Montlake Bridge Raiser
It’s the ultimate corner office—the octagonal perch up the spiral stairs inside the south tower of the Montlake Bridge—and it’s staffed 24/7 by a rotating crew of five, who despite one scary-ass basement are not trolls. They are folks like former aluminum plant laborer and father of two Ryan Adams, whose job of opening the bridge kicks into gear when a boat topping 46 feet toots the one-long, one-short signal. That’s when he begins the dance of buttons and levers that closes the gates and opens the bridge.
And despite the fact that Adams can sometimes see fear on the faces of drivers crossing the 1925 span, he knows the bridge will never “accidentally” open up at the wrong time. No, the problems on this bridge are more prosaic—the deaf dog that leapt into the drink at Foster Island and couldn’t find a pawhold on the steep canal walls (Adams helped fish it out); the frat boys who every summer leap off in hazing rituals; the one or two drivers per year who use the four-minute bridge-raising delay to shout an epithet or flip him the bird.
And then there’s the tedium. Sure, the old tower is filled with vintage bridge-tender logs, that world-class view, even two bathrooms. But waiting for the action of a passing boat does exact a toll. “One day I was sitting here, and all of a sudden I heard this pop,” Adams smiles. “It was my sanity.” wsdot.gov
Car-Share Gas Man
There are 500 Smart Cars in Seattle’s Car2go fleet, parked on public streets around the city and waiting for members to walk up and rent them by the minute. And those 500 vehicles require a lot of babysitting—they need gas, charged batteries, cleaning, and sometimes a new parking spot. Johnny Grey is part of the 13-man team that roams the city to give the little cars personal TLC.
A central computer system tracks the location and status of each vehicle. Grey, who often works with a partner, pounces when a car is down to a quarter tank of gas and takes it to the closest station for a fillup. (Car-share customers have access to free gas cards and earn back rental time for filling the tank, but who does a Texaco run when you don’t have to?) If a block is too overrun with Car2gos, he relocates some. Grey also finds everything from wallets to family photos left behind, then uses the computer system to determine which renter needs the item returned.
Spiffing and buffing aside, Grey’s biggest role is as Car2go ambassador. Since member drivers park the vehicles on city streets, not lots, he has an audience for his ministrations. “Every day, everybody from teenagers to old people come by and ask ‘How does it work?’ ” he says. Grey stops his routine to let passersby sit in the tiny Smart Cars and explains the whole rent-by-the--minute system.
Grey has been on the service team since Car2go debuted late in 2012, and there’s one part of the job helped by Northwest rain: “We clean the outside of the cars, but thanks to Seattle rain—it makes our job easier.” car2go.com/en/seattle
Canlis Car Parker
There are no valet tickets at Canlis and no names used—customers simply drop their cars out in front of the Queen Anne icon, then emerge after dinner to see their vehicles reappear. It’s one of the restaurant’s signatures, and no one can figure out how they do it. Secret cameras? Memorization tricks? “Everyone calls it a secret system, but it’s strictly just remembering,” says co-owner Mark Canlis.
The first valet, Dick Sprinkles, just had a really good memory, so he never used tickets when he started in 1950. Now Sprinkles’s onetime protege Shawn Leuckel operates the valet service as a contractor and still doesn’t use tickets. After 30 years on the job, Leuckel knows to look for visually oriented people to join the team; movie buffs do well at keeping track of the 90-some-odd cars in play every night. Rain and wind make it harder, as does the parking-lot Tetris that moves cars around the cramped lot throughout the night.
“A customer will say, ‘What’s your magic?’ Like there’s some big secret,” says Leuckel. Other restaurants ask if they can adopt his system only to be told there’s no shortcut to the seamless service. “If you’ve got a better way, let me know. This is really hard.” canlis.com
Express Lane Switcher
Every day the middle lanes of I-5 through Seattle shunt traffic south, then north, changing with rush hours. But who reverses the state’s busiest road? It happens at the Traffic Management Center in Shoreline, where 26 video screens are arranged in a space that resembles the bridge of the starship Enterprise. They show some 246 camera views of I-5—exits and on-ramps, express lanes and mainline. In -Captain Kirk mode most days is Maan Sidhu, a freeway operations engineer who presides over the express-lane switchup.
Though the occasional rogue vehicle will miss the red flashing “Do Not Enter” memo—a Metro bus has slipped through or, infrequently, a damn fool will crash through the plywood gates blocking the Northgate entrance—Sidhu and his team typically make the switch look graceful as choreography. At 10:45am he methodically begins closing southbound on-ramp access, consulting each camera before electronically setting signs to “Do Not Enter”; the graduated gates swing out gently as a suggestion. An incident-response guy in a truck chases the last cars onto the off-ramps and Sidhu presses buttons to open northbound entrances.
Until state funding brought automation, the changes were wrought manually by a truck crew driving exit to exit, flipping switches. It’s easier and safer now—but Sidhu, ever the traffic engineer, still enjoys it. wsdot.gov