“Next stop Willoughby”.
The sleeping man woke to the conductor’s voice. “Excuse me, did you say Willoughby? That stop isn’t on this route.”
“It most certainly is, sir.” The conductor replied.” Just look out the window.”
As the train screeched to a stop, the man looked through the faded window to see men and women, dressed in fancy clothes from the last century, carrying umbrellas and carefully wading through a crowd of excited children scurrying around the gazebo in the center of town. He watched as the scene began to move as the train slowly left the station. He sat back in his seat and closed his eyes, taking a mental picture of what he had just seen.
“Stanton. Next stop Stanton.” The conductor again woke him as he walked down the aisle. The man captured the attention of the conductor. As he approached the man asked him about Willoughby. The conductor gave him a puzzled look.
“Sir, I have never heard of Willoughby.”
Confused, the man gathered his coat and satchel and exited the train.
He enters his beautiful home and greets his attractive wife. Her looks couldn’t detract from the contempt in her eyes for him.
He begins to tell her of his terrible day. How his boss had demeaned him in front of the entire office. He told her he wished that life were simple, how he was tired of the cutthroat business world and the way in which he needed to behave in order to survive in it. He explained to her that he was really just a nice guy, too nice to be a part of it.
His tale of woe was not met with sympathy. Instead he was told how he must compete, must continue on course and to stop thinking in such a way. She needed him to keep providing so that they could maintain the lifestyle that was killing him.
He was done. Washed up. Burned out. All
he could think about was the lovely, if not odd town of
The next day he goes to work only to have another confrontation with his boss. He goes to his office and calls his wife. He tells her that he is leaving his job. Quitting and coming home to her. She tells him not to come home if he quits his job. He leaves and gets on the train home. He rests his weary eyes.
Again, he is wakened by the conductor’s announcement of the stop of Willoughby. This time, he jumped out of his seat, grabbed his coat, left his briefcase and stepped off of the train to check out the town.
He was found dead.
Shocked men stood over him, wondering why this stranger had thrown himself off of a moving train. They would never know that he was dreaming, dreaming so hard for a new life that he died in pursuit of it.
Some story, wouldn’t you agree? I wish I had written it. It’s actually an episode of The Twilight Zone from 1960 entitled “A Stop at Willoughby”. I watched it in deep fascination on the SyFy New Years Day Marathon. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. I could have been that man, yet it was written 5 years before I was born.
The correlations to my own life are nothing less than staggering.
At one time I owned a house in a nice town, in a nice neighborhood that we didn’t belong in. It was out of our league. Because we somehow managed to pay the mortgage we kept the water level below our noses. But we were in way over our heads. Our children went to school with a lot of wealthy kids and we clothed them accordingly. All activities were A la Carte and we did our best to find a way to enroll them. What we didn’t have, we charged. My wife wanted a lifestyle that was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain. I tried to protest, to voice my concerns over our mounting debt but it fell on deaf ears. In hindsight I should have protested louder, but it’s too late for overthinking that. I lived by the mantra “happy wife, happy life.” What I didn’t know is that I would never have either.
For a while, the pace of my career kept pace with the increasing burden of my lifestyle. I kicked and scratched my way up the professional ladder and I did what the situation dictated. I worked long hours, competed with some cutthroat players and managed to come out on top enough times. I definitely engaged in tactics that were not my style but stopped short at the unethical. Like the sympathetic character in Willoughby, I was a nice guy. Unlike him, my career benefited from that very reputation. I was known as honest, reliable and good at my word and I am proud of that to this day. But the toll to my health was immeasurable and devastating. Kidney disease causes Hypertension, as did my career in sales. The rush-hour traffic, the constant looking over the shoulder, the high intensity of negotiations, the nights before the big phone call letting you know you got the contract, and the stress of failure took years off of my life.
Like our hero, I was also afraid to voice my concerns over the nature of the work I needed to do to maintain our address. The few times that I did, I was also told to stay the course, that we were committed. And sadly, if I were to come home after a bad month, I wasn’t met with empathy or a “you’ll get ’em next month”, I was chastised for failing to do “my end”. Or worse, I would get the silent treatment accompanied by a disappointed scowl. Many times I tried to tell her that shit like that wasn’t helpful, she didn’t care. I almost became afraid to come home for fear of the reprisal.
At my last job I achieved the most security I ever had. A strong salary, a achievable bonus plan and decent hours were a welcome respite. But alas, there was a catch. I worked for a megalomaniac. 85% of the time he was a very nice man. But his dark side was abysmal. I would learn that he had to be right; I was to be good at what I do but not better than him; I was never to talk to his boss about anything because of his paranoia and love of the “chain of command”; and I was to be his puppet and totally devoid of independent thought. If I violated any of the above tenets I would be subject to a minimum of a one-sided rambling lecture and at the maximum a violent and irrational episode. Once he actually challenged me to a fight. I put up with it. Why?
Because I had to.
I had a family at home that needed health insurance, a roof over their heads and most importantly, a childhood. A man supposedly never walks away from a fight. This one did, because a man also doesn’t make his family homeless over his temper or pride. But to stand there and be called the names that I was called, spit flying into my face by a irrational, butt-reaming asshole who was wrong on 10,000 levels took every last drop of restraint that I had. Not hitting him may be my best career accomplishment.
Still, when I got home it was all about the paycheck.
If I had called home and said “Honey, I’m done. I can’t do this anymore” I would have been told not to come home. So I dealt with it. I was forced to dream of the day when life was simpler, more honest and manageable. Where I didn’t have to claw, scratch and claw for every inch.
I wanted my own Willoughby.
I know that in my heart of hearts that if I rode a train and I was woken to the vision of a town 100 years in the past where simplicity reigned over technology; courtesy over competition; a handshake over a notarized document; family over clients; ethics over business, love over money and simplicity over chaos…I would jump off of the train as well. If the fall killed me, so be it. I would still escape the lifestyle that I loathed. The risk would be worth the jump.
I wish I had found my Willoughby, and to find that it wasn’t a dream after all.