Late one morning, headed for lunch in San Francisco, I drove toward one of these booths. I heard loud music. It sounded like a party or a concert. I looked around. No other cars with their windows open. No sound trucks. I looked at the toll booth. Inside it, the man was dancing.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I’m having a party,” he said.
“What about the rest of these people?” I looked over at the other booths; nothing moving there.
“They’re not invited.”
I had a dozen other questions for him, but somebody in a big hurry to get somewhere started punching his horn behind me and I drove off. But I made a note to myself; Find this guy again. There’s something in his eye that says there’s magic in his toll booth.
Months later I did find him again, still with the loud music, still having a party.
Again I asked, “What are you doing?’
He said, ” I remember you from the last time. I’m still dancing. I’m still having the same party.”
I said, ” Look. What about the rest of the people…”
He said, “Stop. What do those look like to you?’ He pointed down the role of toll booths.
“They look like… toll booths.”
I said, ” Okay, I give up. What do they look like to you?”
He said, ” Vertical coffins.”
” What are you talking about?”
” I can prove it. At 8:30 every morning, live people get in. Then they die for eight hours. At 4:30, like Lazarus from the dead, they reemerge and go home. For eight hours, the brain is on hold, dead on the job. Going through the motions.”
I was amazed. This guy had developed a philosophy, a mythology about his job. I could not help asking the next question; ” Why is it different for you? You’re having a good time.”
He looked at me. ” I knew you were going to ask me that,” he said. ” I’m going to be a dancer someday.” He pointed to the administration building. ” My bosses are in there, and they’re paying for my training.”
Sixteen people died on the job and the seventeenth, in precisely the same situation, figure out a way to live. That man was having a party where you and I would probably not last three days. The boredom! He and I did have lunch later, and he said, ” I don’t understand why anybody would think my job is boring. I have a corner office, glass on all sides. I can see the Golden Gate, San Francisco, the Berkely hills; half the Western world vacation here… and I just stroll in every day and practice dancing.”
17 toll booths, 16 people dead on the job, and the 17th, in precisely the same situation, figured out a way to live.
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