Twenty Years of Bridgetending

And I’m still enjoying the view.

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.

This was my view from the Ortega River Bridge in Jacksonville, Florida.

Enjoying my view? Then you’ll enjoy my book!

Keystone XL Pipeline: Why We’ve Finally Gotten It Right

I hope you’ll give this a thoughtful read.

I’ve heard so many people complaining about Biden blocking the Keystone pipeline that I felt compelled to present some important facts about it, in the hopes that at least a few of them will simmer down. I even saw one friend calling it a “clean pipeline”, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Time to set the record straight. I was just about to do so when I came across a post by Brian Biggs, and he says it much more eloquently than I ever could. I suspect that he won’t mind me sharing the post in its entirety, because he put it on Facebook here, and Facebook posts are meant to be shared, right?

I don’t normally give over my blog to a total stranger, but this post was too informative to ignore. No matter what side of the debate you fall on, I hope you’ll give this a thoughtful read.

Without further ado, here’s Brian Biggs’ post.


45Catharsis Post #2: Keystone XL and de-regulation.

For those who don’t know, I spent the first 18 years of my life in Nebraska and the favorite two words of many school children (because it’s wicked fun to say) is “Ogallala Aquifer.” Seriously. Say it out loud. It’s a true joy to say. Now…what IS the Ogallala Aquifer? It is quite literally the one natural formation on Earth that keeps the country, and the planet, from complete societal breakdown and the deaths of millions.

Wait. What?

The Ogallala Aquifer is the primary irrigation source for the Midwest…the “breadbasket to the world.” Without it, there would be food shortages, followed by the inevitable riots, breakdown in social order, and the starvation of millions. This ain’t hyperbole, folks. It’s as serious as it gets.

Now, let’s talk about tar sands…one of the least efficient and costly ways to get oil. This crap is THICK. Think of peanut butter…left outside…in Vermont…in February. So, to make it liquid enough to flow through actual pipes (i.e. a “pipeline” if you will), you have to mix it with a bunch of really nasty chemicals.

Now imagine: You have thousands of miles of pipeline, built by the lowest-bidder, by a company that couldn’t provide sufficient safety and maintenance assurances, full of seriously poisonous sludge that is damn-near impossible to cleanup, running right over…the Ogallala Aquifer…the most important irrigation source on the planet. Folks, that’s as dangerous and as stupid as you can get.

But, hey, there’s more! Trump was totally fine screwing farmers (his base) out of their land to build it. One of my best friends from childhood, Brian Jorde, was their lawyer (and who’s likely feeling pretty damn awesome today) fighting to stop this theft. And then there’s the other fun fact: If it wasn’t farmland, it was going to go through sacred native american lands! We’ve done a good job of screwing native people for hundreds of years, so let’s add poisonous sludge!

So, today I vent at Trump and the hundreds of companies that are happy to trade the future of every life on the planet for a 3% bump on a quarterly earnings report. In the words of my lovely and articulate wife: “May you fall face-first on a fork!”

The Keystone XL pipeline is just ONE example of the massive de-regulation that Trump pushed through in four years that polluted our air, our water, and our land. Some say it’s “all about jobs.” The TRUTH is that it’s all about money…and not for the workers. Fewer regulations means that companies don’t have as much costs and can make more profit by KILLING PEOPLE. Are you upset that workers on the Keystone XL pipeline will be laid off? Well, I like people, including the children of those workers, being able to eat non-poisoned food. I know…I’m such a snowflake.

And those “lost jobs”? It’s only 2,000 TEMP construction jobs and only 30 (no, I’m not missing any zeros) full-time jobs. So…who wants to trade the future of the planet for 2,000 jobs? Anyone?

Ya know….you COULD put those 2,000 guys and gals to work building something else….like F%&ING WIND TURBINES! They’re beautiful, WAY more efficient and cost effective than trying to get energy out of tar sands, provide an excellent secondary income for farmers (wind farming IS a thing), and, hey, they don’t kill us all! And, no, Mr. Trump, wind mills don’t cause cancer, you ignorant pillock.

To sum up: Allowing the Keystone XL pipeline on top of the Ogallala Aquifer is the same as letting a baby juggle knives in a tiger cage…eventually it’s all going to go very, very wrong.

***This is part of a series of posts where I will finally vent after 1461 days of having to keep silent IAW the UCMJ. These opinions are mine and mine alone. I too want unity and healing for the country, but before we can heal, we must recognize harm done, hold people responsible who inflicted that harm, and then – and only then – can we move on.

-Brian Biggs

Hey! Look what I wrote!

Dodo Bird Jobs

This isn’t the first time engineers have looked into automating one of my drawbridges, and it won’t be the last. People don’t like the idea of paying bridgetenders when they spend the bulk of their time “doing nothing.” These automation ideas generally do not come to fruition, because it’s very easy to get killed on a drawbridge. You want someone with independent judgment at the controls, so as not to crush the life out of passersby. Crunching million-dollar yachts tends to piss off the public as well.

But these recurring threats have made me very sensitive to jobs that are going the way of the dodo bird. For example, take the plight of Hamilton Beale. He’s been working as an elevator operator at Seattle’s gorgeous historic Smith Tower for 18 years. He’s 76 years old, and has kind of become part of the Smith Tower experience. And he’s about to get automated out of a job.

I can well imagine how sad his last day of work will be for him. When you have a unique job that people are curious about, trust me, it becomes a big part of your identity. You take pride in it. I’m sure he loves his elevator as much as I love my bridge. I’m also sure that Seattle will be losing something special when he is no longer on the job.

I’m thrilled to see that someone has decided to create a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds to supplement Mr. Beale’s retirement. I hope you’ll spread the word and consider making a contribution, as I have. Do it for the dodos of the world.

Hamilton Beale

Check this out, y’all. I wrote a book!

Doing the Boring Parts First

True confessions: I’m addicted to Magic Jigsaw Puzzles on my computer. (Don’t get too excited. I’ve confessed this on my blog before.)

I tend to do them while watching Youtube or Hulu or DVDs. Gone are the days when I can be completely engrossed by moving pictures. I need to be doing something with my hands at the same time. With age, I seem to be losing focus. Or patience. Or maybe I’m just losing it. (Whatever “it” is.) I’d take up knitting, but I’m trying to reduce the amount of “stuff” in my life.

But I’ve noticed a pattern of late. I always seem to do the “boring part” of the puzzle first. If the puzzle includes a huge swath of plain blue sky, for example, I get that out of the way before doing the colorful city skyline. I’d never given it much thought. It just has always been thus. Come to think of it, that’s how I break down work tasks and home chores as well.

Now that I’m examining this behavior, I’ve figured out that this is a combination of delayed gratification and rewards. If I “suffer” through the blue sky part, then I’ll feel like I “deserve” the skyline part. I’ve earned it through sacrifice. (How utterly White Anglo-Saxon Protestant of me.)

And, too, if I were to do the skyline first, I might lose interest and not finish the sky, and that would feel bad to me on some level. I like to finish things. Case in point, a book has to be really, really awful for me to stop reading it midway through. It’s the same with a movie. I always hold out hope that it will get better. Because of this, I’ve been subjected to a lot of really sub-par media in my lifetime.

Maybe, just once, I should allow myself to eat the frosting and not the cake. Maybe I should see what it feels like to color outside the lines. Maybe I should let someone else worry about the boring bits for a change. At the age of 52, perhaps it’s high time I start being a little more selfish. After all, I’m all I’ve got. For that I deserve a cookie, don’t I?

Magic Puzzles. March 20

There’s nothing boring about my book. I promise!


I overheard someone talking about a hashtag that was floating around in social media that encouraged people to talk about their first seven jobs. I was immediately intrigued. First of all, what an interesting world we live in now, where it’s a safe bet that most people have had seven jobs. In the past, you might apprentice in a certain job and then do that work until you dropped dead. I don’t know if that would be comforting or stultifying.

But I think you can learn a lot about a person by hearing what their first seven jobs were. How old were they when they started working? How long did they keep various types of jobs? I think it would be interesting to hear from older professionals in particular. Your pediatrician wasn’t always a doctor, you know. Maybe she washed cars in high school.

I’ve had 23 jobs in my life. I don’t know if that’s a lot, or about average. I just know that it was necessary. Some I liked, some I hated. Each one taught me a great deal. I’m glad to say that now that I’m a bridgetender, I’m doing something I truly love.

So, without further ado, here are my first seven jobs:

1.     At the age of 10, I was self-employed. I grew houseplants and sold them at the flea market. I did this for several years, and this allowed me to buy school clothes. I am also proud to say that I treated my mother and my sister to a trip to Disney World. We lived nearby, so it drove me crazy that we couldn’t afford to go. But this will give you an idea of how long ago that was: I only had to raise $20 to get the three of us in. I remember counting it all out in quarters.

2.     The summer I was 15, I worked in the Youth Conservation Corps, doing construction work. We paved pathways, built nature trails, rehabbed a swimming hole, and built a picnic shelter and a barn among other things. I came home brown as a berry for the first and only time in my life, with biceps that would make Michelle Obama proud, and I had a newfound confidence in my ability to work with my hands.

3.     The next summer I worked on an assembly line, making prepackaged school lunches. I’m pretty sure that was the last job I ever had that required I remain on my feet for 8 hours a day. I don’t know how people do it.  That’s where I learned that if you touch enough peaches in the course of a shift, the fuzz burrows under your skin and makes you bleed, and the foil wrappers on juice bottles make you bleed even more. (And yes, we were wearing gloves, but they didn’t protect our wrists.)

4.     Next I was a cook and a cashier at a short-lived game room and restaurant called Go Bananas. I’d go home and still hear the video games in my head, and I wouldn’t have thought it was possible, but for a while there it made me sick of ice cream. (Scooping ice cream doesn’t do good things to your wrists, either.)

5.     Then I was a bilingual cashier at a hotel restaurant. I got by with my high school Spanish. But I had been hired when the manager was away, and when he got back, he called me into his office and quizzed me. I was so intimidated I couldn’t speak English, let alone Spanish, and he fired me on the spot. That was a new feeling. I didn’t like the polyester brown uniform they made me wear anyway, so I was a little relieved.

6.     Next I was a cashier at a campground. That was kind of fun. I liked meeting the people who would come in from all over the country. And believe it or not, I enjoyed stocking the grocery shelves. I love being organized. (Which kind of makes me wonder exactly when I lost all control of my living space, but that’s a subject for another blog entry.)

7.     Then I went away to college and worked in the cafeteria. I got sweaty and greasy every day, and then had a class to go to directly afterward, so people refused to sit next to me. But it helped pay for school. I had to transfer out of there when the 40 year old cook got angry because I refused to date him. He advanced on me in a rage and I threw an ice cream scoop at him and ran for my life. He remained employed, which made lunch and dinner time kind of awkward, but at least I then got to work in the secretary’s office, and people would sit next to me in class again.

So there you have it: The beginnings of a blogger. What were your first seven jobs?

child labor

The Septic Tank Guy

Once every two weeks, a guy comes to the bridge to pump out our septic tank. I hope he’s paid well. That’s one disgusting job.

No matter how evolved we would like to think we are, there’s no getting around the fact that we are biological beings, and somewhere, every minute of the day, some poor schmuck is dealing with our feces. Think about it. Every time you flush the toilet, you are propping up a huge sector of the economy. Plumbers, treatment plant operators, septic tank guys, the entire port-a-potty industry, toilet paper, cleaning supply and bathroom fixture companies, those charged with monitoring and cleaning up our polluted rivers and streams, medical personnel who treat all the various diseases brought on by bad sanitation, even the bad comedians who thrive on poop jokes.

Everybody’s got to make a living. But I think I’d have a hard time finding job satisfaction as a septic tank guy. Granted, you’re providing a very valuable and important service, but come on. Imagine having to spend your every working moment dealing with other people’s sh**.

Well, come to think of it, a lot of us do that anyway, don’t we?


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:]

Transitional Periods

The most dangerous times in life are the transitional periods. Like stepping from one slippery rock to another while crossing a rushing river, you have to be careful or you might slip and fall.

These times include changing jobs, moving, going off to college, traveling, preparing to break up with someone, mourning, divorce and experiencing drastic changes in your health. It’s never a good idea to make major decisions during these periods. You’re not in the right frame of mind.

During these stressful times, I try to be gentle with myself, treat myself like I’ve just gone through major surgery. I get very quiet. I rest as much as possible. I try to do things that make me relax. Yoga. Hot baths. Changes of this nature mean your life has basically exploded, so you may want to take time and let the dust settle a bit before making another move.

Baby steps.