On this day back in 2001 I operated a drawbridge for the very first time. It was kind of a strange time to be a bridgetender, because 9/11 was only 6 days past, and everyone was nervous and confused and angry and afraid. And we weren’t sure if it was over. And bridges make great targets.
When I walked on the bridge, the first thing that struck me was that the tenderhouse swayed as the traffic passed beneath it. I wasn’t expecting that. It kind of made me a little sea sick at first. Now I hardly notice. In fact, think it would feel kind of strange to work in a place that didn’t move after all these years.
Instinctively I knew it was important to hide my fear of heights from my coworkers. It’s a respect thing. If they had known I had to fight off a panic attack every time I climbed those metal-grated stairs that were suspended 80 feet above the river, I’d have never been taken seriously. Now I rarely think about it. I trust my bridge and I trust myself.
I was definitely not made to feel welcome. As a trainee I worked with two other operators. One of the first things that was said to me was, “How did you get this job when so many of us are begging for hours?” I replied that I had no idea, but that I wasn’t going anywhere. The other bridgetender did not speak to me for the entire 8 hour shift. (I later discovered that a piss-poor attitude was pretty much her default position, so I learned not to take it personally.)
And at some point I was informed by a supervisor at the Florida Department of Transportation that women should not be bridgetenders. Ah, but I was very familiar with the State of Florida’s 1950-esque organizational mindset. It was the reason I was now a bridgetender with a private contractor in the first place. After being a state employee for 14 years, I was sick of the office politics, the ignorance, the drama, the misogyny, the dress code, the rock-bottom morale, and the prejudice. I was looking for some drawbridge Zen.
Even so, I told myself I’d just take a 6 month drawbridge break to get myself back to a less cynical mind frame, and then I’d plunge right into the state bs again for the better pay and benefits. And yet here I am, 15 years later, with no regrets.
Somewhere along the way I lifted my head and realized that I was exactly where I needed to be. I no longer woke up every single morning thinking, “Ugh! I don’t want to go to work!” My stress level was greatly reduced. I was learning to breathe again, to look around me, and to appreciate the things that I hadn’t had time to take in before.
Somewhere along the way, my bridges healed me. They allowed me to cross over to a much better shore. They let me become who I was supposed to be.