In recent days I've found myself studying my fellow passengers on the 4F commuter bus even more closely. I'm a short-timer now, and my pattern of daily commutes into downtown Minneapolis will be done in a mere 12 weeks now. My view of my fellow commuters has become fond to a degree bordering on the sentimental, now that my time is finite. Of course, that time always was finite, but over the past few years I forgot that some of the time.
Taylor is a new passenger—or at least is one that I'm not familiar with. It's possible that she normally rides a later 4F bus; her jittery, nervous demeanor suggests that perhaps she's riding an earlier bus today because of some important work deadline. Taylor is in her late 20s, perhaps early 30s, and like most of her demographic she spends most of the bus trip twitting on her smart phone. But she's not fully engaged with her electronic security blanket today, because she frequently glances up to the sky or out the window, and has a clearly worried expression on her face.
She is dressed in a long white garment, kind of a shirt-dress, worn over black leggings, and has very high platform-shoes with thick heels. She wears a short tunic-like jacket made from patches of colorful, ragged cloth of different types; it's jacket made entirely for style, not practical comfort or warmth, and I'm reminded of the costume jackets Michael Jackson once wore back in those videos. Taylor's hair is oiled; deliberately and carefully tousled to look unkempt, and the presentation as a whole was, I'm sure, very time-consuming to achieve.
Once upon a time, the look Taylor presents would have been judged haphazard and disheveled, but now, of course, this is a very stylish and sought-after look in some businesses, and I peg her as probably belonging to one of the downtown ad agencies or perhaps some kind of .com business, though these are much less common than ad agencies in our region. In these businesses, such a personal style is just as much "uniform" as pin stripes and Oxford shoes are on Wall Street. Failing to look a little eccentric would earn these young professionals criticism in these environments. Young adults in these modern businesses don't have it easy. It must be very hard for them to all look completely unique in exactly the same way.
Taylor gets off at my stop at Hennepin and 5th St. in downtown, and walks just ahead of me on the same route I take to the office. She walks frantically fast, but her tall shoes dictate very short little steps, so the result is that she barely outpaces me at all, and loses all advantage when hitting the "don't walk" sign at the intersections. Waiting for the light to change, she fidgets nervously, moving her feet the way a pro quarterback does in the pocket when fearing defensive linemen about to smash into them.
For just a moment, I'm infected by her nervousness, beginning to feel agitated myself over what the work-day will bring in the form of contentious, pressure-filled meetings and phone calls and frantic emails asking me to decide things. Then I relax, remembering that in just a few weeks now, the stress of being a VP, albeit in a relatively small company, will be over. At the end of the year, I am voluntarily stepping down into a different role that will put me back in more immediate contact with book editing itself, a role that will allow me to work from home and avoid most of the tension and stress that in recent years has lifted my blood pressure and made for many nights where 3 or 4 hours of sleep were the norm.
Taylor anticipates the "walk" light and darts across the street ahead of me, again sacrificing speed and efficiency of movement to the style of her shoe wear. She walk with humming-bird frenzy up the street ahead of me, only barely gaining on my own now-leisurely pace. She darts into my own building, and I now have a pretty good idea of where she works.
I reflect now on how work stress that I felt in months and years past, that Taylor clearly feels now, was always of self-created origin. The work world is one in which we're encouraged, even mandated, to take ourselves and our job duties with far more self-importance than they deserve. That's relatively easy to see now, in what is quickly becoming hind-sight for me. But I feel sorry for Taylor, as it's likely she faces decades of work at the same pace and level of stress she's showing now, barring some revelation on her part.
I turn the corner in the hallway of my building, and there's Taylor with the shuffling, dancing feet, impatiently waiting for the elevator to take her to the ad agency on the 6th and 7th floors of my building. I join her, punch the button for floor # 4, and upon leaving the elevator reflect on the irony that frantic living does not, in the final measure, put you any further ahead than a calm, reflective life.