Why It’s Bad to Beat the Bridge

There’s a really fantastic fundraiser that has happened every spring for 37 years here in Seattle. It’s called Beat the Bridge to Beat Diabetes. It’s sponsored by Nordstrom to benefit JDRF, formerly known as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. It’s a run/walk/fun run that starts at University of Washington’s Husky Stadium and ends at University Bridge, the drawbridge I just happen to operate. This year it will be held tomorrow, May 19th.

I am thrilled that so many people get behind this very worthy cause. I’m also gratified when we can come together in a large group and be a force for good. What I’m not thrilled about, however, is the tradition of beating this bridge.

At the end of this race, at exactly 8:50, I will be raising the bridge. If you haven’t crossed it by then, you haven’t beaten it. But it’s actually fun not to beat it, because there’s a live band and entertainment while you wait.

Here’s the thing, though. I have operated 9 different bridges in 3 different states, and I’ve never, ever seen such a tradition of drawbridge risk taking as I’ve seen on the drawbridges that span the ship canal here in Seattle.

Every single day, I see pedestrians ignoring the warning bells and the flashing lights in order to cross my bridge as I’m preparing to open it for a vessel that can’t slam on its brakes and has no option for a detour. I’ve seen people standing center span, taking selfies, while a 2000 ton gravel barge is bearing down on them. I’ve even had people attempt to cross this bridge when it has already started to rise. I’ve had people climb under the gates and approach the million pounds of moving concrete and steel that could crush them like a bug with no concern at all for their life or limbs, simply because they’re impatient for it to close. Someone actually climbed up the fully opened Ballard Bridge, and the local paper, The Stranger, reported on it as if it were a big joke.

If you were to Google Death and Drawbridges, you’d quickly see that playing around on drawbridges is no laughing matter. People get killed on drawbridges every year, and it’s usually due to their own foolish behavior. Fortunately it hasn’t happened in Seattle yet, but I have no idea why, other than the extreme professionalism of the bridgetenders here. Still, I suspect that it’s only a matter of time.

I’m not trying to say that the Beat the Bridge fundraiser is solely responsible for the behavior of Seattleites, but I’m sure it doesn’t help. Additional factors are the use of ear buds and cell phones, which greatly reduce attentiveness; the fact that we have so many institutions of higher education in the area, full of young adults who think they’re immortal; and the cultural standard of this city that encourages people to break rules and live unique, sometimes reckless lives.

It would be wonderful to see Nordstrom partner up with Seattle Department of Transportation for future Beat the Bridge events, and allow them to have a table that promotes bridge safety. It could be manned by bridge operators that could answer questions about the bridges, because the public is naturally curious about them. The general message could be, “It’s okay to beat the bridge this morning, for this worthy cause. But please don’t beat it the rest of the year!” I think this is a public relations opportunity that SDOT should not ignore.

So yes, that will be me, tomorrow, raising the University Bridge promptly at 8:50 am, as hundreds of joggers run toward it. I’ll be doing it for a good cause. And while I’m not speaking for all of SDOT, please know that even as I do this, I’ll also be gritting my teeth.

Stay safe everybody. That’s what matters most.

Beat the Bridge

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The Mines on Tiger Mountain

My strange work schedule as a bridgetender for the City of Seattle means that I miss out on a lot of interesting events. Recently, my husband had the opportunity to experience some unique Pacific Northwest history, and I felt that it was worth blogging about. As I didn’t share the experience, and because, frankly, I need a day off from this blog every once in a while, he offered to write about it for me. So what follows comes from my husband, Cris.

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Hopefully, most kids get a back yard to play in as they grow up, whether it’s the confines of their fenced yard at home, a park in the neighborhood, or the hundred-acre wood where Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh played. From the time I was ten until I moved out to a college dorm, my back yard was a forest owned by the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company. It extended for miles across Tiger Mountain, just south of Issaquah, Washington. There was plenty of room for discovery, and since it was mostly enjoyed by me, or in the company of a few friends, it became whatever we wanted to call it.  Each clearing, trail or landmark was given a name, and family and friends always knew what and where we were talking about.

The years continue to zip past. The land is now the 13,745 acre Tiger Mountain State Forest, enjoyed by countless people. My network of friends and associates has far surpassed what it was when I spent the day in a classroom, tree fort, or fishing at Fifteen Mile Creek.

Recently I discovered the Issaquah History Museum was hosting a mine tour, and I recognized the photo as one of those landmarks in my back yard. The photo that caught my eye was an old mine shaft into the side of the hill, with a stream of water the color of burnt orange flowing out. That water has poured from the hillside in a ceaseless flow for as long as I can remember, although the cave now has a lattice of timbers in place to prevent reckless people from entering.

So, almost forty-nine years after moving into the forest, I attended a tour in the backyard of where my mom still lives, in the house we built with our bare hands, using the lumber milled from trees on our property. My goal was to listen and learn and discover some of the truth as told by others, as much of early Issaquah history includes coal mining. And what I learned was indeed fascinating.

After Weyerhaeuser did a land swap with the Department of Natural Resources, and the land became a state forest, the DNR and the US Department of the Interior, Office of Surface Mining did their best to seal off the mines to prevent access and accidents. One that I had once walked about fifty feet into was filled with liquid Styrofoam, a particularly non-ecological method that is no longer used. (Think of the expanding foam known as “great-stuff”.)

But the USDI only wanted to seal legitimate mines, and the one I recognized in the photo was also part of a stock scam, so they found a loophole in their guidelines and chose to exclude that one from being decommissioned. However, it’s still a state forest with lots of public access, so it fell upon the DNR to seal up the mine entrance.

On the tour, I learned about the stock scam. An investor named Raymond Carr claimed to have purchased the rights on Tiger Mountain and named the mine after his wife Caroline. It produced enough coal to provide the appearance of production, and in 1932 Mr. Carr sold $200,000 worth of stock in the mine to people on the east coast of the United States. To his downfall, he also sold $200 worth to a Dr. Malcolm Wise on nearby Mercer Island. The Doctor was excited to own a portion of a coal mine that was less than twenty miles from his home, so he visited the mine. That’s how he discovered that Mr. Carr had no rights to sell stock. The State Securities Department got involved, and the local lawsuit opened the flood gates to the lawsuits from the east coast.

The mine did actually produce coal for several years, but another nearby coal mine a half mile further up the trail was operated to greater success by a company from Montana and was called the Bear Creek Yards Mine.  As a kid I knew that mine because the steel rails for the coal cars still came out of the mountainside and extended in an airborne loop over the collapsing hillside above where I’d hike and fish for cutthroat trout in Fifteen Mile Creek.

Mine - Bear Creek Yards.jpg

On the tour, we continued our walk beyond the Caroline mine, and several hundred feet further along the trail, our tour guide stopped along a crumbling hillside that I’d climbed dozens of times in my youth. At the top of the hill, among the layers of shale we would find rocks embedded with amber. Rock-hounds from near and far, following the lead in their guidebooks, would come searching for this amber, and the road to this location just happened to cross our property. For obvious reasons this hill was known to the family and friends as Amber Hill.

Our tour guide asked if we could guess why nothing grows on the hillside of exposed rock, and naturally we guessed that it was because of the shale. He then explained that just a few inches below the surface is a concrete cap that sealed off the air shaft to the Caroline mine. What?!  It should have occurred to me that there was a solid reason why nothing grew on that slope; nature reclaims everything in that forest, and it swiftly overgrows and covers everything. And it turns out that there’s a concrete reason!

Amber Hill.jpg

Just as the mine itself was draining water from the hillside, so did that airshaft while it was uncovered. Apparently the water flowing from both hillside openings was so great at the time that in order to bring coal from the Bear Creek Yards Mine, they needed to build a bridge to cross both the outflows. But concrete was plentiful at mine projects and bridges were expensive, so the decision was made to seal the upper cave entrance and build just one bridge.

The other discovery made on my backyard tour was that a high profile crime was related to the Caroline Mine. For the entire story of the Weyerhaeuser kidnapping, you can visit this site. It seems that after days of being driven around the western states, the 9-year-old heir to the family fortune was left tied up in the guard shack at the mine. When he escaped, he followed the road out of the forest, and his trail to freedom crossed the property where I grew up.

I know that there is always more to learn, but it was especially rewarding to spend two hours on a springtime Saturday learning so much about the back yard where I grew up on Tiger Mountain.

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What Makes Home?

The other day, I was settling down for an afternoon nap. My dog Quagmire was curled up beside me, and I could hear my husband doing something or other on the opposite side of the house. The sounds of home. How lucky am I?

I do feel at home in my home, thank goodness, and with my husband and my dogs, and at work… but to be honest, I still don’t feel at home in the Pacific Northwest, even though I’ve been here nearly 5 years. People confuse me out here. I don’t understand them. And the weather is strange. And I still don’t know my way around. When people talk about small towns in another part of the state, I don’t know where they are. All these things make me feel like an outcast.

So the question is, what makes home? What follows are my stream of consciousness thoughts on the subject. (Special thanks to Cris, Ray, and Martin for ideas.) It’s a dense topic. And, spoiler alert, I don’t think I’ve managed to fully define it, but here goes…

Home is familiarity. It’s knowing where everything is, and also knowing alternate routes to that place. I think GPS has punked me in this regard. I no longer have a full map in my head. I don’t know where places are in relationship to other places anymore.

To help me with this, my husband has hung a local map in the garage for me. It has made a difference. But I really need to stop being lazy by relying on a mechanical voice to get me to my destination. I need to get some sense of context.

Home is also being able to make your way around in the dark without stubbing your toe.

But it’s not just familiarity, because I knew my way around Jacksonville, Florida, and there was a sense of relief there, a sense of predictability, but I don’t miss it, and if I never go back again it wouldn’t upset me overmuch. I miss my friends, I miss the fried chicken, I miss bodies of water that are warm enough to swim in, and I miss a few other places, but I don’t miss the city at all.

Home is what you’re used to. I’m used to flat land and straight roads that are on a grid pattern. If that’s what I need to feel at home, I’ll never feel that way in the curvy, hilly, mountainous state of Washington.

Home is knowing what neighborhoods you can walk through after dark. Back to familiarity again. But maybe there’s a feeling of safety wrapped up in it.

It’s recognizing the priorities, the politics, and the culture of the place where you are. Is it where everyone shares your politics? If so, we’re all screwed these days. But I must say I feel a lot more politically at ease in Seattle than I ever did in Florida.

Home is knowing the history of your location. I’m working on that.

Home is what makes you feel normal. It’s what you expect. I’m definitely not there yet. But I’m not sure that I’ve ever felt completely normal.

What is so un-homelike about where one is living that so many people are willing to leave everything they’ve ever known and relocate to another part of the planet? What’s missing? Why do they think they’ll find it elsewhere?

Do nomads ever feel at home? Is home where your yurt is? Does home reside in the people you love? I’m loved out here. And I’m at home in my house. But then I drive away from it, and I’m back to feeling like I’m in a foreign country again.

Is it a sense of belonging? Is it being made to feel welcome? Is it having a restaurant where you can say, “I’ll have the regular,” and they know what you mean? Is it being worthy of the gossip of your neighbors? (God, I hope not.)

I always felt at home in Western North Carolina. Even the very first time I stepped foot in the area when I was 17. Whenever I am there, it feels like I can exhale. Like I can breathe. The mountains embrace me. I can sleep, knowing the crickets and fire flies mean me no harm. But why? Why that place?

If all you ever knew was prison, would you consider that home? Is home where you’re resigned to your fate?

How can one person’s home be someone else’s hell?

Home is a feeling, more than a place. Because you can feel at home in more than one place.

Is it an emotion? It’s not happiness. Because you can be sad at home. Is it contentment? Contentment is fleeting for me, albeit highly appreciated when it comes around.

And I think home takes time. I never feel at home at first. I can’t even sleep the first night in a hotel room. But jeez, how much time does it take?

The craziest thing about home is that everyone will have a different definition of what that is.

I know it’s more than the house you live in. It’s your community, your region, your environment, your loved ones. It’s the place where you’re accepted as you are. It the place you can find your way back to.

Home is your comfort zone. But what causes you to feel like you’re in that zone?

I love to travel, but I can never 100 percent relax while I’m doing it, and after a few weeks, I want to go home. Home is where you can rest. I can’t completely rest here. And I want to be able to. So I need to figure out what makes home for me.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject, dear reader.

Home

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EcoSikh

I was feeling a little blue today about the state of the world, so I sought solace in The Good News Network. It always reminds me that not all news has to leave me feeling hopeless. That’s how I came across this uplifting article entitled Sikhs Are Celebrating the Birth of Their Beloved Founder by Planting 1 Million Trees in 2019.

There’s a large community of Sikhs in my town, and I have a great deal of respect for them, because they’ve always treated me with respect. Isn’t that how all human beings should treat one another? You’d think that would be obvious.

Unfortunately, since 2016, hate has been ramping up in America, to the point where one Sikh man in my town was in his driveway, working on his car and minding his own business, when a man approached him and said, “Go back to your own country,” and shot him in the arm. (Read the Seattle Times article here.) That’s scary.

My instinct in these situations is to try to learn more about people, not remain ignorant. Ignorance is where hate resides. So whenever I see anything about the Sikh culture, I read it with great interest.

After reading the above-mentioned article, I was drawn to the EcoSikh website, and yes indeed, 1 million trees is the goal, and Sikh communities the world over are taking part in it. Since the majority of Sikhs live in Punjab, India, every village there is dedicating themselves to planting 550 trees. Can you imagine? New forests are being planted! And Sikhs in Australia, England, Kenya, Canada and the US are on board as well.  And each group is making an effort to only plant trees native to their area. I find this really exciting.

Any group that has such a love for our planet is alright by me. May they succeed in their mission. I have planted a tree or three in my lifetime, so on this Earth Day, and indeed every other day, I stand with the Sikhs.

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People Have to Live Somewhere

Every single day, I commute past tent encampments for the homeless here in Seattle. When I first came out here, I found this shocking. I came from Jacksonville, Florida, and I had never seen anything quite like this. You’d think the Florida climate would be more amenable to homelessness, but no. The West Coast experiences much more of it than the East Coast does, according to most homeless counts. It disturbs me greatly that I’m getting used to the sight of these encampments. The shock is gone. The sadness remains.

I’ve got a few theories, now, as to why there’s such a difference from one coast to the other. First, of course, is that living out here is about 3 times more expensive than it is in Jacksonville. A lot more of us, here, teeter on the brink of financial ruin. Second, there are fewer places to hide such encampments. While Seattle has a much lower population than Jacksonville, it’s much more densely packed. There are not huge swaths of woods in which one can disappear. Third, I suspect we’re a good deal more tolerant out here. I know for a fact that the Jacksonville police tend to drive people out to the county line and dump them, making them continually walk the 20 or 30 odd miles back to civilization in the oppressive heat, without food or water.

That county line solution is just cruel. People have to live somewhere. Every creature on this planet does. It’s not a homeless problem. It’s a home problem. And it isn’t new.

A friend of mine shared with me this photo of Seattle’s Hooverville from the 1930’s. After reading about it on historylink.org, the amazing free online encyclopedia of Washington state history (specifically here and here), I discovered that this photo only captures about half the shantytown that existed there at the time, and there were others scattered about as well. The conditions were appalling. People built shacks out of whatever they could find. The city burned them down twice before they recognized the futility of it all. People have to live somewhere.

Incidentally, that Hooverville is not far from where Starbucks corporate headquarters now stands. Irony, anyone? And as long as REITS (Real Estate Investment Trusts) are allowed to exist, giving the richest among us the ability to make huge profits from housing, thus artificially inflating rents, this problem will only get worse.

When I get off work at 11pm, on my way home, I often see an old man with a walker standing by the stop sign at the end of my highway exit ramp. He holds a sign that says, “Homeless veteran. Please help.” The cynical side of me thinks about all the stories one hears about people making very good money through panhandling, and the stories about how some people want to be homeless. But this guy… I’ve seen him out there at midnight, in the pouring rain, in 35 degree temperatures. No financial return or lust for a freewheeling life can explain that.

The man needs help. And I feel very inadequate to the task. I couldn’t even help one person for more than a few days. And there are just so many out there. I don’t know what to do.

Sometimes I resent this man. He doesn’t let me forget. He doesn’t give me the peace to drive home to my nice house at the end of my shift and climb into my hot tub and forget.

But then I realize that he probably would like to forget, too.

Seattle Hooverville

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I Flew!!!!

I’ve always been intrigued by the concept of skydiving. I think it would be a liberating, heart-pounding adventure. I could jump out of a plane. I could fall. What gives me pause is the moment when you pull the ripcord and your parachute opens and you get yanked abruptly upward. That’s a problem.

Many years ago I had a herniated disc, and the pain was excruciating for many, many months. I tried everything, and nothing was working, until I found acupuncture, and that saved me from a lifetime of sitting around and weeping in pain. But that abrupt parachute yank could easily cause a herniated disc. This is also why I refuse to try bungee jumping, and no longer roller skate or ice skate. It’s the abrupt halts in life that I dread.

But then I discovered that there’s a way to skydive without the yank. Indoor skydiving is fun and exciting, sans parachute. My unbelievably supportive husband gave me a gift certificate to iFly Seattle for my birthday, and I’ve just been waiting for an opportune time to take advantage of it.

Finally the time was right, and oh my God, it was awesome!!!!!! I felt so free. And my instructor said I was a natural. It wasn’t at all scary, even though I was leaping into a vertical wind tunnel. I felt like I had been doing it all my life. I took two flights that day, and it wasn’t until I was done that I noticed that my heart was pounding. But it was exhilaration, not terror. I can’t wait to do it again!

The only downside is that I think gravity will always feel slightly strange and a bit of a nuisance now. But that’s a small price to pay for this incredible experience. Check out this video of my second flight!

 

If for some reason you are unable to see the video, here, at least, is a still picture.

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The Blooming

There’s something about flowers that has always intrigued me. Their beauty. Their aroma. The way they are created from basically nothing, serve their gorgeous purpose, and then quietly disappear, only to re-emerge again in their next season. Flowers mark the passage of time on the world’s clock.

That, and their sex organs are proudly, colorfully, elegantly on display. No shame. No excuses. Nothing conservative about the pistil and stamen. When bathed in that scent, designed to do nothing but attract, I am sometimes overwhelmed by the sheer force of nature, the astounding instinct to continue living.

This was the attitude I brought to the glorious blooming of the cherry blossom trees at the University of Washington. I stood in their midst and just inhaled, allowing the pure luxury of being amongst them wash over me.

I wasn’t even bothered by the drone flying overhead, because I knew its footage would be unforgettable, And I was right. Here it is, on Youtube.

Life. What a gift.

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