How to Piss Off a Bridgetender

I have spent a great deal of time writing about how much I love my job. I really do. I swear I do. Just… not today.

Perhaps it’s because we are marinating in the last, bitter dregs of the holiday season, and everyone is getting cranky. Perhaps I’m the bitter one, because everyone is out on the water, celebrating in their Christmas light bedecked boats, and I’m stuck in this poorly insulated tower, alone, and will never own a boat. Perhaps my nerves are on edge due to political dread, or because I haven’t really seen the sun in weeks. I don’t know. But I’m in a foul mood.

I think everyone should be allowed to vent once in a while, even those of us who realize that in the overall scheme of things, we have a great deal to be grateful for. So fasten your seat belts. I’m about to rant all over you.

After 15 years as a bridgetender, I think I’ve pretty much seen it all. But here are some of the more annoying things that come up time and time and freakin’ time again. It’s enough to make me turn into a bridge troll.

I shall divide my rants up into the various forms of stupidity involved, just for clarity’s sake.

Boater Stupidity

  • You wouldn’t buy a very expensive car and hop into it without knowing the rules of the road, would you? Well, a distressing number of boaters seem to do this. If you have achieved enough financial success to own a vessel, kindly take the time to know what the hell you are doing. The life you save could be mine, or that of someone else.
  • If you can afford a boat, you can afford to invest in a working marine radio and learn how to use it. First of all, this isn’t a convoy. We don’t use “10-4” or any of the other 10 codes. And if you call me and have your own volume turned down, I can respond all day long and you’re not going to hear me. Don’t blame me for that.
  • My voice isn’t that deep. Why do you assume I’m a “sir”?
  • Do not call me on the phone. This isn’t a date. Contact me via the CORRECT horn signals (which you’d know if you read the Coastguard regulations), or call me on the radio.
  • Be polite. I’m not your servant or your minion. If you “demand” an opening “immediately upon” your arrival, there is nothing on earth that will be more apt to tempt me to make you paddle in circles for a while. As in all other parts of your life, you’ll be amazed at how far a simple “please” and “thank you” will get you.
  • Don’t tie up the radio with unimportant chatter. Someone could be sinking out there.
  • Know your mast height. A shocking number of boats don’t actually require a bridge opening. Operating a bridge costs the taxpayer money. And slowing down street traffic for no good reason is never appreciated.
  • Know where the hell you are. You should get charts, but even a Rand McNally map is better than nothing. The other day, I had boats calling me the Ravenna Drawbridge and the Washington Drawbridge, neither of which exists in Seattle.
  • And just calling me “drawbridge” doesn’t work, either. There are often several drawbridges within the sound of your radio. And no bridgetender, to my knowledge, can read your mind.
  • All drawbridges are bound by the Coastguard Federal Regulations. This means that many of us have time periods in which we cannot open for most boaters. Don’t argue with me about it. That won’t change anything. And don’t take it personally. I was not put on this earth to make you late for your golf game.
  • And by the way, if you’re on a sailboat, why on earth are you so impatient? You. Are. On. A. Sailboat.
  • This isn’t my first rodeo. If you ask for an opening and I tell you that I’ll start it upon your approach, continue your approach. I’m timing it based on your rate of speed. If you come to a dead halt before I’ve opened the bridge, that will just make the time the bridge has to stay open for you that much longer. Your lack of consideration backs up traffic for miles. Surprise! The world does not revolve around you.
  • Don’t call me for an opening when you’re still 10 minutes away. I can think of a million things I’d rather do than stand at the operating console, idly waiting for you to show up.
  • Don’t assume I’m asleep. It’s insulting. I’m never asleep. I’m a professional.
  • It is every bit as illegal to operate a boat while intoxicated as it is to operate a car in that condition. When you are drunk, I cannot effectively communicate with you. Ineffective communication on the water can be deadly.

Automotive Stupidity

  • The average drawbridge opening is only 4 ½ minutes long. And you knew you were taking a route that took you over a drawbridge. So there’s no reason to throw a tantrum when you have to wait while a drawbridge opens.
  • There’s also no reason to do a u-turn. By the time you take your detour, that 4 ½ minutes will have passed. It’d be far more pleasant for you to just step out of your car for a minute and enjoy the scenery. Life’s too short.
  • Turn off your engine. Why pollute the atmosphere, when it’s been proven that idling more than 30 seconds is much less fuel efficient than turning your car off and restarting it again?
  • You can honk at me all you want. It’s not going to make the bridge opening go any faster.
  • Rude gestures just make you look like a jerk.
  • When the bridge closes and there’s a pause before the traffic gates go up, it’s not that I’m up here picking my nose. The bridge locks are being driven beneath the street. Just because you don’t see anything happening doesn’t mean nothing is happening. Hold your freakin’ horses.

Bicycle and/or Pedestrian Stupidity

  • If you see lights flashing and/or hear gongs, that means STOP. Don’t cross the drawbridge. It does NOT mean stop halfway across the bridge to take a selfie. It doesn’t mean stand there and take in the view. It doesn’t mean slow down. And it certainly doesn’t mean that you should crawl under the gates. The rules apply to everyone, including you, and they’re there for your safety.
  • Barges can’t slam on the brakes. You need to get out of the way.
  • Cursing at me won’t speed up the opening any more than honking at me does.
  • Projectiles are not appreciated. People in Seattle don’t throw as many eggs and rocks and beer bottles and tomatoes as the people in Florida did. But I’ve never been in a bridge tower anywhere in the country that hasn’t been shot at at least once. What have I ever done to you that merits my death or injury?
  • Please don’t vandalize the bridge. We are proud of it. And many of your fellow citizens are, too. Also, please don’t vandalize my car. I’ve done nothing to you except work hard to ensure that you are safe.
  • Climbing over an opening drawbridge might look cool in the movies, but it can get you killed. And I’ll be the one who has to carry that for the rest of my life. Be a daredevil someplace else.
  • There is nothing more terrifying than being all alone, and going into one of the machinery rooms below the street only to find that someone has broken in and is still there. And it happens just enough to make me jumpy. Can you just… not? If you’re curious, ask for a tour.

Hoooo! I feel cleansed! Now, back to work.

But don’t get me wrong. The vast majority of the boaters, drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians are polite, friendly and easy to deal with. I only wish the rest were as cooperative and pleasant. Bridgetenders really do care about all of you. That’s why we’re here, doing what we do. So you’ll have to forgive me if I sometimes get irritated that there are a few out there who don’t care as much as we do.

Oh, and did I mention? It’s my birthday.

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17 thoughts on “How to Piss Off a Bridgetender

  1. We walked… and drove… on the Golden Gate bridge yesterday. I was going to try to piss off all the bridge tenders… but they aren’t there… we switched over to automatic toll payments with cameras and transponders… another way to piss bridge tenders off, I guess. Make them do something else. HA!

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