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)
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