The Bitter Little Cable Car

silver funicular, Lisbon, Portugal

Photo credit: Cheri Lucas @ Automattic

Once upon a time, there was a little cable car who lived and worked on a hill. Each day the little cable car would perform his job of carrying passengers up and down the hill. The little cable car was born for the job.

The hill was not very tall, but some people rode the little cable car anyway. Unhealthy people rode it because too much walking made them sweaty and gave them trouble breathing. Lazy people rode it because it saved them precious calories. Businesspeople rode it because it was easier to play with their phones if they didn’t have to walk at the same time. Small children rode it because they like riding in small vehicles and making vroom-vroom noises. Tourists rode it because their guidebooks said they should, or else their vacation was an utter failure. Whenever none of the above were around, the little cable car had time to himself. Being a mere cable car with nowhere else to go, he spent this time thinking to himself.

One day the little cable car thought to himself, “My job is stupid.”

The little cable car looked up and down the hill. “I am completely unnecessary,” he said. “This hill is not very tall. These people should do their own walking. Then I can do something else and have fun.”

The little cable car looked at a happy couple hugging nearby. “Why are they so happy?” he said. “I bet they’re happy because they can do anything they want. I wish I were in a couple.”

The little cable car looked at the quaint small businesses on either side of him. “Why do they have more customers than I do?” he said. “I bet they earn lots more money than I do. I wish I were a brick-and-mortar business.”

The little cable car looked at an elderly couple in gaudy thrift-store clothing. “Why don’t they have to work?” he said. “I bet they worked for a short while and then retired early. I wish I could retire.”

The little cable car had had enough.

He turned on his radio and called his only friend in the world, the Little Engine. The little cable car said through his radio, “Hello, Little Engine. I quit.”

“I’m not your boss,” said the Little Engine.

“I have no one else to call,” said the little cable car.

“Why do you want to quit?” said the Little Engine, humoring him.

“I’m too good for this job,” said the little cable car. “I want to do something even better.”

“What else can a little cable car do?” said the Little Engine.

“I don’t know. Something. Whatever makes me happy,” said the little cable car.

“You haven’t really thought this through, have you?” said the Little Engine.

“I have too. My job is stupid and I want to make more money and I want to be in a couple and then I want to retire early and go shopping,” said the little cable car in one exasperated breath. He was upset that the Little Engine clearly didn’t get him.

The Little Engine was dumbstruck for a moment. When he recovered, he said, “You’re a cable car.”

“So what? I deserve more. I did my job, and now I get to do something else and have fun and own stuff.”

Pause for simmering. “You’re. A. Cable. Car. You go up the hill. You go down the hill. It’s all you were made to do. It’s one of the easiest jobs in the railway industry. So far you haven’t killed anyone by accident, like certain giant locomotives I know. You don’t even have to do any heavy lifting. Ever since that one time I miraculously trudged uphill with a hundred fully loaded freight cars attached to my backside, suddenly everyone thinks I should tow a hundred freight cars every day. Handy tip, Mister Light-Transit: repeating to yourself, ‘I think I can! I think I can! I think I can! I think I can!’ is a useful self-help mantra, but it does not magically cure all that wear-‘n’-tear, repair bent couplings, or replace stripped bolts and screws. After my fifteen minutes of fame were up, I aged forty years over the next decade. But y’know what? I do my job anyway. It’s what I was made to do, I’m better at it than I have any right to be, and believe it or not, I like it.”

The little cable car said, “I don’t care. I want more.”

In his faraway happy land, the Little Engine rolled his eyes. He couldn’t remember why the little cable car thought they were friends. “Really. So what’s your plan?”

“I don’t know. I just want out.”

“How? How exactly do you plan to upgrade your lifestyle overnight? By jumping your tracks? Attending business school? Going to cable-car luncheons to connect with other cable cars? Undergoing some radical body modifications? Pretending you’re a food truck?”

“My plan is SHUT UP,” said the little cable car. He was ready to cry.

The Little Engine sighed. “Y’know, you should be thankful to have such a sweet, simple gig. I know a lot of defunct trolleys who rotted away in storage after their hometowns downsized them. And don’t even get me started on the cutbacks in the passenger-train industry in the last century. For a lot of obsolete rail-riders, a plum tourism position is the best possible scenario.”

The little cable car thought for a moment. Then he said, “Maybe if I wait long enough, someone else will solve all my problems for me. That would be easier.”

The Little Engine said, “I’m out,” and signed off.

By this time a line of customers had formed in front of the little cable car. He grimaced, opened his doors, and went back to doing his job. He spent the rest of the work day muttering, seething, and wishing everyone he carried was dead. In fact, he spent all the rest of his days exactly like this. Somehow this did not result in anyone solving all his problems for him.

And he was convinced that everyone else in the world except him lived happily ever after. The End.

* * * * *

[The preceding bout of dementia was inspired by the Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge. Any resemblance to actual cable cars living or dead is purely coincidental. If you or a loved one know of a cable car who needs help, encourage them to seek professional counseling. Under no circumstances should you approach the cable car and offer amateur counseling yourself. Fatalities have been known to occur.]


14 responses

    • It was partly inspired by a book I’m currently reading, and partly by someone I know, whom I dearly wish the cable car didn’t resemble. I winced as I reread and saw a little of him in me too…but then again, the whole writing thing has been part of my plan not to stay stuck on that same track…hopefully.


    • I’m glad my cautionary tale was enjoyable. If a sequel delved more deeply into his fate, I imagine his dark future would see him terminated against his will and resigned to a lonely corner in a vehicle graveyard. Poor, poor cable car.


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