April 2, 2020

A unique view of the city during a pandemic

By Lead Bridge Operator Aysha Ghazoul

Aysha Ghazoul
Lead Bridge Operator Aysha Ghazoul
During a pandemic, I cannot think of a better or safer job to have than being a Bridge Operator.  We always work alone. The only communication you have with the outside world is through technology, and if you choose to chat with someone down on the roadway, they are at least 30 feet away from you. In fact, the only person we see these days is the next operator coming on duty which now happens on the roadway outside the bridge tower. The towers are too small to provide physical distancing for two people.

I recently worked on the Morrison and Hawthorne Bridges. Usually, both bridges are bustling with activity. The Morrison Bridge always has cars rushing by the tower as they exit from the freeway, and plenty of pedestrians and cyclists who enjoy the views. There are thousands of crows who come home to roost at sunset and fly off to “work” at sunrise. 

The Hawthorne Bridge is a less chaotic and more delicate bridge, where vehicle traffic is less but people are more. Staffed 24/7, this bridge is the eye in the sky for all the other bridges and a constant presence watching over the city.

And yet, this week it all changed. I first noticed how quiet everything was, even the crows seemed a little quieter, probably wondering where all the humans were. There is usually a constant din coming from downtown and yet, there was nothing more than a peaceful lull. It felt as though all of downtown had “closed shop.” 

The view from the Hawthorne Bridge was so different and unexpected. To the south, there was Tom McCall Waterfront Park, where people are usually lying on the grass, throwing sticks into the river for their dogs, and hanging out on the benches. And yet, on this day, I could not spot a single person.

Then I looked north, toward Salmon Street Springs, where you’re guaranteed to spot a herd of joggers running along the waterfront, parents pushing children in strollers, and cyclists trying to swerve around it all. Yet again, to my surprise, I could not find even one person.

Bridge maintenance staff also did a test lift, which usually backs up traffic. But when they went to release traffic after the bridge opening, there was no traffic to release.

It is indeed a strange time for all of us. But while the city seems to have gone to sleep, our jobs as bridge operators change very little. We still watch the river, we watch the roads, we watch the sidewalks, and we make sure everything and everyone is flowing as it should, even if sometimes there is no one else to see it except for ourselves.