Scary, Scary Bridge People

They don’t even need costumes.

When I first became a bridgetender back in 2001, I assumed I wouldn’t be dealing with people very much. That was part of the appeal for me. It suits my introverted nature. I don’t really understand a lot of people, especially when they are acting unpredictably. And those are the very people I’m forced to interact with on my job.

Oh, goody.

So, in honor of Halloween, I thought I’d tell you about some of the people who have scared me over the years. Some of these are kind of funny in retrospect. Others, not so much.

  • The scariest person I’ve ever come across was the barking man. He thinks he’s a dog. But he’s no golden retriever. He thinks he’s a very large, aggressive, rabid dog. He was someone I dealt with regularly on one of my Florida bridges. He never touched me, but a couple of times he got close enough to where I felt his slobber on my face as he barked and growled. Bad dog. No treats for you.

  • Then there’s the serial rapist who got out of jail and spent his nights fishing at the end of my bridge. How do I know this? Because I used to have a side job transcribing the interviews of ex-prisoners for a study at the health department, and he mentioned my bridge by name. I heard this while sitting on that very bridge all alone, late at night, and it felt much worse because I had no idea what he looked like.

  • For some reason, people like to come by and pound on the tower door and run away. It has happened on all 9 bridges that I’ve worked on. This often makes me jump out of my skin. Especially on the graveyard shift. Fortunately, I have a strong heart.

  • But I nearly soiled myself the time that three young boys came by at three a.m. and rattled the doorknob for 15 minutes, saying, “Come on, lady, let us in!” Yes, I called the police. No, they did not show up while the scofflaws in question where still present. A few days later those same kids showed up and asked how to get a job as a bridgetender. I told them, for starters, not to act like a bunch of juvenile delinquents.

  • Young males, aged 13-25 can quite often be bad news. You never know what these guys are going to do. They climb things. They like to jump the gap of a partially opened bridge. They shout impatiently. They crawl under the gates. They do backflips into the water. They think they’re immortal, and they must be, because if anyone else behaved that stupidly, they’d probably be dead by now.

  • When people throw eggs or tomatoes or beer bottles or even, one time, a pumpkin, it sounds like a mortar shell has hit the building. This happened all the time when I worked in Florida. It has yet to happen here in Seattle, and it never happened in South Carolina, either. But I’ve never worked on a bridge that hasn’t had its window shot out at least once. (I hope I didn’t just give someone an idea.)

  • One gentleman used to like to dress up in a green satin, spaghetti strapped dress, and admire himself in the convex mirror right outside my door. For hours on end. That part didn’t bother me so much. Live and let live. What bothered me was when he’d stand in the road and start screaming incoherently. The police had to escort him off my bridge on more than one occasion, but he’d always make his way back eventually.

  • Just the other day a guy told me that I’m an idiot who doesn’t know how to do my job, and that he studied engineering at the University of Washington, and therefore was better at judging what was safe and unsafe, and when an opening should be started. He then proceeded to crawl under the gate and cross the bridge before I had even driven the locks to keep it from bouncing up.

  • One of my coworkers watched someone assemble an IKEA lamp at center span, and then walk away, leaving the lamp sitting there. He thinks of that guy whenever he turns the lamp on, as it goes perfectly with his living room décor.

  • Another guy was so upset that the pedestrian traffic gate was down and he couldn’t cross the bridge that he ripped it free, bolts and all, with his bare hands. Well, that’s one way of dealing with the situation, I suppose. Another way would be to wait your freakin’ turn.

  • People abandon rental bikes at center span all the time, too. In hopes that they’ll fall off the rising bridge and hurt someone? I have no idea. But the wheels won’t move unless you provide a credit card, and I’m here to tell you they are really heavy when I have to lift them up to carry them off the bridge. That, and the automated voice that’s telling me not to steal the bike is really annoying.

  • There’s a lady here that I call the suitcase lady because she has several of them. If you get too close, she curses like a sailor. I’m fairly certain she could beat me senseless if properly motivated, such is the level of her rage. I do my best to avoid her, but one day I happened to step out onto the sidewalk at the exact moment when she was passing by. I braced myself. She jumped toward me. But this time she shouted, “I got a new shirt!” I wasn’t expecting that, so I had no idea what to say. I have to admit, though, that it was a really nice shirt. Red is her color. Good for her.

  • There’s one guy who likes to cross the bridge while dribbling an imaginary basketball. He seems fairly harmless, but where is he in his mind? And what happens next?

  • By far, it’s the drug addicts that rattle me the most. I never know what their version of reality might be. What do they see when they look at me? A humble bridgetender, or the devil incarnate who must be disposed of?

People are scary, man. They don’t even need costumes.

Happy Halloween.


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Lightning Bolt Eyes

What’s your super power?

I don’t lose my cool very often, but when I do, I’m a little scary. I get that from my mother. She was a quiet woman who hated confrontation as much as I do, but there was this line that one dared not cross. If you did, lightning bolts would come out of her eyes, and you could easily be charred to a crisp.

Just like with me, it takes a lot to create that particular weather system. It usually has something to do with putting someone in danger, or picking on someone (human or animal) who cannot defend his or herself, or acting aggressively toward someone we love. That is not to be borne.

I’m not strong or menacing, but I’ve been known to make very large men turn pale and step away, hands raised. I don’t do anything physically. It’s just the eyes and the tone of voice. I mean business. Zap!

I doubt I could even create my lightning mode artificially. I don’t know from whence I conjure that particular power. It tends to disappear as quickly as it comes. In fact, I’m usually exhausted after the fact. But it’s highly effective. It always hits its target.

So behave yourself. You never know who has a super power.

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Hey! Look what I wrote!

Clowns in Context

Clowns get a bad rap. Many people are really freaked out by them. It’s ironic, when you think about it. Most clowns (unless they are pedophiles or serial killers), only want to make people laugh and smile. They are simply there to entertain. Very few career paths can make that claim.

But I’ve known several people who are coulrophobic. I get it. Clowns are masked, essentially, so you can’t be sure of their true intentions. And there have been plenty of evil clowns in media and literature.

For me, it’s all about context. Clowns don’t bother me at a circus or a festival or a children’s party. But put one in a dark alley, or in a tunnel, or at the edge of a forest, then, yeah… no bueno. At that point, even my instinct to think the best of everyone would be severely challenged.

Every once in a while, the world experiences a creepy clown epidemic. Teenage boys (the origin of most ill-conceived ideas) will dress up as clowns and wander the streets, making people nervous, or actively trying to scare people. If this is something you’re thinking of doing, I’d strongly encourage you to change your mind, because if your clowny ass tries to scare me, rest assured I will punch the red nose right off your face. And if I manage to stop there, you should consider yourself lucky, bozo.


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Do You Know the Slender Man?

God, but I’m getting old. It is a continual shock to me how out of touch I have become with pop culture. It’s quite disturbing to see a reporter ask a bunch of 12 year olds if they know the Slender Man, and seeing them all say yes while I’m going, “Who the hell is the Slender Man?”

For those of you who are in the same boat, the Slender Man is a fictional (yes, kids, fictional) character who is freakishly tall and skinny, wears a dark suit and has a white, featureless face. He’s sort of a modern day boogie man who cropped up on the internet back in 2009, the brain child of writer Eric Knudsen.

Kids love scary stories. Actually, so do I. But I come at it from an adult perspective. I know that the odds are pretty remote that someone is hiding under my bed or in my closet. I don’t need a night light to go to sleep. And I also am capable of anticipating the consequences of my actions. Unfortunately kids don’t think that way.

No, I’m not one of those people who think the media and violent video games are the root of all evil. And I’m sure that the vast majority of the kids who read about the Slender Man just get a delicious little shiver down their spines and then go on about their business. But unfortunately there are a few out there who are, shall we say, wrapped a little less tightly than the average, and for them the Slender Man has become a bit of a cult anti-hero. They actually believe he exists.

I came across this character while watching a documentary called Out of the Woods, about two twelve year old girls who allegedly stabbed another twelve year old girl a total of nineteen times, leaving her for dead. They said they wanted to impress the Slender Man. Fortunately the girl crawled out of the woods and was rescued by a man riding by on a bicycle or this story would have ended even more tragically. There will be a trial soon.

It doesn’t bother me that the Slender Man was created. Scary can be fun. What troubles me is that so few of us adults have ever heard of him. That makes you wonder how many other things the twelve year olds of this world are keeping to themselves. What else are they finding on the internet? What else are they choosing to believe without the rational moderation of an adult? That’s the real scary story here.


You’ve got to love photoshop.

[Image credit:]

Acquired Creepiness

I love scary movies. Not stupid and predictable slasher films. If there’s a chainsaw involved I’ll probably have a hard time suspending disbelief. No, I like psychological thrillers and movies that make you think. If a movie boggles my perspective and makes me feel as though I’m on unfamiliar ground, I’ll get the willies and I love that feeling. I have no idea why. Maybe I am an adrenaline junkie.

It takes intelligence to give me the creeps. Sure, if you jump up and shout boo it will startle me. (Actually it’ll probably irritate me.) But if you manage to make me think, “Whoa. Wait. What?” the hair on the back of my neck will stand straight up.

I think that’s because I derive the majority of my confidence from my intelligence. So when I don’t understand something, or when my worldview is, however temporarily, altered, I become unsettled. And when that happens, for a brief exciting moment I feel as if the very laws of physics can’t be relied upon.

My favorite horror movie is John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness. Its plot requires a huge amount of suspension of disbelief, but once you get past that minor detail it has a depth that most movies of this genre can’t be bothered to plumb. The symbolism alone is so complex that every time I see it I notice something new. (Plus it’s sort of fun to watch Alice Cooper impale someone with a bicycle. That’s something you won’t see every day.)

I just got finished watching an Australian film called Nature’s Grave (called Long Weekend in Australia). Nothing about that film is normal. There’s no hook for you to hang your emotional hat upon. Just as they do in the movie, you feel like you’re going in circles. You think you know where you’re headed, but then you keep coming back to that scary place that you normally try to avoid. It’s never a good idea to piss off Mother Nature.

Now I’ve got the chills, and everything around me seems ever so slightly off. If someone were to knock on the door right now for even the most innocent reason, selling Girl Scout cookies, perhaps, I’d probably jump right out of my skin.

Fair warning, both of the movies mentioned above have been panned by critics. That just reinforces my belief that most critics don’t like to think. It also reinforces my belief that I see the world differently than the average person. Whether that’s good or bad is open to debate.

The question is, why in God’s name do I seek out this sensation? Why do I attempt to acquire creepiness? I think it’s because I enjoy different perspectives. I’d like to open the door one day and see a lime green sky and be forced to figure out its implications. They probably wouldn’t be good, but what a fascinating way to go!


Alice Cooper looking eerily like… Alice Cooper, in Prince of Darkness.

When No One Wants to Take a Stand: A Story of Neglect

I was 17 years old and a freshman in college, and I witnessed something that to this day I don’t fully understand. I’m sure there is much more to this story than I’ll be able to tell you, so I apologize in advance.

Among my fellow freshmen was a girl whom I’ll call T. To be brutally honest, she scared me. She was clearly quite severely mentally ill. I’m not just saying I could sense this, or that something was not quite right with her. I mean she was obviously and completely not there. Not even partially. Everyone knew it.

She ran everywhere she went, head down, arms kind of forward, panting, seemingly terrified. She had puppets. Quite often she’d only talk through them. I remember that one was a witch that had a creepy voice that made the hair on the back of my neck stand at attention.

She’d put on impromptu puppet shows which were incoherent cries for help. I’m fairly sure that she heard voices. But at the very least she was trying to communicate in the only way she knew how.

She should have been institutionalized, and yet there she was, with us, at a high-end private college in the Appalachian Mountains.

Even a rank amateur could tell that this girl was schizophrenic, or, uh, something, and there is no way on earth she could have possibly kept up with her studies. Any writing assignments must have been bizarre in the extreme. There couldn’t have been a question in any professor’s mind that there was a problem. T needed help.

The girl that had the misfortune of being T‘s roommate begged to be reassigned elsewhere, anywhere, but the administration refused, which is another big part of the mystery as far as I’m concerned. That girl spent the entire school year hopping from dorm room to dorm room, sleeping on our floors, essentially homeless. No one could have possibly felt safe sharing a room with T. How could you turn out the lights and sleep comfortably with someone whose only substantive relationships were her puppets? For Pete’s sake, I got the willies just passing T in the hallway.

I used to watch her running agitatedly across campus, completely disconnected from reality, and wonder why her parents had sent her there. They must have been rich. No way could she possibly have gotten scholarships. They had to have known she had a mental illness. There was no hiding it. What could they possibly hope to accomplish by foisting her off on academia? She needed help, and this wasn’t helping her.

Finally one day I couldn’t take it anymore, and I went to the Dean of Students. I told her all I knew and all I had observed about T. I could tell none of this was coming as a big surprise to her. There were only 500 students at the entire school. She knew what was up. I was hoping that someone in a position of authority would do something about this situation, but all I got from this woman was that there was nothing that could be done. I was in shock, but I didn’t know what else to do, so I’m ashamed to admit that I gave up on the whole thing right then and there.

But I would watch T, from a safe distance, running to and fro, and it always made me sad.

At the end of my freshman year I transferred from that school for unrelated reasons. I have no idea what became of T. Did she return the following year? Did she graduate? Did she ever get the help she needed? Where is she now? I don’t know.

But looking back from an adult perspective I can’t help but think that T was the victim of an institution-wide form of neglect. Obviously her parents had influence or she’d have never been there in the first place. But they didn’t care about her. Every one of her professors looked the other way as well. The administration chose to do nothing but take that tuition, which is rather sickening in retrospect.

And the girl in the center of this storm of indifference? She was just left to battle her demons by herself. And what a terrifying and lonely place that must be, emotionally and mentally speaking.

It’s so easy to just look the other way and assume that someone else will handle difficult situations. But when every adult, every single one, stands by and does nothing when a child is suffering, as far as I’m concerned that’s criminal behavior.

This, of all the stories that make up my life experience, is the one which cries out for the closure which I know I’ll never get.

T, if you’re out there, I want you to know that someone cared. I wish I could have helped you. I really do.


8/22/13  Perhaps a little bit of closure after all! I just heard from T’s former roommate. She did want me to specify that these are vague recollections and not hard facts, but this is what she said:

“Hey, I read your story. I hadn’t thought about all that in a long time! I really only lived with her a few weeks. Then I went to the Dean of Students and asked if I could move to the room next door with M (who’s roommate didn’t show up). She grudgingly said yes. So I did. I lived with M the rest of the four years. I don’t remember if T came back the next year or not, but I don’t think so. I just can’t remember. Last I knew she was at a farm for mentally disabled people. I think she’s been there a long time. Hope that helps!”


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