CAUTION: DETAILS IN THE PICTURE, SUCH AS AN ACTUAL BOOTH OR A PERSON STANDING GUARD MAY NOT BE FOUND IN OTHER AREAS. KINDLY LOOK FOR A HELPING HAND ELSEWHERE.
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I am on my way back from a trip to Richmond, VA where I had a book reading. All having gone well beyond my expectations…until I hit some more of the toll plazas: I am out of cash. I don’t mean only out of small change: There is no cash left on me! While in Richmond, turnpikes/toll area were offering “Full Service” or there would be a live person inside the booth. Not at all the case around here. (In my own defense for my ill-preparedness: I have been living happily ever after in the lovely small town where I settled about 12 years ago, and haven’t exactly experimented with many turnpike or toll plaza zones since…)
There are only two lanes this time. No multiple “Cash Only”s or “EZPASS Only”s. The image above – minus what appears to be a real person’s hand reaching outside the booth – is quite accurate to describe my reality (in my case, what seemed to be once a booth gave back a rather eerie look at me, from behind pitch-dark windows – there was no movement). My evil-eye small change purse had handed over its last emergency account of 40 cents where that last toll plaza had surprised me (jointly with my dysfunctional TomTom and equally dysfunctional iPhone App). As for all other cents and dollars, they were emptied prior…This one expects 70 cents. I have 30 cents left in another small change purse (who knows why I keep around in my car), though all in pennies but at least, it is close to half the amount needed. I’m off to hunt for my remaining 40 cents.
My car – however small it may be – is now comfortably squeezed somewhere adjacent to the missing booth vicinity, fully blocking the way for other drivers. A motorcyclist zooms by the EZPASS section. ‘Wow,’ I conclude in amazement, ‘how fast can these passes be scanned these days?’ (Have I stressed one detail yet? This area is rather deserted…)
At this point in time, only one car bumper makes a pass at that of mine but soon after another vehicle is heard, one that decides to become intimate friends with the car right behind me. Too close for comfort for everyone…I dare to peek from my rear-view mirror: there is only one person sitting in the car right behind mine, and that’s the driver. I conclude in hope: he will know what I am going through right now. A fellow traveler but also one who goes solo. I get out of my car, approach his driver-side door (at least he rolls down the window, although looking at me as if I were a giraffe or four elephants leaving that tiny car in front of him): not even a question, such as, maybe just maybe, do I need anything, am I hurt (since I look the part, thanks to my family-size eye infection). Not yet discouraged, I explain my situation to him as quickly as I can (if not, he may just drive over my little red and won’t care about leaving any tire prints, I fear…). Still no reaction whatsoever. His eyes on mine, he makes a head gesture which I am left to translate as “see, if I care!” Only one thing is there for me to do and I gather up the courage to follow it through: “Sir, in that case could you please back up your car so that I can get mine out of everyone’s way?” Nothing. No response (he spoke a very clear English with me before – well, it was a mumbling sound but in perfect English regardless…)
I then walk over toward the car behind him (I spot at least two heads – it’s evening hours and the sun is setting modestly, instead of shining directly into my already compromised eye sight…thanks to my infected eye…). The window slowly comes down. No question. No visible reaction. So, I have to speak first again: “I need 70 cents but have only 30 left and there is no full service here, as you can see. No one is in the booth. Would it be possible…” – The man on the passenger side is quick to respond to me but only by telling me how fast he has to … go to a bathroom (though he uses less imaginative words). I apologize for keeping them there and think about offering them a copy of my $22.95 worth book from the trunk of my car in place of their 40 cents. I don’t dare. What if they think I am a nutcase? The driver feels urged to add his few cents worth: “70 cents. It’s only 70 cents!” He is in disbelief that I don’t have that amount of money on me…
I can tell they are both getting upset at the fact that I am so clueless as to not keep a load of change with me – in case another toll plaza decides to appear with no full service no booth-person before the unsuspecting driver that I am that day. I am ready to turn around to go back to my car but have to ask them to please back up their car, so that the one behind me can back up his…etc. They keep waiting for me to finish one sentence after another. Perhaps, until the passenger is capable of announcing to my face with a growing smirk a piece of wisdom anyone should forever be thankful for: “We all gotta go somewhere.” Hmm. Really?
While I act the stupid that I am at the moment, still hoping to hear a word, any word of sympathy or question of concern (perhaps, my eye infection scared them so…it could, after all, turn into a fatal weapon), both drivers finally back up their cars. And I park mine on the far right side – away from any approaching cars, in case my luck changes. To my surprise, the second car’s driver makes a (far far far far far less than half-hearted) swerve toward me, his passenger takes out his hand and shouts at me with an owner-to-unwanted dog-attitude: “Do you want a quarter?”
Thankfully, I can manipulate my face from over-friendly to somewhat of a “don’t mess with me” expression whenever I have to…
And I wait. Making no record of how much time passes. Nor showing any interest whatsoever in keeping such a record. An SUV approaches the booth-person-less booth area. I don’t even need to signal to this driver, the car slows down on its own. Encouraged, I leave my car and approach it. Two people are in it, one man one woman about my age. The man is driving. Before I can even finish my sentence to explain my dilemma, they both reach into a box (or something) and take cash out to give it to me. I thank them – probably, way too many times, so the man gives me a smile with a kind reassurance: “It is 40 cents.”
Fresh in my mind how three other adults treated me in the same situation, I thank both of them several times again. Actually, what they don’t know is how much I want to hug this couple. I restrain myself from doing so for fear that such show of affection could be misunderstood at my age…But the truth is, they found me at a vulnerable mindset, after all, just when I was feeling abandoned right there and then by humanity at large. As for my ‘please adopt me’ face, that must have seemed to them as something they would prefer not to use at this stage of their lives…
When I asked how I could ever return their favor, giving me embracing eye-smiles, they sent me off to have ‘safe travels’ because that outcome would be my thanks to them.