Friday, April 4, 2008

Happiness Is Relative

Union Pacific

Let me paint you a picture of a vast empty desert and a train.

My first job out of college was as an insurance claims adjuster. Like many jobs, this is one you don't want. Nobody starts out thinking they want to be a mortician, a garbage collector, a phone solicitor or a claims adjuster. It is a high pressure, low wage job and people tend to scream at you a lot. On top of this, I was stationed in Yuma, Arizona. Not exactly the place most 20-somethings want to live. There isn't a lot to do in Yuma except watch the Gila Monsters cross the road. But I had to start somewhere and I could only move up from here.

I often took my company car and drove the 120 miles to Tucson, Arizona just to get out of Yuma for the weekend. Interstate 8 is the highway that runs across southern Arizona from Yuma to Tucson. It is a long and desolate drive that parallels the Union Pacific railroad for most of the route.

On one such drive I was feeling pretty depressed. I hated my job, didn't have many friends, and life seemed a bit off track. I couldn't see my future really going anywhere. As I sped across the Sonoran desert, a large freight train slowly began to overtake me on my right.

As I glanced over at the four General Electric diesels pulling the mile long steel ribbon of commerce I noticed something. There, on top of the first boxcar behind the locomotives was a man. He was laying on his stomach with his hands grasping the leading edge of the car. He was propped up on his elbows with his hair flowing in the 80mph wind and diesel fumes. This young man was 'riding' the train like a bronco. Flying across the desert like some down and out Superman. I could see from the air-conditioned comfort of my Chrysler K-car that he was smiling.

I found it sort of strange, that I was sitting in a climate controlled company car, with a job, a rented apartment and a career, but at that moment the hobo was obviously much happier than I was. I had everything and he had nothing. But I realized what he did have. He had no cares, no worries, no bills, 4000 horsepower at his disposal and an endless horizon of opportunity.

After a few minutes the train pulled away and split off from the highway to find a different route to its destination.

I continued on toward Tucson thinking....something just wasn't right. The American Dream wasn't what I thought it was.