“Well, I got a job,” I said to my wife when she got home from her job as a nurse.
“Doing what?” she asked excitedly. I had been pretty much living on the couch for the past 11 months. I did write a book, one that a published called “God damn bad,” so it wasn’t a complete waste of a year. So I understood her excitement. I’d be getting off the couch.
“Toll booth,” I said.
“You got a job as a toll booth?” she smiled and punched me on the shoulder.
“Yep, the worst part is having that guy sit inside of me all day. But the bosses tell me you get used to it.”
I went to sleep that night after a nice bit of celebratory sex, including a nice blow job beginning, wondering why the fuck I was going to be going to work as a toll booth operator. I had two degrees from institutes of higher learning, was a pretty intelligent chap, and didn’t really want to work in a toll booth.
It didn’t really take me long to figure it out. Yeah, I could have blamed it on my being lazy. And that would be a good reason. I could blame it on the death of newspapers, and journalism in general, as a profession. Too easy, and you factor in the lazy part, and it becomes not the issue.
No, really it came down to one thing. I was a toll both operator because my last boss walked in on my sticking a hammer up by butt. Yep. I did it. And thankfully, I had a condom on the hammer, because you never know where those things have been before your hand. You really can’t explain your way out of “my boss just walked in on me shoving a hammer up my butt in the office” now can you? So, I simply pulled the hammer out of my butt, turned my computer off and walked out the side door of the office. He didn’t say a word, I didn’t say a word, although I’m sure many words were spoken after I exited.
Anyway, now that you are paying attention again, I, in best Zack Morris style, will get on with the true story.
I was a toll booth operator, collector, what have you because it sounded like a fun job. I mean, it’s like working at a supermarket or a Target store. You take money from someone and give them change and receipts if needed. But you get to see people at the strangest, I figured. And hell, you never know who you’d meet.
When I told the guy who would soon be my boss that I was considering writing a book about my experiences as a toll booth guy, he shrugged.
“Don’t know why anyone would want to read a book about a guy sitting in a box all day, taking coins from strangers,” he said looking me in the eye. “Would you read that book?”
I thought for a moment. I knew he was right, but was the embellishing of the day-to-day monotony that would make it great.
“How about a screen play then?” I replied. “I mean, I saw a movie about parking lot attendants, why not toll booth guys?”
“It’s your life, Jones,” he said. “By your cover letter – and you were one of three people who had cover letters that applied – I can tell you can write some. Hell, the only reason I called you was because of that cover letter, so maybe you know something I don’t. But dammit, I don’t want you writing while you are in the booth.”
“So I’m hired?” I said with a smirk.
“Of course you’re hired, Jones,” Mr. Latham, my new boss said.
I got fitted for my toll booth uniform that day. It was grey. Sort of like a mechanic’s outfit. It even had a spot for a name tag.
“Are we getting a patch to go here?” I asked.
“God dammit, Jones,” Latham yelled. “Of course not. Do you want everyone to know your name when you’re in that booth?”
“Good point,” I said. “It might lead to a conversation. And that would disrupt traffic flows.”
“God damn right it would,” Latham said. I began to think that maybe he was regretting hiring me.
I started to daydream about who I might meet. These toll booths were brand spanking new, so no one would have the foresight to avoid them yet. So everyone driving that I-95 corridor from Florida to New York City would pass through.
I envisioned seeing Miley Cyrus cruise through my lane in her supped up Dodge Charger. Or maybe Roy Williams going from one recruiting visit to another. Maybe Johnny Depp would go by in his limo, leaving me a tip.
It seemed the possibilities were endless.
But, it turned out, my dreams were spot on. You could see anyone. And that first day, in fact, the first person to drive through my lane was an old boss of mine.
“Well, well, well,” McSorlip said to me as he pulled up. “I see you’ve really gotten places in life, Jones.”
“Yep,” I said. “And I didn’t have to fuck with my integrity to do it, either.” I smiled and pushed the button that brings the green light up.
“Move on now,” I said as McSorlip was looking at me and trying to come up with something to say. “There’s plenty of cars waiting to get through.”
The next eight hours were a blur. Face after face. Most of them not looking at you at all, just sticking the dollar bill out the door and yanking their hand back as fast as possible.
I had talked to an old timer who was brought in from New Jersey to train us. He said that the rush hour shifts were the best to see things. Women going from work, trying to change clothes or whatever. They always showed a little skin for ya.
I didn’t see any of that. I did see a guy pick his nose with the dollar in the hand he was picking with. Then he wiped it on the dollar and handed it to me.
Another fine citizen handed me a $1 bill and then honked at me. “Hey buddy, I gave you a ten!” he yelled. “Nope, you gave me a one, sir,” here’s the photo of it. I pushed a button and a flip screen TV popped up, with the man’s hand holding a George Washington clearly showing.
“Well, guess you were right,” he said, speeding off.
At some point I realized I had to pee. I’d been drinking Country Time lemonades all morning, and was about to burst. I knew that we were awarded bonuses on not taking breaks, because “An open lane keeps the traffic flowing”, Latham would always say. So I gritted it out. Finally, at the 8-hour mark, my light turned red and traffic stopped coming to me. I ran out and went straight to the “shack”, the tiny office where we had vending machines and a fridge. I had never noticed, but there was just one bathroom, and a line was in front of it.
“First day pee?” the old timer said to me.
“Yes,” I replied
“Get a bottle next time. You get pretty good at holding it in one hand, and taking money with the other. Just have to hope they don’t need change.”