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View From the Bridge Helps Her Earn a Living

Jobs: D.J. Galloway may be the only bowling ball lookout in the world. It's a post she treasures.

October 24, 1996|SUSAN G. HAUSER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

PORTLAND, Ore. — Another 24 hours have rolled off into the sunset without a single bowling ball crashing from the Vista Avenue Viaduct. For yet another day, and by now about six whole months free of bowling ball droppings, the people of Portland owe their thanks to D.J. Galloway, brave and vigilant bowling ball patrolwoman.

Galloway spends eight hours a day, six days a week perched on the concrete bridge, keeping a lookout for errant bowlers. This is her job, a job for which she gets union wages, a job she calls "the best job in the whole damn state."

Below the bridge, along Southwest Jefferson Street, construction crews now work without worry of bridge-to-street bowling ball strikes. They're building the new light-rail tracks. Galloway used to work down below as a spotter, holding a stop sign when heavy equipment interrupted traffic.

But after the third bowling ball crashed through the complacency of the construction site, she got reassigned. She's been guarding the bridge since April; for at least another year, through winter and another hot summer, she'll continue her patrol.

Only the perpetrators of the first bowling ball dropping, two high school students, have been caught and punished for the destruction of a truck's cab. They were easy to catch: the ball had a name tag.

The next two droppings, which occurred after a newspaper article appeared about the first one, were clearly copycats. Fortunately, they were, as bowling ball droppings go, gutter balls and caused no significant damage.

Galloway, a 54-year-old divorced grandmother of five, arrives at the bridge by about 6:15 a.m.--sometimes earlier, just to keep would-be bowlers on their toes. She settles in to one of the four pedestrian alcoves built into the 1925 viaduct, arranging her cooler, coffee thermos, ashtray, radio and cushioned footstool on the bench. Short and plump, with a hard hat resting on her long, auburn hair and a walkie-talkie clipped to her belt, she hoists herself atop the stool, lights a cigarette, and goes to work.

A car passes and the driver honks and waves. Galloway stretches out her arm and waves vigorously. "Good morning!" A school bus goes by. Galloway waves and shouts, "Hi, kids!" She sees a woman walking her dog. She calls out to the dog, "Cookies! I've got cookies for you!" As the dog trots eagerly toward her, she pulls a huge handful of dog biscuits from a bag.

"The first week I hated it," Galloway recalls. "There wasn't nothing to do. But I just kept waving and talking to people. The second week I wouldn't give it up for anything."

By the second week she was a fixture of the posh West Hills neighborhood. A woman who lives a block away began bringing her hot lunch every day. She got acquainted with many of the elderly ladies who live in a nearby apartment building. And soon she knew all the walkers (and their dogs) by name.

The gift of gab and natural empathy she developed during 23 years as a bartender have served her well in her job as bowling ball patrolwoman. On the bridge that has long been known as Suicide Bridge and Lovers Leap, she has averted at least one suicide.

One day last spring she spotted a teenage boy nervously smoking and looking over the edge of the bridge. She tried to talk to him and he moved away. When she saw him starting to climb onto the side, she went into action.

"I said, 'I've got two sons. You can talk to me.' " Slowly she won him over and the boy was soon sitting at Galloway's side, pouring his heart out, telling how his girlfriend broke up with him on prom night, and how his teacher wouldn't let him graduate.

"I said, 'If you promise not to do anything, I'll call the superintendent of schools and get this straightened out.' He said, 'Ah, you don't know him.' I said, 'Sure I do. He and I are old drinking buddies.' "

Galloway did call the boy's principal and said, "What the hell kind of school have you got there!" Through her dogged efforts, she learned that a teacher had misplaced one of the boy's final exams. He was allowed to graduate and is now in college. Galloway calls his parents occasionally to learn how he's doing.

"That was my only close call," she says. "I'm glad I was here."

Galloway takes her job very seriously and would never consider reading a magazine or book while she's on duty. Her only distraction is the radio that plays old standards, such as "Hello Young Lovers," while she sings along. She insists she is never bored.

"I do my job and I make everybody happy," she says. "That's what counts."

Over the months she has observed the comings and goings of all the neighbors. She knows who's having landlord problems and who is entertaining out-of-town guests. She also knows who's getting married because she's been invited to the wedding.

By now, all the neighbors know why the pranks stopped as soon as Galloway arrived on the scene. Obviously, it was her beautiful smile that did the trick. It's enough to make anyone leave their bowling ball at home.

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