The Holiday Spirit

I hate it when I’m required to act jolly. I mean, it’s not like you can just flip a switch and be all “deck the halls” and “fa la la” just because it’s expected of you. That added pressure during the holiday season is exactly why suicide rates spike. I mean, if you’re already feeling like a freak or a lonely outcast, then being constantly reminded you’re also not in the right mood must be too much to bear.

There have been entire years where “Bah, humbug” was my default position. I didn’t want to be bothered. I avoided malls and parties and gift exchanges. I couldn’t work up the strength to decorate. I just wanted to make it through to January, so I’d have time to brace myself for the assault on single people everywhere that is more commonly known as Valentine’s Day.

What is this thing called the Christmas spirit? It sometimes eludes me. Other times it waits until the last possible moment, and then it smacks me upside the head with joy to the world. In those years, that smack comes as a huge relief, because I have to admit that the stress of not being part of the mainstream does get to me. It’s so much easier to go with the flow when you feel like you’re part of that flow.

Last year, I was kind of in “fake it ‘til you make it” mode. I did a lot of holiday things. And I did have fun. But I still felt kind of detached. (Check out that blog post here.)

But this year, I’m thrilled to say, I am already rejoicing! I’ve happily participated in a lot of holiday events with my husband, and we’ve decorated the whole house with lights, a tree, candles, etc. Our decorations won’t draw crowds, but it’s certainly more than I’ve ever done in my entire life. I get a warm fuzzy feeling whenever I’m there. I’m just happy to be happy, and happy to have someone special to share that with. I never thought I’d ever have it this good.

So, here I am, on the other side. I don’t want to make others feel bad for not being in the holiday spirit, but I also don’t want to feel bad for being in it myself. How about we make a deal: let’s just not put any expectations of any kind on ourselves or others this holiday season. Sound good? It sure does to me.

(And no, this photo is not of my house!)

Christmas Spirit

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How to Piss Off a Bridgetender

I have spent a great deal of time writing about how much I love my job. I really do. I swear I do. Just… not today.

Perhaps it’s because we are marinating in the last, bitter dregs of the holiday season, and everyone is getting cranky. Perhaps I’m the bitter one, because everyone is out on the water, celebrating in their Christmas light bedecked boats, and I’m stuck in this poorly insulated tower, alone, and will never own a boat. Perhaps my nerves are on edge due to political dread, or because I haven’t really seen the sun in weeks. I don’t know. But I’m in a foul mood.

I think everyone should be allowed to vent once in a while, even those of us who realize that in the overall scheme of things, we have a great deal to be grateful for. So fasten your seat belts. I’m about to rant all over you.

After 15 years as a bridgetender, I think I’ve pretty much seen it all. But here are some of the more annoying things that come up time and time and freakin’ time again. It’s enough to make me turn into a bridge troll.

I shall divide my rants up into the various forms of stupidity involved, just for clarity’s sake.

Boater Stupidity

  • You wouldn’t buy a very expensive car and hop into it without knowing the rules of the road, would you? Well, a distressing number of boaters seem to do this. If you have achieved enough financial success to own a vessel, kindly take the time to know what the hell you are doing. The life you save could be mine, or that of someone else.
  • If you can afford a boat, you can afford to invest in a working marine radio and learn how to use it. First of all, this isn’t a convoy. We don’t use “10-4” or any of the other 10 codes. And if you call me and have your own volume turned down, I can respond all day long and you’re not going to hear me. Don’t blame me for that.
  • My voice isn’t that deep. Why do you assume I’m a “sir”?
  • Do not call me on the phone. This isn’t a date. Contact me via the CORRECT horn signals (which you’d know if you read the Coastguard regulations), or call me on the radio.
  • Be polite. I’m not your servant or your minion. If you “demand” an opening “immediately upon” your arrival, there is nothing on earth that will be more apt to tempt me to make you paddle in circles for a while. As in all other parts of your life, you’ll be amazed at how far a simple “please” and “thank you” will get you.
  • Don’t tie up the radio with unimportant chatter. Someone could be sinking out there.
  • Know your mast height. A shocking number of boats don’t actually require a bridge opening. Operating a bridge costs the taxpayer money. And slowing down street traffic for no good reason is never appreciated.
  • Know where the hell you are. You should get charts, but even a Rand McNally map is better than nothing. The other day, I had boats calling me the Ravenna Drawbridge and the Washington Drawbridge, neither of which exists in Seattle.
  • And just calling me “drawbridge” doesn’t work, either. There are often several drawbridges within the sound of your radio. And no bridgetender, to my knowledge, can read your mind.
  • All drawbridges are bound by the Coastguard Federal Regulations. This means that many of us have time periods in which we cannot open for most boaters. Don’t argue with me about it. That won’t change anything. And don’t take it personally. I was not put on this earth to make you late for your golf game.
  • And by the way, if you’re on a sailboat, why on earth are you so impatient? You. Are. On. A. Sailboat.
  • This isn’t my first rodeo. If you ask for an opening and I tell you that I’ll start it upon your approach, continue your approach. I’m timing it based on your rate of speed. If you come to a dead halt before I’ve opened the bridge, that will just make the time the bridge has to stay open for you that much longer. Your lack of consideration backs up traffic for miles. Surprise! The world does not revolve around you.
  • Don’t call me for an opening when you’re still 10 minutes away. I can think of a million things I’d rather do than stand at the operating console, idly waiting for you to show up.
  • Don’t assume I’m asleep. It’s insulting. I’m never asleep. I’m a professional.
  • It is every bit as illegal to operate a boat while intoxicated as it is to operate a car in that condition. When you are drunk, I cannot effectively communicate with you. Ineffective communication on the water can be deadly.

Automotive Stupidity

  • The average drawbridge opening is only 4 ½ minutes long. And you knew you were taking a route that took you over a drawbridge. So there’s no reason to throw a tantrum when you have to wait while a drawbridge opens.
  • There’s also no reason to do a u-turn. By the time you take your detour, that 4 ½ minutes will have passed. It’d be far more pleasant for you to just step out of your car for a minute and enjoy the scenery. Life’s too short.
  • Turn off your engine. Why pollute the atmosphere, when it’s been proven that idling more than 30 seconds is much less fuel efficient than turning your car off and restarting it again?
  • You can honk at me all you want. It’s not going to make the bridge opening go any faster.
  • Rude gestures just make you look like a jerk.
  • When the bridge closes and there’s a pause before the traffic gates go up, it’s not that I’m up here picking my nose. The bridge locks are being driven beneath the street. Just because you don’t see anything happening doesn’t mean nothing is happening. Hold your freakin’ horses.

Bicycle and/or Pedestrian Stupidity

  • If you see lights flashing and/or hear gongs, that means STOP. Don’t cross the drawbridge. It does NOT mean stop halfway across the bridge to take a selfie. It doesn’t mean stand there and take in the view. It doesn’t mean slow down. And it certainly doesn’t mean that you should crawl under the gates. The rules apply to everyone, including you, and they’re there for your safety.
  • Barges can’t slam on the brakes. You need to get out of the way.
  • Cursing at me won’t speed up the opening any more than honking at me does.
  • Projectiles are not appreciated. People in Seattle don’t throw as many eggs and rocks and beer bottles and tomatoes as the people in Florida did. But I’ve never been in a bridge tower anywhere in the country that hasn’t been shot at at least once. What have I ever done to you that merits my death or injury?
  • Please don’t vandalize the bridge. We are proud of it. And many of your fellow citizens are, too. Also, please don’t vandalize my car. I’ve done nothing to you except work hard to ensure that you are safe.
  • Climbing over an opening drawbridge might look cool in the movies, but it can get you killed. And I’ll be the one who has to carry that for the rest of my life. Be a daredevil someplace else.
  • There is nothing more terrifying than being all alone, and going into one of the machinery rooms below the street only to find that someone has broken in and is still there. And it happens just enough to make me jumpy. Can you just… not? If you’re curious, ask for a tour.

Hoooo! I feel cleansed! Now, back to work.

But don’t get me wrong. The vast majority of the boaters, drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians are polite, friendly and easy to deal with. I only wish the rest were as cooperative and pleasant. Bridgetenders really do care about all of you. That’s why we’re here, doing what we do. So you’ll have to forgive me if I sometimes get irritated that there are a few out there who don’t care as much as we do.

Oh, and did I mention? It’s my birthday.

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Too Peopley

Apologies in advance. I’m in a mood. I’ve probably snapped out of it by the time you read this, as I generally write my entries several days ahead of time.

There’s a reason I’m a bridgetender. I thrive on the isolation. I like working independently. I also live alone, unless you count my dogs, and that’s by design. I don’t get people. People often don’t get me. My dogs are my best friends.

I’m sure it doesn’t help that I have no filter. If I think it, I tend to say it. Sometimes that’s perceived as tactless. That’s truly never my intent, but there you have it.

To say I’m an introvert is putting it mildly. People suck the life out of me as a general rule. I can only take them in small doses. After a while I feel the need to go off and hibernate somewhere.

I have this core belief (stemming from a very damaged childhood) that most people think I’m weird and therefore cannot possibly like me. From an adult perspective I know that’s not rational, and I’m sure all my friends will be horrified to read it, but there it is: my soft underbelly.

I only write this because if I feel this way, I’m sure others do, too. And if you are one of those others, I’d like you to know that you’re not alone (even though half the time you probably prefer to be). I’m right there, too, and yet the vast majority of the time I’m actually a fully functional human being. Go figure.

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Come On, Get Happy!

I’m currently in the longest running good mood I’ve ever experienced in my life. Granted, the bar is set pretty low because I am prone to depression, but here lately it feels like the hills are alive with the sound of music. What can I say? I’m just happy. It feels fantastic.

I hope it’s not because I’ve been consuming more yogurt. I read about a study that says that increasing the probiotics in your system aids with depression. Apparently bad bacteria in your gut actually sends signals to your brain which alters your mood. Probiotics replace that bad bacteria with the good kind. I figured it was worth a try. But I hope there’s more to it than that. I’d hate to think I’m nothing but a vehicle that bacteria rides around in, and my outlook is dictated by who’s behind that gastrointestinal steering wheel.

Or maybe it’s just that it’s been extremely sunny here in Seattle of late. Vitamin D is good. The days are longer, and the world is in bloom. So is a distant yellow star in control of my attitude?

I prefer another theory. For the first time in my life I took a long, hard look at myself and determined what was making me miserable, and I then made a lot of long, hard scary changes. I’m not talking about changing my hairstyle, here. I’m talking about changes that took years and cost a fortune and were extremely high risk. I basically tore my life down to its very foundations and started over again in a new place where I know not a soul. I also started seeking out life experiences. I have been reinventing myself. And dare I say it? I like how I’m turning out.

So yeah. I’m happy. Whether it’s due to my own personal do-over, the sun, or to the bacterial warfare I’m waging in my stomach, or some combination of all three, I’ll take it. I’ll take it, and go back for seconds.

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[Image credit: yogurt-milk.com]

Raise Your Head

I used to know someone who was so pessimistic that it was draining to be in his presence. I’m not exactly Little Mary Sunshine myself, but I do have a fundamental philosophical difference with that guy that we were never able to resolve. I believe your attitude can dictate your mood. He believes that you have no control over your mood whatsoever. He used to say, “I’m not going to paint a plastic smile on my face.” It made me want to slap the white off his teeth.

I really felt sorry for him. He constantly gave away his power. It was as if he was this helpless creature to whom happiness or sadness was bestowed, and he had no choice in the matter. It kind of makes you understand why some people make sacrifices to their higher power. If you have no control, the only thing you can do is cajole, flatter and beg. How exhausting.

In fairness, it must be much easier to keep your head firmly planted in your hind end like that. Then you don’t have to take any responsibility for the way your life turns out. But on the other hand, if you raise your head and look about you, you have the opportunity to see your situation in comparison with others who are worse off than you are. You have a chance to shift your focus. You learn how to solve problems, and most of all, you see the abundance that is spread before you.

This Thanksgiving, if at no other time, raise your head. Be grateful. Appreciate your unique life. Smile often. Who knows? It just might become a habit.

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