By Dan Rosenblum
Victor Reyes is used to seeing strange things during the “Dracula shift,” which is what he calls the overnight hours he works as a security guard on the George Washington Bridge.
During the day, bikers cross the span and walkers stroll to take in the Hudson River, but the night scene is different. Through the darkness, Reyes, 33, patrols the span of the bridge, on shifts often fueled by coffee and energy drinks. People who don’t know that the walkway closes at midnight insist on crossing the bridge, and some walk erratically after hours spent drinking at bars.
Occasionally some, like the man Reyes spotted after 1 a.m. on a warm Father’s Day, seem intent on jumping 212 feet into the water below.
Reyes called a partner for help and approached the man on the north side of the bridge. He noticed the man seemed drunk and said he didn’t want to live. Reyes said the man was distraught about an incident with his 5-year-old son.
“At first, I knew I was scared,” he said. “I gotta admit that, because you’re on top of the bridge, you never know what’s going to happen. You’re by yourself.”
Reyes talked to the man and sprung to hold him down. He called that “the three longest seconds of my life.” Police arrived soon after and took the man away.
Reyes, one of eight evening guards who keep watch, is a silent guardian of the span. Since the 4,700-foot-long landmark opened in 1931, it has been a magnet for suicide attempts and potential terrorist attacks. The most notable recent story was in 2010 when Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi jumped off the bridge.
Reyes works for FJC Security, a contractor that manages security for several Port Authority sites, including Newark Liberty International Airport and the World Trade Center. Because of recent security fiascos, the Authority is seeking to replace the company, but Reyes said they’re a sharp-eyed team protecting people on the bridge.
“People say that we might not do anything, but we do our job,” he said.
There are plenty of challenges. Rats scurry across the lower level of the Manhattan side and strong gusts come down the Hudson River Valley, stealing away umbrellas on rainy days and adding a chill.
“Even in the summertime, you have to wear something light, like a windbreaker, because it gets windy,” he said.
And there’s something else: Reyes, now six months into bridge duty, is scared of heights.
“So when I work at the bridge, I try not to look down,” he said.
Reyes was born in Mexico and moved to Union City, N.J., in the late 1980s. He got experience working as security at the Hudson County Courthouse in Jersey City and at a local 911 communications center.
The importance of his work and the front-row seat for the morning sunrise keeps him focused and sharp-eyed. On stopping the suicide attempt, Reyes said he wasn’t a hero, he was just doing his job and was fortunate he had the strength to keep the man—and himself—atop the bridge.
“Luckily, it went well,” he said. “We both survived. That’s a good thing.”
On nights when Reyes isn’t on the bridge, he’s at home with his wife, Veronica, and two kids, James, 7, and 17-month-old daughter, Camila. The hours let him see his children during the afternoons and before school. And the tattooed family man is saving up to get his kids’ faces on his arm.
That Father’s Day morning when Reyes got back home, James handed him a gift to match the other bright drawings decorating his apartment: a newly drawn picture of the George Washington Bridge.
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