“We moved here in 1992,” he said. “I was two, so I don’t really have any memories of anything else.”
Anything else was Derby, Conn., where Andy was born. His grandparents were snowbirds, but they eventually made the decision to settle in Florida full time.
“My dad moved us down here so that we would be closer to them,” said Andrew.
He grew up in Englewood, and eventually Andrew began school in Englewood. In seventh grade, he discovered what would become a passion in his life: football.
“I played for four years in high school,” said Andrew. “All four years I was a defensive tackle, and in my senior year I also played offense as a tackle.”
High school was a busy time for Andrew, who lettered in several sports.
“I played football, of course, but I was also in wrestling, weightlifting and track and field,” he explained. “For track and field, I participated in discus and shot put.”
Sports were important off the field, too.
“I was a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the Manta Maniacs and the Letterman Club,” said Andrew.
The Manta Maniacs are a group of students who get together to show school spirit at sporting events. They can be seen at every home game and most away games for all of the sports played at the school.
The Letterman Club is open to anyone who has earned their letter in a sport.
Fellowship of Christian Athletes is a non-denominational Christian group with chapters around the world. Andrew joined the group after he began attending church at the urging of a friend during his senior year of high school.
“I stayed at his house one Saturday, and he woke me up really early on Sunday morning,” he said. “I didn’t want to get up and go anywhere, much less church, but he insisted. I had a great time, and since I enjoyed it so much I kept going after that Sunday.”
Attending West Coast Church is a habit that has continued, though slightly altered.
“I work on Sundays now, so instead I go on Wednesday evenings,” he said. “We have a lot of fun. We hang out, play games and talk. We listen to music and dance, then Pastor Nancy has a short sermon.”
When he is not at work or church, Andrew spends time hanging out with his girlfriend and his friends.
“Breanna and I have been together since high school,” smiled Andrew. “In fact, I found out about the job with the bridge authority through her uncle, who was in charge of maintenance.”
Andrew and Breanna are the type to stay in, for the most part.
“We usually hang out at home and watch a movie,” he said. “When we go out, it’s usually to get dinner, something laid back. Sometimes we take a couple of days and spend them exploring somewhere a little further away.”
When he is with his friends, they are playing games on the X-Box and hanging out on ESPN online.
“Call of Duty, Madden, NCAA Championship,” Andrew listed. “We play a lot of sports games. We have a fantasy football league.”
The friends also make trips out of town to see Shamu.
“We all have annual passes to Sea World, so we go there pretty often,” he said. “I like to watch the animal shows and ride the Manta, which is a great roller coaster.”
His favorite part of Gasparilla Island is the water, which he watches from the tender’s house on top of the bridge. He sees wildlife and humans, boaters and birds.
Watching the dolphins in Placida Harbor is one of the perks of his job with the Gasparilla Island Bridge Authority, or GIBA. There are a few dolphins that are pretty easy to recognize, but one in particular stands out.
“She is missing her fin,” described Andrew. “We don’t know if she was attacked or if it got caught on something, but I see her out there every now and then. She likes to play in the wakes from boats that pass by.”
Andrew started at GIBA in the maintenance department, where he can still occasionally be found.
“I was hired in 2008, the same year that I graduated from high school,” he said. “I’m not absolutely sure, but I may have been the youngest person that has been hired by the authority.”
As for his transfer to bridge tender, it was a bit of a game of musical chairs.
“We hired someone to work in the toll booth, and it wasn’t really a good fit for him,” said Andrew. “So they asked me if I would be interested in working as a tender, and I said yes. They gave him my position in maintenance, and I started training to run the bridge.”
There is a lot more to opening and closing the bridge than watching the time and throwing a switch. There are rules and regulations that you have to follow, you have to keep in radio contact with the various boats that want to pass through and you have to have a sharp eye for potential accidents.
“We have to watch for barges and other boats towing things,” Andrew explained. “We have to be sure that they are going to clear the bridge. At the same time, we have to time the opening and closing just right, so that traffic isn’t blocked any longer than it has to be.”
Andrew is in a rare club. As a tender of the Gasparilla Island Bridge, he works on the only operational swing bridge in Florida. In addition to his duties on the bridge and in maintenance, he is the trainer for the toll booth.
“The lady who was doing the training, Sheila, went to inside customer service a while back,” said Andrew. “We took turns training the new people; one of us one day, someone else the next. The results were a little uneven, so we needed one person who was doing all of the training. Mr. Cooper picked me as the new full-time trainer.”
Training a new toll booth operator is more than teaching them to take five dollars or scan a card and open the gate.
“The new person spends one week in the middle booth,” he said. “That way they can learn about the register that we use. Then they move over to the truck lane, where they learn to read the scale and tell quickly if a vehicle can make the trip over the bridge or if it needs to turn around.”
The reason that a guy from maintenance who transferred over to tending knows so much about the toll system is simple.
“We’re the ones that give the toll guys their breaks,” said Andrew. “Every day that someone works as a tender, they also have to work in a booth for a while.”
Andrew’s transfer from maintenance to tending and his move into training came while he was very busy outside of work.
“I plan to go to school,” said Andrew. “Well, I’ve already been. I’m a trained and licensed EMT. Most places want you to be a paramedic, so I’m debating right now: I’d either like to continue with that line of education or become an auto mechanic.”
The two choices may seem miles apart, but Andrew discovered a love of repairing vehicles with his first car. It was a good thing, since he was delivering pizza while in high school at the time.
“My car broke down, so I went online and found a video on YouTube and learned how to fix the problem,” he smiled. “It was an older car, so it was always having problems. Some of them I taught myself to fix, some of them the guys I worked with helped me with.”
Now he has a new car that he does not have to repair, but he found that he enjoyed the work.
Andrew may not be playing football any more, but his interest in the sport is still strong. He has been a fan of the Buccaneers since before they became national champions, and has stayed loyal through their ups and downs.
“It can be a little disappointing,” he said. “But I keep track of what they are doing, and this year looks good. They have a new coach, a few big names and they had a good draft. Hopefully it all comes together this year.”
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