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.

pines-blog

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.

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