Under the Bridge

In the Cincinnati metropolitan area where we live, seven bridges span the Ohio River that separates Ohio from Kentucky. So what I am about to tell may not be as easy to identify with if you live in a land-locked city.

Over the past couple of years I have struck up conversations with homeless people in downtown Cincinnati. A question I often ask the individual is “Where do you live?”  I get several answers from “I just got out of jail” to a shrug of the shoulders.

But the most common answer is “under the bridge.”  A specific bridge is not mentioned—just under the bridge.  I believe they are giving me more than a geographic location. This is a way of telling me their situation in life is at rock bottom. There is usually a tone of resignation when they give me that answer.

We all probably have times in our lives when we feel like we live under the bridge. A setback or life-changing event sends us reeling. We stagger, wondering how we can get out from “under the bridge.” 

Even though you may be figuratively living under the bridge, you know that things will change. Just thinking of people that literally live under the bridge may help you pull out of the doldrums with a different perspective on your own situation.

No Shortcuts

When I was a little boy, I often took the path through a field to my grandmother’s house. It was much quicker than the gravel road. That shortcut worked well for me. But in life there are no shortcuts.

I learned this the hard way as a junior in college home for the summer. A friend of ours owned a vending company and hired me to fill in when the regular delivery men were on vacation during the summer.

I prided myself on learning my routes quickly and being able to refill the candy, cigarettes, chewing gum, and coffee machines efficiently.

The machines had a simple way of working. Each kind of candy had a vertical series of shelves that would drop when the appropriate coin would be deposited in the machine. When all the shelves had dropped down, the machine was out of candy. My job was to refill them after hitting a button to stabilize the small shelves to be filled with candy or peanuts. Often the entire column of candy would not be empty. I was supposed to take the remaining peanuts or candy and move them down to be the first to drop when a lever was pulled. As a shortcut to save time I did not do this. Eventually the candy or peanuts at the top would grow stale.

Customers complained to the office staff, and the owner called me into his office and read me the riot act. (He was normally a very calm person. I had never seen him angry.) He told me in no uncertain terms that this was not the way he did business and that I was to make sure our candy and peanuts were as fresh as possible. He especially emphasized that I was to take no shortcuts in doing my work.

I’m not sure what my salary was that summer, but the lesson I learned from that summer job was far more valuable than the money I earned. There are no shortcuts to success in life.