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
nonencounters: You hand over some money; you might get
change; you drive off.
Late one morning in 1984, headed for lunch in San
Francisco, I drove toward a booth. I heard loud music. It
sounded like a party. 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 the people?" I looked at the
other toll booths.
He said, "What do those look like to you?" He pointed
down the row of toll booths.
"They look like...toll booths. What do they look like
He said, "Vertical coffins. 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, brain is on hold, dead on the job. Going through the
I was amazed. This guy had developed a philosophy, a
mythology about his job. Sixteen people dead on the job, and
the seventeenth, in precisely the same situation, figures
out a way to live. I could not help asking the next
question: "Why is it different for you? You're having a good
He looked at me. "I knew you were going to ask that. 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, and the Berkeley hills. Half the
Western world vacations here...and I just stroll in every
day and practice dancing."