearly. If you can’t think clearly, you make poor decisions. Poor decisions rarely lead to peaceful outcomes. At least that’s been my experience. If you ever want to see me contemplate violence, just let a neighborhood car alarm go off at 3 a.m., and let it continue to blare until the battery runs out. That’s pitchfork and torch time, as far as I’m concerned.

I always used to think that big cities were more crime-ridden than small towns because of the concentrated population. Now I’m beginning to wonder if it has more to do with the fact that in the country you can actually hear yourself think. Thinking people are less apt to break laws.

You’ll never see anyone meditating on a construction site. It’s not an ideal place to practice Tai Chi, either. Maybe if I calmly repeat, “Bye-bye, potholes,” as if it’s a mantra, while taking deep cleansing breaths, I’ll exit this experience with my sanity intact.



There are many things about the city of Seattle that I absolutely love. One is that in spite of its overcrowded urban sprawl and nightmarish traffic, it really tries hard to accommodate the natural world whenever possible. The fortune that it spent on fish ladders so the salmon could transit the ship canal is a testament to that.

There is a constant tug o’ war between the needs of Man and the needs of the rest of the world. Seattle seems to be aware of this, and at least tries to make concessions for both. The current environmental situation may not be ideal, it may not be perfect, but the efforts count for much.

Recently, a pair of Peregrine Falcons decided to make their nest under one of our drawbridges. You can hear their harsh kak, kak, kaks whenever they feel that someone or something is threatening their abode. It is a delight to watch this pair from a distance as they take turns doing their parent-y things.

What these birds don’t know is that they’ve just prompted the postponement of several very expensive, well planned and all-too-necessary construction projects. No one wants to disturb these creatures in hopes that they will have a successful hatching. Essentially the city is being held hostage by two birds, and we’re all delighted.

Eventually spring will turn into summer, and the falcons will have fledged successfully (or not) and moved on, and the city will get back to paving and repairing and doing its construction-y things. But for a brief shining moment, it is taking the time to pause for the natural order of things. I like it when all is as it should be. Even cities should stop and smell the roses now and then.

This is a picture of the same pair from 2014.

“How can you be tired?”

Every long-term relationship I’ve had has been with someone who does some version of construction for a living. When they come home, cut up and covered in grime, after a long day of putting shingles on roofs or re-plumbing the crawl space under a house or rewiring a hot attic, it’s obvious they’re exhausted. Tradesmen earn their pay, no doubt about it.

In contrast, I have, for the most part, had jobs that don’t require nearly the same amount of sweat. Usually I’m out of the wind and weather, sitting in an office chair. Yes, I do get my hands dirty now and then, but it’s not a day in, day out, body-destroying routine.

The frustrating thing about this dynamic is that when I come home tired, as a general rule I’m not taken seriously at all. “How can you be tired?” man-of-the-moment will say. “You don’t do anything!”

Unless you’ve experienced it yourself, it’s hard to explain how brain work, the stress of deadlines, and just being “on” all day, especially when you’re an introvert like me, can suck the life out of you. Granted, I’m not toting that barge or lifting that bale as a general rule, but what I do is still work.

Maybe you can’t relate to this, but you might want to at least consider how condescending you sound if you totally discount someone’s career. Every job has its dirty aspects. They just might not be visible to the naked eye.

Dirty Jobs
God, I miss this show!

Shipping Container Chic

No doubt about it. Seattle is booming. The city bird should be the construction crane. Despite the astonishing number of buildings being erected, contractors can barely keep up with the housing demand.

Because of this, landlords know they can basically charge whatever they like in rent. According to Rent Jungle, as of May 2015, the average apartment rent within 10 miles of Seattle was $1853. One bedroom apartments rent for $1501 on average, and two bedroom apartment rents average $2015 per month.

This, to me, is obscene, but it gets worse. Since it obviously is quite profitable to own apartment buildings in this town, they’re cropping up like mushrooms overnight. And they’re being built as cheaply as possible, with little or no regard for aesthetics.

There’s an architectural trend in this city that I like to call “Shipping Container Chic” because these buildings look like your basic metal shipping containers, stacked one on top of the other, and the apartments themselves have about that much charm. And half the time no allowances are being made for parking, which is adding to Seattle’s gridlock.

The proliferation of this style means that this city is getting uglier by the minute, but apparently that’s okay, because, by God, it’s profitable. If this keeps up, the whole area will harken back to Communist era housing, with a little bit of colored paint thrown in as an afterthought. What ever happened to style and variety? Ugh.

Shipping5 Shipping Shipping3

The Death of a Drawbridge

It’s official, and it doesn’t come as any great surprise for those of us who operate the Sisters Creek Drawbridge here in Jacksonville, Florida, but it will soon be going the way of the Dodo Bird. Construction will begin soon, and they anticipate that the fixed flyover bridge will be completed by the summer of 2016. (But I’ve never known a bridge project that didn’t run way, way over deadline, so we’ll see.) Read more about the project here, and see the news footage here. (Although the local news got several facts wrong, the imagery is nice.)

This is the second drawbridge to disappear in this area in the past ten years. The other was the B.B. McCormick Bridge. While neither of these bridges were particularly attractive or historic, people tend to get attached to their drawbridges. There’s something romantic about them. They make you slow down and look about you, which is something we all should be encouraged to do at one point or another.

I admit that drawbridges can be costly to maintain and staff, and that they do slow things down, but the massive 65 foot tall bridge that’s being put across Sisters Creek will cost the taxpayers 44 million dollars, and will have no soul, no spirit, and even less sense of community. As far as I’m concerned, this is a tragedy.

If you have a drawbridge in your area that you love, keep a close eye out for construction projects, because from an infrastructure standpoint, every drawbridge is threatened. Engineers don’t think about these projects with any sense of emotion. Drawbridges must be carefully monitored by the citizenry if they’re to continue to exist. Get them designated at historic structures if possible, because that’s the best protection for them.

Someday if we’re not careful, the last drawbridge will disappear, and that will be a very sad day, indeed.

sisters creek

[Image credit:]


The Business of Sexualization

Recently I wrote a blog entry entitled Gender-Specific Jobs? Pfft. I wanted a picture of a female construction worker for the entry, and I settled on this one.


But in order to find that one, I had to wade through a ton of photos like this.


Why is that? How long will it be before women can be taken seriously in the workplace? It’s as if men feel that as long as they can sexualize a woman’s career choice, they can take away some of her power, some of her ability, some of her professionalism.

Yes, you’ll stumble across the occasional beefcake career oriented photos of men. Calendars of firemen spring to mind, but those are the exception, not the rule, and they are usually clad in some clean motivation, such as a fundraiser, to lend them credence.

The women who model for these photographs need to realize that they are making it much harder for those of us who are serious about our professions. The disrespect they demonstrate toward our career choices gives us yet another hurdle to jump over before we can be considered on an equal footing with our male coworkers. These sexy photos should not be part of our occupational stereotype, but they are.

What follows are photos of hard working women contrasted with their “naughty” and unfortunate counterparts. I can’t help but shake my head.

130123223824-women-marines-afghanistan-story-top1woman military


policepolice sexy

Gender-Specific Jobs? Pffft.

It happened again this morning. I was leaving the bridgetender house at the end of the shift, wearing my extremely unattractive uniform and safety vest, and someone drove by and looked at me in shock. Fashion police? I doubt it. For some reason some people don’t expect women to be bridgetenders, as if it takes a certain type of genitalia to open and close a drawbridge. (If so, I haven’t gotten the memo.)

This isn’t the first job in which I’ve found myself in the minority. I used to work for the Florida Department of Transportation. I was a Maintenance Management Systems Engineer, which means I spent a great deal of time in the field doing crew studies to make sure that work crews were properly accounting for their use of materials such as asphalt, for example, and were accurately recording their time and equipment use so that we could efficiently budget for similar jobs in the future. I was highly visible to the public, out there on these testosterone-infused work sites with my hardhat on, clipboard in hand. And at the time I had very long hair. More than once I saw people swerve their cars or tap their brakes.

For the most part these expressions of shock amused me, but they also made me kind of sad. Why is it so hard to believe a woman can do these types of jobs? I might understand it if I were required to lift 100 pounds up over my head 20 times a day, or wade into a crowd of fighting Hells Angels and start knocking heads together, but this was a job that required intelligence, organization, and standard physical ability, all of which I have.

The fact is, some people just can’t be convinced that women are capable of holding nontraditional positions, so there’s not much I can do to change their minds. What I can do is continue to put myself out there. The more I’m seen, the more people will get used to seeing me and other women like me.

Sometimes when I’m out there in my safety vest, I’ll see a little girl in the back seat of one of the cars that’s driving by. When that happens, I always smile and wave, and I think, “See me, girl, and never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something.”


Nope. Not me. But it may as well be.

[Image credit:]