When someone gets hurt on a drawbridge and it’s determined that it’s the bridgetender’s fault, you’d think it would be a newbie who was at the controls. But no. It’s almost always an operator who has been on the job for many years.

If anything, someone new to the job tends to be hypervigilant. When you’re training someone, you can feel that person’s nervous energy radiating throughout the room. Newbies are like coiled springs. I’ve never tested this theory, but I’m fairly certain that if I were to walk up behind a new operator and say, “BOO!” that person would be clinging to the ceiling like a cartoon cat.

If you make it past your second day, you’re usually a keeper. You’ve seen how quiet and isolated it can be, and yet you’ve come back, so you can handle it. You’ve also seen how important it is that safety be your top priority, and you’ve chosen to take that responsibility on board. Welcome to the trenches!

After a while, you’ll start to relax. You’ll get the hang of things. You’ll know where things are. You’ll have experienced a few bridge malfunctions, and you and the bridge will have survived. You’ll get familiar with every creak and groan that your bridge makes, and what each one means. This is a good thing.

But now your real challenge begins. From here on out, you have to constantly battle complacency. Don’t get lazy. Laziness in this context can equal death. A little voice inside your head might start saying, “Why bother walking across the room to check that blind spot? No one is ever standing in that blind spot.” Or maybe you’ll start rushing from one step to the next. A bridge console should be played like Clair de Lune, not like the Minute Waltz.

You may not even realize you’re floating down that lazy river of complacency. I suspect it happens in increments. You slack off a tiny little bit, and it’s almost unnoticeable. And then a year later, you slack off even more. Before you know it, you’ve developed some really bad habits.

But on this job, laziness can kill someone. And the one time that you assume that no one is standing in that blind spot will be the one time that someone is standing in that blind spot. The bridge Gods can be cruel that way.

So every day when I come to work, I remind myself that what I do is important. Most people don’t even know I’m here, but I have their lives in my hands. That’s a heavy responsibility, and one I take very seriously.

And every day when I leave work in one piece, and no one who has crossed over or under my bridge has been harmed in any way, I give thanks. The biggest thanks I give is to myself for not having gotten complacent, and for never having forgotten why I’m here.

Avoid that lazy river of complacency.

4 thoughts on “Complacency

  1. Angiportus

    As one who has operated some other dangerous equipment…Agree 100%. I notice that most of the screwups or close calls I’ve had were when I was paying attention to x number of things but there were x + 1 going on.
    Stay safe.

  2. I thought of you when I walked up the staircase from the Burke-Gilman Trail onto the Fremont Bridge. Just then — bells and whistles! For the first time ever in my experience, I was on foot to stand right there and see the bridge open!

    I watched a couple of pedestrians on the Queen Anne side, duck under the barrier and they just kept on walking onto the bridge! Despite the warning that the bridge would open! I remembered what you said about the Fremont Bridge being a stressful job, with people/bikes/cars trying to race the bridge-opening.

    It was a Saturday when there was a Husky football game and then I realized that was why there was a steady stream of boats heading eastward toward the stadium. A busy day for the bridgetender!

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