For 14 years, Barbara Abelhauser got up each day and went to work in an office. She hated her job, and finally, one day she quit, reasoning, “I could get hit by a bus tomorrow. And if that happens, I want to have woken up that day and not thought, ‘I don’t want to go to work.’ ”

Ortega tenderhouseHer next job was nothing like the one before; it didn’t require her to put on pantyhose or navigate tricky office politics—Barb became a bridgetender. Sitting in a booth called a tenderhouse (pictured at left) over the Ortega River in Jacksonville, Florida, she opened and closed the bridge to allow boats to pass from one side to the other. Her office now consisted of a console with buttons and the walls were so close that she couldn’t even fully stretch out her arms. But windows surrounded her and from her perch on top of the bridge she had “the most gorgeous view in the entire city.”

The bridge over the Ortega River requires that a bridgetender always be on duty, but that doesn’t mean that passersby were always aware of Barb’s presence. The position requires both patience and vigilance, and from her spot she became familiar with the people (joggers, fishermen and couples out for romantic strolls), and the animals (birds, manatee, and alligators), that spend their days on and around the bridge. She was “getting paid to stop and look.”

SC_ViewfromOrtegaWhen she took the job, Barb didn’t expect to be a bridgetender for more than a year, but for the next 14 years, she watched the sun rise and set on the river from the tenderhouse. She now documents her observations and experiences on her blog, “The View from a Drawbridge.” In 2014, Barb left Jacksonville and moved to Seattle, Washington, where she continues to bridgetend.

Barb came to StoryCorps with her friend, John Maycumber, to explain why she fell in love with her job.


Originally aired April 15, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

This story is featured in Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work, a collection that celebrate the passion, determination, and courage it takes to pursue the work we feel called to do.

Callings is now available from Penguin Books. Get the book at our neighborhood bookstore, Greenlight Bookstore, or find it at your local bookstore.

Photos courtesy of Barb Abelhauser