Recently Katie Herzog, a writer for The Stranger, a favorite publication of mine, posted a photograph of a man climbing the wide open Ballard Drawbridge here in Seattle. Fortunately this is not something that happens every day, so yes, I agree it was noteworthy. But here’s where Ms. Herzog and I part company. She said, “Kudos mystery climber! Way to make the morning commute a little more fun.”
I’ve been opening drawbridges for almost 16 years. That photograph made me sick to my stomach. Someone tried this with me once, but I realized it rather quickly and aborted the opening, which caused a 2000 ton gravel barge quite a bit of panic, but prevented injury and potentially loss of life. My adrenaline pumped for several hours after that, and I literally went home and vomited.
I suggest that anyone who thinks that this little jaunt was “fun” should Google “Drawbridge” and “Death” some time. People have died on drawbridges. They are millions of pounds of lurching, shuddering concrete and steel that seem to bring out the worst in thrill-seekers. Not a day goes by when at least one fool climbs under the gates when I’m just about to open the span.
If “mystery climber” had fallen, he would have splattered all over the pavement. We’d be scraping him off the sidewalk with a shovel. Would that have made your commute more fun?
People wonder why the bridgetender didn’t see this guy. He was on the opposite side of the span from the operating tower. We do have cameras, but they can only see so much. The bridgetender would never have continued the opening if he had been aware this was happening. Not in a million years. Safety is our number one concern. Killing someone is not something that would be easy to live with. Personally, I don’t think I’d ever recover from that. And despite the fact that it was this climber’s choice to be a total idiot, if it happened on my watch I’d probably lose my job, and therefore my house and my car and… on and on.
As writers, we have a certain amount of influence, and therefore a great deal of responsibility to the public. Encouraging life threatening (and job threatening) behavior is a breach of that trust. I hope the Stranger’s post won’t entice anyone else to copy the mystery climber, or we might see a senseless tragedy.
Stay safe, people. Be smart.
Update: Whoa. Was wondering why my blog was getting so many visits. The Stranger responded to my tirade! http://www.thestranger.com/slog/2017/08/23/25370933/drawbridge-operator-takes-issue-with-the-strangers-coverage-of-a-drawbridge-incident