I’ve got to confess, I’ve visited the NPR website, where you can find my interview, about a billion times. I’m proud of it (except for the horrible picture in which I weigh about 50 pounds more than I do now). The page also allows for comments, and I’ve participated in those quite a bit, too. It’s been fun to connect with people.
Some of the comments there sparked an interesting discussion. The theory was posed that it makes no sense to stick a “human in a tiny room to literally look out a window and push a button for an 8+ hour shift.” And he goes on to say that this “is the kind of inane cruelty only the State could come up with.”
This amused me quite a bit, because the whole point of the story was that I love my job. Absolutely love it. So how is it cruel? Yes, it isn’t for everybody. The isolation drives some people insane, and they quit after two days. But this job was made for me, and I can no longer imagine doing anything else.
Also, this person has a very, VERY oversimplified concept about what bridgetending entails. If you Google “drawbridge” and “death”, you’ll get some very interesting hits that will demonstrate just how important it is to take this job seriously.
We are responsible for the safety of boaters, drivers, bicyclers and pedestrians, many of whom take insane risks around what is essentially about a million pounds of moving steel and concrete. A machine can’t make independent decisions regarding an unpredictable number of variables. On a daily basis, I’m shown that warning bells and lowering gates is not enough to deter people.
And the operation is a lot more complex than pushing a single button. I wish life were that easy. Also, I am expected to maintain and inspect the machinery, report malfunctions, communicate with vessels, contact first responders, write reports, observe and report on some of the most bizarre incidents, and make hundreds of independent decisions a day that mean the difference between life and death as well as the difference between efficient flow of millions of dollars of cargo and financial ruin. I also have to carefully coordinate openings so as not to back traffic up for miles, all while following Coast Guard federal regulations as well as the policies and procedures of my employer.
Not only am I proud of what I do, but I genuinely think it’s vital. No automated system can ensure your life and health as well as a human can. As a reminder, I leave you with this photo of the woman who ignored the multiple warning signals on an automated bridge.