01 October 2007


Those who wish to sing always find a song.
(Swedish proverb)

Most people are about as happy as they make up their
minds to be
(Abraham Lincoln)

If you have ever gone through a toll booth, you know that your
relationship to the person in the booth is not the most intimate
you'll ever have. It is one of life's frequent non-encounters:
You hand over some money; you might get change; you drive off.
I have been through every one of the 17 toll booths on the
Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge on thousands of occasions, and
never had an exchange worth remembering with anybody.

Late one morning in 1984, headed for lunch in San Francisco, I
drove toward one of the booths. I heard loud music. It sounded
like a party, or a Michael Jackson 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 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

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 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 row of toll booths.

"They look like...toll booths."

"Nooooo imagination!"

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.
They they die for eight hours. At 4.30, like Lazarus from the
dead, they re-emerge and go home. For eight hours, brain is on
hold, dead on the job. Going through the motions."

I was amazed. This guy have 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 that," he said.
"I'm going to be dancer somedy." He pointed to the
administration building. "My bosses are in there, and they're
paying for my training."

Sixteen people dead on the job, and the seventeenth, in
precisely the same situation, figures 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 Berkeley hills; half the
Western world vacations here...and I just stroll in every day
and practise dancing."
(Dr Charles Garfield)


(1) Are you the contents of "vertical coffins" in your office?

(2) With some people, boring jobs can be exciting and vice
versa - the choice is solely yours.

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