What Is a Typical American?

During a recent commute, I was thinking about the fact that people from all over the world read this blog. I’m rather proud of that. I’d like to think that my random musings give people some insight into the fact that not all Americans fit into the current stereotype.

If you’ve never been to the United States, and formed your opinion about this country based on presidential tweets or the news cycle on any given day in the past several years, I’d be rather ashamed at the conclusions you might be drawing about us as people.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that all our news is fake. In fact, I think that most of it is not. But like news everywhere, it tends to focus on the extreme, the lunatic fringe, the dramatic, negative, headline-grabbing insanity that sells subscriptions and gains followers.

The first thing I’d like you to know is that we are not our politicians, just as you probably don’t always agree with your own political figures much of the time. The insanity that comes out of our capitol these days is not reflective of the vast majority of us.

Most of us actually believe that our current gun situation is insane and needs some form of regulation. Most of us believe that we incarcerate way, way, way too many people. Most of us really do know that global warming exists, and we desperately want to do something about it. Most of us think that our health care system is cruel and unjust. Most of us do not agree with the way we currently treat immigrants, the homeless, and the mentally ill in this country.

This nation’s political stance on all of the above is a source of shame and outrage. I wish I could say that our system was actually democratic and reflective of we, the people, but it is, in fact, rigged for the rich and powerful, and they have no one’s best interests at heart but their own. That’s a source of shame, too.

I wish there were some way you could get to know an individual American. Most of us would never think to chant, “lock her up” or “send her back”. The average American doesn’t have a violent bone in his or her body. 99.9999 percent of us would never use an automatic weapon in a school. While we are not perfect (who is?) we are, I truly believe, mostly very compassionate, and willing to help people in need, rather than hurt them or separate them from their families.

While we do have quite a bit of work to do in terms of racial bias, I sincerely believe that people who lead with hate do not represent the vast majority of us. We feel that selfishness is an ugly trait, as is greed. Just about everyone I know is entirely too busy trying to live his or her own life to interfere in the lives of others.

It’s true that there’s no such thing as a typical American, just as there’s no such thing as a typical Italian or a typical Nigerian or a typical Korean. We may come in all shapes and sizes and colors, but I think that most human beings have this in common: we struggle to take good care of our loved ones, and do the best that we can to be the best people that we can be.

So please don’t judge us too harshly. We have limited control over our country’s reputation, and that hurts us as much as it probably horrifies you. Just try to remember that on an individual basis, kindness and love still exist here. They really do.

They just rarely get tweeted about.

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Getting Greasy

On the day I wrote this, I got grease all over the cuff of my favorite work jacket. And I’m not talking grease from an order of French fries, here. I’m talking industrial grade mechanical grease, nearly the consistency of peanut butter. (SWEPCO 113, for those of you who are curious.)

It made me smile.

Don’t get me wrong. I tried to avoid it. It’s a royal pain in the butt to get out. I’m soaking the sleeve in simple green even as we speak, and will probably do so for about 24 hours before washing. But as a bridgetender, I have to do my part to keep my drawbridge operating smoothly, so greasy I’m bound to get every now and then.

What made me smile is that if you were profiling me, you wouldn’t expect that I was the sort of woman who even comes in contact with grease, let alone gets it all over her clothes. If I were on What’s My Line, you’d never guess correctly.

And yet, here I am. Pushing the boundaries. Breaking the stereotypes.

I was tempted to smear some of that grease on my cheekbones while I was at it. A badge of honor. A shot across the frontal lobe of your pigeon-holing mind.

Every time I surprise someone by walking down the street in my hardhat, or by adding insulation to the subfloor of my house, or even by offering someone the use of my jumper cables, I’m broadening their worldview just a tiny bit. And I like that.

Because every time I take a tiny chip out of your typecast, it makes it all the more easy for the women who come behind me to be themselves. It may not be much, but if we all keep chip, chip, chipping away, ignorance and hate will lose, and those of us who don’t mind getting greasy will find it more possible to do so.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go dig the crud out from under my short, raggedy nails.

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Our Thoughts on Dog Shaming

Let me start off by saying that I write this confession under duress. My dogs are standing over me, giving me the hairy eyeball. If they could cross their arms, they would, but at least they have managed to perfect their glares of disdain.

They see me visit the dog shaming website all the time, and watch me laugh at the various pictures of dogs being forced to pose with signs explaining what they’ve done, such as destroying things and peeing on stuff. They’ve long maintained that this dog shaming is passive aggressive on the part of humans, because dogs were put on this earth to destroy things and pee on stuff, so they shouldn’t have to be humiliated for acting true to type.

They also feel that this website perpetuates an unfair, unspoken rule: When it doubt, blame the dog. This gets dogs the world over accused of things that they very likely did not do. They are found guilty with no proof at all. Just because there’s shredded toilet paper throughout the house, blaming the dog with no further evidence would not hold up in a court of law (say my dogs). And yet the shaming continues, and I continue to laugh.

So the other day when I lost my $250 dental night guard and tore the house apart looking for it, I must confess I turned to my dogs and said, “Did you eat my night guard? I swear to God if I find parts of it lying around, I’m going to turn you into furry little toilet seat covers!”

Later that day when I found my night guard in its case in the bathroom, right where it should have been all along, I didn’t even apologize for threatening their lives. And this wasn’t the first time I’ve done this. I really do have a lot of nerve.

So in the spirit of turnabout being fair play, and in order to avoid having a little present left in my shoe, I submit this picture as exhibit A.

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I’m Wide Awake, Here!

I recently had a blind date with a guy, and when he discovered I was a bridgetender, he got this smirk on his face. I knew what was coming next. The stereotype.

Few people even know we exist, but those who do seem to assume that we all sleep through our shifts. This assumption drives me absolutely insane. Obviously I can’t speak for every bridgetender on the face of the earth, but I can say that I take pride in the fact that I have never slept on duty. Not once. (Besides, I have a blog to write!)

I can honestly say that in my 14 years of opening drawbridges, I’ve met more operators who take their job seriously than those who blow it off as an easy paycheck. We have people’s lives in our hands. Google “Death” and “Drawbridges” if you don’t believe me. It’s not a job for someone who does not feel that acute responsibility.

A lot of boaters think that we are asleep because they don’t know the proper way to communicate with us. If you float up to a bridge and just sit there, we can’t read your mind. We’re not going to back up traffic for miles just in case you might want an opening. Too many boats approach bridges just to have a look and then turn around and go away for us to do that.

If you want an opening from a drawbridge, read your Coastguard Local Notice to Mariners to determine the proper horn signal for that particular bridge. And get a decent horn, for heaven’s sake. If your horn sounds like the meep meep of the roadrunner cartoon, chances are we won’t hear you over the traffic.

Also, if you contact us by radio, make sure you’re on the right channel. And then turn up your volume. That’s a typical scenario. Someone contacts us, but then can’t hear our response. I once had a guy in Florida call me 4 times. I responded each time, but he couldn’t hear me because his volume was down. The 4th time he said, “WAKE UP!!!” As I opened the bridge for him, I shouted for him to turn up the volume on his radio. He did. Then I got on the radio and said to him, for everyone to hear, “For your information, I responded to you 4 times. I don’t sleep. I have never slept. Thanks so much for your respect and cooperation.”

So when Mr. Blind Date Guy started to tell me a story about a sleeping bridgetender, I knew he wouldn’t be asking me out again. And he didn’t. And I was glad.

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Fremont Bridge, Seattle. One of the 9 bridges I’ve operated in my career. (Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)

Passive Aggressive Stupidity

If you ask me, one of the most annoying habits on the planet is acting stupid when you aren’t. I see people do this all the time. Is it because you don’t want responsibility heaped upon you, or are you trying to manipulate someone into doing the heavy thinking for you?

I particularly want to shriek when I see women doing this. Many of us are taught that this behavior is cute or that somehow it will make us seem less threatening. You almost never hear a man described as silly or ditzy or flaky. It’s bad enough that this stereotype is so firmly embedded in our culture without our actively confirming it.

When I hear someone say that they’d never be able to learn something, my gut reaction is to say, “Don’t be ridiculous. Of course you can.” You may not want to take the time. You may not enjoy it. It’s possible that it will take more effort for you to grasp than it does for the person sitting beside you. But you are capable of learning anything. Anything.

So don’t get into the habit of inviting stupidity in when it’s not already present. Before you know it, it may just make itself at home.

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Ignorance is NOT Bliss

There are few things in life that annoy me as much as an intelligent female who acts stupid because she thinks it’s cute or expected of her. There are women in this world who think people will like them more if they avoid being seen as the smartest people in the room, which indicates to me that they probably aren’t the smartest people in the first place.

I suppose this behavior bugs me because I prize intelligence over just about anything else, and I can’t imagine giving that away. I also can’t imagine wanting to be in the company of someone who would prefer that I be less than who I truly am. And I would have a hard time respecting someone who would actually fall for an intelligent person who is dumbing herself down.

Ladies, there are plenty of people out there who are going to assume we’re not very bright just by virtue of your gender. If you doubt this, walk into 9 out of 10 mechanic’s garages and ask a question and see what happens. There’s no point in taking part in the reinforcement of that categorization by acting the fool.

If anything, being a strong, independent, intellectual woman means that you shoulder quite a bit of responsibility. Just by being in this world and interacting with others, you are setting an example of what women are capable of, and how they should be perceived and treated. Each day you are making a small impact, and chipping away at a stereotype. Future generations will benefit from the impression you make every single day. Whether you know it or not, you are blazing a trail. For God’s sake, do it with pride, dignity, and intelligence.

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[image credit: quotes-lover.com]

Don’t Underestimate the Elderly

My landlady is 72 years old, and only 4 months out from heart surgery, and yet the first time I saw her, she was wearing short shorts, a tank top, and a half ton of jewelry. I’m convinced she’s in better shape than I am.  I think she’s delightful.

Back in the 80’s, I used to work in this mom and pop video rental store. (This was before Blockbuster came along and wiped them off the map.) Every week this little old lady would come in and rent 10 porn videos.  I used to think, “You give me hope for the future.”

I recently graduated from college with an 80 year old man who was getting his 10th degree.

The pastor of my church, in his late 60’s, rode his bicycle across America this summer to raise money for charity.

My next door neighbor, may she rest in peace, lived alone until she was 95, and loved it. She rode her bike 30 miles a day until she was 80. She only stopped because she was afraid she’d fall and break a hip. So after that, she walked her dogs several miles a day.

I was talking to an 83 year old woman about her new boyfriend. She said, “But no sex, honey. He has prostate issues.” I just love her!

I know a man in his 80’s who makes stained glass, takes math classes just for the heck of it, is the world’s greatest cook and can touch his toes before I even start to bend over.

I work full time with 5 people in their 70’s.

Before I moved recently, I attended a yoga class with 50 people. The average age in there must have been 75, and they could all “downward dog” me under the table. It was kind of embarrassing, to tell the truth.

After being faced with so many examples of amazing elderly people, I have to ask myself, “Why do I continue to be amazed?” Why can’t I get that stereotypical image of the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” woman out of my head? Clearly that stereotype does them a disservice. Yes, there are plenty of elderly people out there with health problems or dementia or an inability to care for themselves. But can you imagine how frustrating it must be for the ones I’ve described above to be discounted, ignored, or otherwise treated like a three year old child? I resolve, from this day forward, to approach every elderly person as if they were amazing, because more often than not, they are. Who’s with me?