A Toll Booth Needs A Toll Person, Indiana!

April 5, 2009

The toll booth –

What was it our parents always said about having quarters for phone calls? Well, you know where this going. 

Right up there with the problems in the United States economy is the unmanned tollbooth. I do not like them, they too are eating away at our economy, just like computerized checkouts. I will not use an unmanned anything. Give me a person with a job.

Let’s talk how insane this is on the personal level, really.

My story — Driving from Wisconsin along the west side of Chicago, alongside suburbia-something is all I know. An icy evening, dark at four o’clock…… 

Speed passage lanes – confusing as they are – pull me off the speedway and get me lost. Keep me from paying my tolls.  Bad enough there was construction and narrow winding lanes along cement walls for forty miles. By the fourth toll booth, I had it figured out, just keep driving, pay later. I wanted to go home.

But I knew that because I missed tollbooth number one so I stopped at the second tollbooth, paid for that toll and said, “I missed a toll back there.” He wouldn’t take my extra fare. Simple enough arrangement, but no, I was given a pink slip with instructions to pay online. I played dumb. “What does pay online mean? Put my credit card out there online?” His eyes rolled. No way, he wasn’t taking the money.

I have to pay online. So I try but the form wants to know what tollbooth. I don’t know. There were three, no less. Maybe five. It was a long happy retreat, I was tired and snowed upon and cold. Hungry, homesick, and confused. The night was dark. So I do not know nor can I figure out using the map just where I missed those tolls.

Besides, the state in question wants my license plate number and driver’s license number and social security and credit card information. I’m afraid to go back to Illinois. Hell, I’m afraid to drive around Indiana, it’s too close to Chicago. And I’m afraid to drive in my home state of Michigan because they know how to find me here. I have become a recluse because I missed three or five tolls for what?? Fifty cents each in Illinois. But you know what I am more afraid to do, that’s send my social security and credit card and address and date of birth and driver’s license number and license plate number over the internet to pay Illinois a couple bucks in tolls.

Gets worse! I get off at a toll booth in Indiana to visit my brother.


The scenery on the tollbooth exit tonight. Not so romantic.

I have always loved the toll booth scenery there because it is like landing from the speedway into the silent pine forest. I remember just a few months ago telling the man that he had a lovely quiet job there in the middle of nowhere.

I remember thinking how he could sit and read or sing all day, play his guitar between semis and cars stopping to pay.

And I remember thinking how desolate he was there in the pine forest right off the edge of insanity with civilization howling past. Thinking how I wouldn’t want his job for anything.

Anyway…… I get off the speedway to go to my brother’s home, a not-so-late black-out evening, a halfway point over-nighter on my way home.

The toll booth was closed. Except I still have to pay. The nice man is gone? I think this is not cool. Was he on vacation, laid off?

A computer was doing his job. Gate is down and this time I must pay.

I am expected to pay seventy-five cents into a jackpot slot. I was going to give the nice man a dollar bill. The single dollar bills were in my wallet, the ones I had been attempting to use to pay the Illinois tolls.

But the computer only accepted nickels, dimes, quarters, or credit cards.

My purse is in the back.

My credit card is not a credit card, it is a debit card anyway. And would the computer confiscate it because I had no other money to pay?

Really, I had no other money to pay. Just my dollar bills, a fifty or two, no coins of silver. I dig through my wallet and find a nickel and a dime with many pennies, then drag my purse to the front and dig out two more silver coins.  Still need fifty-five cents. But I’m getting somewhere.

You know what though?  I’m scared. I am really scared. And ticked off. This dilemma was a perfect enraging spice of energy for an otherwise perfect day.

I am somewhere between a college campus with no people and a prison five miles away.  Where would an escapee head to get the heck out of Dodge but the nearest tollbooth where someone has to stop thus can be carjacked or even killed for the car. That is not a question.

Then there are the speedway people who pull up behind me, like the one who did. It’s him and me. Him waiting, me trying to get my money in the slot and go. Me with my window down watching all sides of my vehicle. Please don’t get out and try to help me, mister, I will definitely crack the gate off with my Denali, don’t think I can’t. But he waited. A nice man I am sure, but I was scared.

I dig through the pockets of my coat and find a quarter. I dig through the dark recesses of the cup holders filled with pennies and finally find silver, one looks Canadian.

In the end the little computer booth doesn’t want the last two coins, it must have taken me too long and my time expired. I was bashing the front of the machine with my hand to get the coins to make a difference in its silver-consumed little computer brain. Several bashes and it worked. The gate went up. I went on.

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels sold the Indiana Tollway to a consortium, the firms Cintra of Spain and Macquarie of Australia, which gave Indiana $3.8 billion. Funds the state uses for roads.  Funds that impress the state voters to reelect him for his audacious ability to keep the state in the black.  He is getting a copy of this experience. Online, in print and through every congressperson and council person he has working with him.

One speed pass lane on a speedway is enough, we are supposed to conserve fuel, driving faster is not cutting it. Autos do not need to thrust through at six and ten lanes wide.

A tollbooth needs a toll person.  A security guard would be a nice touch. Two or more jobs right there, depending on location and time of night.

People need the jobs. Travelers need the people.


3 Responses to “A Toll Booth Needs A Toll Person, Indiana!”

  1. Dale & Cindy Says:

    We travel across the U.S. twice per year on I-80 and I-40 and we have never seen a more ridiculous set-up for receiving tolls than the one in Indiana.
    Absolutely every state has either the old fashion coin troughs you can throw all of your toll in at once or it is a human being receiving the toll.
    The coin slots that Indiana has cause extreme traffic back-ups all the way around the curves and back to the main highway where the traffic is sailing along at 80 miles per hour and here you are attempting to get off on the exit which is backed all the way up because of those goofy coin slots where you can only thread one coin in at a time. Further more they often times will have only once cash booth open and all the while the coin slots are jamming up and a tenant still has to be out there calling for the green light to be turned on. Can you even imagine anything MORE RIDICULOUS AND LESS EFFICIENT in the entire US? Please, pass this on to whoever it may concern and please, make them realize that they need to join the 21st century.

  2. will Says:

    On my way to the middle of Pennsylvania from an hour west of Chicago, I too got confused by the speed lanes for a split seconds and wound up lost briefly, in a bad part of town. I made my way back despite a poorly marked exit that I had to double and triple-take to make sure it wasn’t actually some alley (there was one right next to it — and they looked identical. By the time I got from the double-take to the triple-take, a local highschool student was crossing the alley I nearly mistook for the exit, so I paused for him as I made sure I was taking the right turn — in doing so he thought I was eyeing HIM (of course.. I forgot not everywhere is caught up from the social pitfalls of the past) so somehow between the flailing of his arms and mouthing off hate-spewing indignations at my car crawling to make the sharp exit I needed, I was off.

    I somehow made it through the Indiana toll booths (which actually took my withered ten dollar bill without issue – I must’ve been in a different set of booths than the poster who had coin/card only options) but had to piratically contort my wrist to fish out the four or so dollars in quarters it barfed out as change (and a Canadian quarter or two) while hoping I wasn’t anger the folks behind me. If you see these machines, the dollar slot is nearly a foot away from the coin-slot – excellent design with the driver in mind! I got out this time, but I *knew these booths would be trouble..* I too missed the friendly Indianan toll workers in contrast to the Chicago booths who looked at you with the same kind of dead-eyed loathing as O’hare’s security staff would dish out.

    Fast-forward to my return trip:

    Driving home missing snowstorms narrowly and driving on smooth sails the *entire* way back to the Illinois border, now it was time to get re-acquainted with these dreadful machines. Wow, all this time with no traffic and at 1AM this toll is the one that’s backed up? Wait a minute here….

    I soon realized the semi and stack of 7-8 cars in front of me had a hang up as two people backed out of line. I tried to wait it out, 25 minutes later I backed out and went to the vacant I-Pass booth to hit the call button, no answer. I panicked briefly, but this one wasn’t all on me – at least I have that going for me. I made my way out of the booth in reverse (thank God no one was behind me trying the same thing) and I made it back to the line. Some folks with PA (or was it NJ?) plates in a truck tried getting back in line too, I let them ahead of me and they seemed genuinely appreciative. Another 15 minutes the line began to move to where I could glimpse what was going on. People enter the ticket – just to have it spit back out 12-14 times and then somehow it was accepted. Ahh, that was it! Not quite, the same people try 15-25 times with their payment, which got spit out and eventually took. Wow, that’s how people are getting through. I watch the nice folks in front of me struggle too (a little worse), and I can only project the thoughts “We know it’s not your fault” before they somehow make it through. My turn: Hrmmm.. Great, well it feels like it’s not going to work for me, maybe everyone else just got lucky and the luck’s running out (panicked thoughts). I hit the call for help button. Surprised, I got a female voice on the other end. Surprised again, I had to explain “my situation” to her after expecting to have “their situation” explained to ME. “uhh.. it’s not taking the ticket” “it’s not? Ok…where did you get on?” I tell her, and she keys in in manually. Ok. I try the cash/credit portion of this blundering system – nothing doing. I press the call button again, and explain “my situation”.. “it’s not taking your cash? make sure it’s facing the right way”. I responded with silence, this time. (Are you KIDDING me lady…are you going to pretend a line of cars didn’t just get stuck here for the last 45 minutes for the exact same reason and pin this one soley on me?!). I counted, 35 tries and somehow that was enough to convince the vacuum to reopen it’s jaws and suck in my crisp ten right as she was saying “sir? hello?”. “Uhh.. I think it finally took it” I was able to spit out – and I got a robotic yet sarcastic ” you have a nice holiday SIR” instead of an apology for their situation – as if I was just some random disgruntled jerk taking out my travel frustrations on her and she was just doing her job.

    Smooth sailing commenced as it had for all of the other eleven hours, even through the frightening lane-weaving rat-race pilots (that think they’re just doing their duty as Chicagoans by driving this way) somehow managed to not phase me after that. At least *they* are consistent and avoidable.

    Is this a mass failure on Indiana’s part (since I doubt I’m the only one who could see those problems coming miles away)? Or is it a brilliant marketing scheme of forcing I-Pass/Easy-Pass down our throats? Most likely, it’s inadvertently both.

  3. Essa Adams Says:

    Thanks for the great story – told excellently. Now I really don’t want to travel the Toll Road again. Grin.

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