WORK. It's what we do, what we obsess over, celebrate, complain about, get paid for. We may call it Art, but it's still work. Particularly for creative types, where we do our work must have something to do with how it turns out, for better or worse - yet we rarely get to see behind the curtain.

We would like you to share something about your special place where creativity blooms. So where do you work?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

A River Runs Through It: Bridge-tending in the Delta

Paintersville Bridge, Sacramento Delta
 Rashid will tell you he has the easiest job in the world. He is a shy man, quiet, not prone to look you in the eye, and he likes his solitude. Rashid is a drawbridge operator in the Sacramento Delta. His job is to sit in the small, tidy shack hanging off the side of the bridge and wait for tall boats that may come up or downriver.

A boat captain will signal - either by phone or radio - and Rashid starts raising the bridge. It's a by-the-book process, starting with an alarm bell to stop auto traffic. Step by step, barricades are lowered, clearances confirmed, bolts unlocked, motors engaged and in a couple of minutes the bridge is raised to allow the yacht, high-masted schooner, barge or river boat to pass under.

 But most of the day is spent sitting and watching the river roll by. There's time for reading, writing or studying. There's also plenty of time for loafing, watching television and eating. It takes some discipline to avoid these temptations.The office is surprisingly pleasant, with clear view of the river and of the bridge roadway.

 Approaching the Paintersville bridge, I had romantic visions of writers like Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder or Jim Dodge sitting in lookout stations on Desolation Peak, in splendid isolation, creating their American classic novels and poetry. The difference with a bridge is that you are not exactly isolated. Every car or truck that crosses announces itself loudly and with plenty of vibration.

 The Cal Trans District 4 operates six bridges in the Sacramento/San Joaquin delta. Paintersville, Steamboat, Isleton, Mokoloumne, Rio Vista and the big gold beast in downtown Sacramento. Counties operate few more.Most of the delta bridges are the Bascule type. They pivot upwards, thanks to immense concrete counterbalances. A few are lift bridges or turn bridges - which operate exactly as they sound.
There is an undeniable appeal in the solitary profession of bridge-tender. Our world is overrun with data and congestion, over-saturated with complexity and multi-tasking. imagine the simplicity of walking down that narrow plank path to your little shack hanging off the side of a bridge, knowing you only have one direct, simple responsibility. That's something to day dream about while stuck in traffic, eh?