Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Working Stiffs

I don’t punch a clock. I don’t have to be up and working at 8 o’clock in the morning. I don’t fight the crowds on the interstate. I don’t fight for a spot in the Starbuck’s drive-thru line nor do I fight for a spot on the corporate ladder. I am my own boss. I say when it is time to work and I say when it is time to play.

Some may say I am not a success. I don’t have the fancy cars, homes or any of the other trappings of “the good life”. What I do have is a loving wife and two perfect children who are learning to watch the insane dance around them and not participate. When I go to bed at night sleep comes easy and I sleep peacefully till dawn. I wake up slowly, not scared out of sleep by a rude alarm clock. I look forward to the morning, a quiet time for me when I can enjoy good, homemade, coffee with my dog and a newspaper. I read about all the other working stiffs who have snapped under the pressure of the modern rat race. I use the morning to plan my day, not rushing into the 20 foot race on the highways to get to a ten by ten foot working space lit by artificial light and inhabited by fear and loathing. Which brings me to the topic of this posting.

I took one of my very rare sojourns into the city this morning. On occasion I will pretend I am just another working stiff going to work during the morning rush hour. I do this to remind myself just how good I have it.

Well today was one for the history books. I left the hose at 7:20 a.m., I was going into the city to pick up some dead palm trees that would soon be reborn as tiki gods. I dropped the kids off at school and got on the interstate. It was 7:31. The traffic immediately stopped. An thus began the 20 foot races.

The 20-foot race is how I describe the daily commute for the poor souls who live in the suburbs and commute into the larger cities. They race their “high-performance-sports” cars to and from work in 20 foot increments on congested “freeways”. They greedily grab the 20 feet of space just vacated by the car in front of them. They squat on it like a prize and look around to make sure no other car tries to merge into their “spot”. They are always on the lookout for anyone trying to merge in front of them and steal the next 20-foot space that will be coming available in this mind-numbing dance to work. Just going to work in today’s society constitutes a day’s work in my book.

It has always amused me how humans will cheerfully rush to wait. Many people spend many hours of their lives quietly and obediently standing in line. And this is never displayed so insanely obviously as it is displayed on the interstate systems across this country. Today on my little stretch of reality there was several thousand people in their shiny little ego boxes all lined up do the 20 foot race to their tiny little office boxes where they will make their tiny little business decisions before they do another 20 foot race back to their tiny little condos for their tiny little 4 hour slice of life out of the 24 hours that was available to them. And they fear death?

Well 12 miles and 45 minutes later I reached my destination. What is that, like 16 miles an hour? That is equivalent to school zone speed all the way on an interstate system. I crept past speed limit signs that mocked me with their 70 mile per hour limits. I sat next to exit ramps full of people trying to get away from the gridlock nightmare that was their daily reality.

And everyone around me was trying to remove themselves from the reality that was all around them. The vast majority of the people were talking on their cell phones. As I sat and watched this slow march to the grave I wondered who could all of these people be talking to. Are they just as many people not working as working? I suppose many were calling their boss to notify them that they would be late because of traffic. I guess many were calling family members complaining about the traffic. I guess some could be calling the weather report or surf reports. But could some be calling each other?

Everyone was doing something other than driving. Those who were not talking on their cell phones were; putting on makeup, shaving, reading, watching in-car videos or television. Only in America can you watch a news report about the traffic jam that you are sitting in while talking to a friend about the traffic jam that they are sitting in.

I wondered why there wasn’t more wrecks than there already was. I mean everyone was doing everything instead of driving their car. Why wasn’t everyone just crashing all over the place. And I thought how juvenile and how irresponsible everyone was. No one was driving their car the way that they had be taught to. Everyone was doing everything other than driving.

And then it hit me. No one was being irresponsible. Everyone had gone into survival mode. This was a normal human response to stress and anxiety. I was witnessing the “Flight or Fight” response in action. People all around me were fleeing from the overwhelming reality that was crushing down upon them. In their windshield, in their rear-view mirror, to their left and to their right they all saw the horror that was out their looking in. The monster that was staring back at them was the reality that this was their life. The fact that no matter how fast their car could go, no matter how big their office, no matter how big their bank account, no matter how big their house. Nothing would free them from this hour-long hell that they will face twice a day for the rest of their lives.

On my way home from picking up my future tikis I drove down that same interstate. It was now free of the clog I had earlier experienced. Now it was a true interstate. I was moving effortlessly at 65 miles per hour. I had my window down and the warm ocean breeze was blowing around in the cab of my truck. The sun was warming up nicely and I could tell it was going to be a good day for carving.

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