Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Last stop in the free zone, end of the line...


Every day when my bus reaches the International District Station in the bus tunnel, the driver announces, "Last stop in the free zone, end of the line." She is actually referring to the last stop in the "ride free" zone in downtown Seattle (you can ride buses free within downtown) and the end of the line for the Route 41 between Northgate and downtown Seattle.

But it has started to get to me in a more philosophical way. Because I am riding the bus to work every day and I am middle aged. Having someone tell me every day that it is the last stop in the free zone and the end of the line is pretty depressing. But then again, just looking in the mirror every day is getting pretty depressing.

It's just that I've essentially been in the same job for 23 years now. I started as an intern at a government agency doing corporate communications grunt work to get the credits I needed to graduate with a degree in journalism. I had my dreams of being a hot shot reporter, eventually a columnist and then a wealthy novelist. A month of unemployment after graduating was enough for me to compromise and take an offer from the company that I did the internship at doing essentially the same job, but this time for pay. It was a three-month temporary gig. They kept extending my position. I got a few promotions. I became complacent.

Boom. Twenty-three years later, I'm a marketing manager doing essentially the same thing I did as an intern but at ten times the pay. But I'm not a hotshot reporter, columnist or wealthy novelist. I'm a middle-aged, middle manager who rides the bus every day and listens to the driver call out, "Last stop in the free zone, end of the line..." She could by Charon operating the ferry on the river Styx for all I know.

It makes me think of my favorite line in Tom Stoppard's play, "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead." In case you are Shakespeare impaired, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were characters in Hamlet who were sent with Hamlet to England with a message that instructed the King to put Hamlet to death. Hamlet switches the message with one that instructs the King to put the couriers with Hamlet to death. Hamlet essentially screws over his friends to save his life.

Stoppard's play tells the story from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's perspective. Anyway, just before they are put to death, Rosencrantz says to Guildenstern something to the effect of, "I suppose there was a time we could have said no."

The line just about sums up everything when you stop and reflect on how you ended up where you are. There was always a time you could have said no and taken a different path. Even now, I suppose, I could step off the bus before the end of the line and find a different direction.

But I've been riding this bus for years now. And even if I did get on another bus, another driver would simply call out, "Last stop in the free zone, end of the line."
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