April 12, 2014.
A trend became apparent to me today. Now that I think back I've come to the conclusion that I've never dealt with a single lock keeper that was an asshole. As best I can remember I don't recall a single lock keeper ever being short, rude, abrupt or less than helpful. They're always chipper, quick to answer, intelligible on the radio and even engaging. Its almost like they enjoy their job.
In general, my experience with bridge keepers is different. Don't get me wrong, we've crossed paths with dozens of bridge keepers that do their job in a professional yet friendly fashion. But there have been that half dozen or so bridge keepers that it wouldn't bother me if they got their head stuck in the closing bridge.
Some of them speak in an unintelligible series of grunts and monosyllabic tics that might pass for English in their inbred part of the world. I can't recount how many times Christy & I have looked at each other with raised eyebrows after listening to our “instructions” as passed down from the bridge tenders blockhouse. He wants us to what? “Bring a shopping cart to the deaf mans house?” I mean, when you call the bridge you already pretty much know what hes going to say but sometimes you get the feeling that you might have just received a radio skip from Saigon. WTH did he just say?
The weather kept us on the ICW from Charleston to Norfolk and we had a couple of these bullshit encounters. We arrived at one bridge early for its scheduled opening and called to tell him that we were standing by for his 0800 lift. Nothing. Okay. Christy tried again 10 minutes later but still received no response. Finally after we got close enough to the bridge to see the guys, face he called us and asked if we wanted an opening. Is he kidding? No, we're here for the culture. Christy told him we'd called him a few times and he told her that the guy he relieved had turned the volume on the VHF all the way down and he hadn't noticed so he didn't hear us. I guess all those pesky boaters interrupt his REM sleep so he's got to turn the radio down. Listening to the radio is like a cornerstone for that job. Surfing internet porn, playing online poker and watching television are just the perks. Christ.
And I don't think its a Southern vs. Yankee thing or a Locals vs. The World issue either. Yesterday we had 2 bridges 4 miles apart that both opened 30 minutes apart. If I could get through the first bridge in a timely fashion and firewall it we could get to the second bridge in 32 minutes. Or we could crawl the 30 miles and easily get there in an hour.
I explained to the tug and light (empty) barge that we were traveling with what I'd like to do and he gave us room to pass him just before the first bridge. We timed the opening perfectly and hit the gap at over 7 knots. After 20 minutes Christy called the next bridge and told him we'd be there at 1832. He expressed doubt that we'd be able to get through but we kept on. There was already a boat sitting there waiting for the lift so he's got to open anyway. First he's got to stop traffic, then lower the gates, then open the bridge and once the guy sitting there thinks hes got the room he'll pass through. If he thinks all thats gonna happen in less than 2 minutes then hes obviously never waited in a boat for a damn bridge to open.
Once the barge had eased through the bridge behind us he also got on the throttle. After we talked to the bridge tender the barge captain also got on the radio and told the tender that he would be there 2 minutes behind us. The bridge tender told him not to bother, that the bridge couldn't stay open for that much time and to just back it down. The captain came back with “we're through here twice a week and you're gonna close on us?”. The bridge tender said “You're not a red flag barge (carrying something explosive like jet fuel) and I don't have a reservation for you either”. (With a reservation barges can get an opening whenever the reservation is for) I'm thinking whats another minute for Christs sake. This is some dipshit back roads bridge with very little traffic. He did finally relent and just opened the bridge 2 minutes late so the barge could get through with the rest of us. It just rubbed me the wrong way how he made the barge captain ask for the favor. Like its going to be the crime of the century if Junior is 2 minutes late getting across the bridge to his moonshine still.
So I was thinking what makes these 2 groups of people with such similar jobs so different. Then it dawned on me. Its got to be the face to face contact aspect. The lock keeper is out next to your boat or barge and handles lines that you toss him. He's right there and meets the people that he's dealing with, they exchange pleasantries, they share the weather, they might even chat a bit. There’s also the possibility that if the lock keeper treated someone too poorly that person might just hop up off the boat and physically express their displeasure at the way they were spoken to. The bridge keepers don't have that concern. They just sit up in their tiny, grimy windowed blockhouse like some lunatic recluse in Idaho grumbling about all those damn boaters.
|Sunset over the lock at Great Bridge|