Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is.    The Honorable Governor of Texas, George W. Bush

I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.    Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, July 18, 2005

The Road Takes It's Toll on Me, But It Doesn't Register

I don't know about you, but nothing makes me madder than when I see something coming and, like any dumb-ass Wisconsin deer, I let it roll right on over me anyway. It's like standing over a four foot putt, knowing I don't have a feel for it, knowing I should back off from it, hitting it horribly and missing the hole by six inches. All around this world there are expensive putters in the bottoms of ponds directly as a result of such a process.

So I'm down there in the flatlands (Illinois), plying my wares on a Saturday and I find myself with a ten o'clock appointment in Des Plaines (strangely pronounced dĕs plānz) and a twelve o'clock in Antioch. Forty miles apart but, no problem, I'll just jump on the Tri-State Tollway and zip, zip, I'm there.

I don't like the Illinois Tollway Authority. I'm not yet like all those Cheeseheads who hate everything about Chicago and brag about their freeways that bring millions of flatlanders north to pay too much for their crappy bratwurst and Leinenkugel beer while the former brag about all those fish out there they never seem to be able to find when you pay them to.

But I'm getting there.

This Ill (sorry) will began one of those many times I found myself driving my son to an airport, this time to O'Hare International. Easy as pie, really, you just head down the Tri and take the exit and come around the bend and...EXACT CHANGE ONLY or I PASS, no attendant on duty. The busiest freaking airport in the world; thousands and thousands of unfamiliar people coming down this ramp and they better start fumbling for change, cuz Enterprise ain't gonna bring 'em back to feed the machine, sorry. Enterprise is going to get the notice and take the fine right out of their credit cards, read the fine print.

Back to the near past. I come up the ramp from Golf Road, another EXACT CHANGE (or more is OK) ONLY or I PASS entrance, but I know better and have my change ready. I have lots of it ready because I know the Illinois Tollway Authority has recently doubled the tolls for cash customers. I sidle up and toss it in. As I creep ahead I really do know better. I shouldn't in any way trust those ancient machines to count my dimes and nickels properly, but I crawl ahead like some Don Prudhomme waiting for the green light in his 16 valve funny car Focus, but really just awaiting that wonderful little moment when that green light lets me know my money is just as good as anyone else's and...

Nothing! DAMN DAMN DAMN. Can I back up? Nope, too late. DAMN DAMN DAMN! Go through? Ah, but since all this I PASS stuff started they've installed high power lights and new cameras and they will send a bill. They've installed all kinds of things except for new machines to count the change of cash customers who, as you recall, have to pay DOUBLE! I KNEW this would happen!

So I grab a small fistful of change, mostly pennies and nickels left in my little drawer where the ashtrays used to be, and get out of the car, walk back to the oldest robot in the star fleet and toss half in...nothing. Toss the other half...nothing. I look at the line of cars waiting at this point, shrug, put my hand down by my rear plates and make a certain gesture, get in the car and drive off. Fine, I'll get one of those envelopes for slackers at the next booth and send in a toll just in case. Not many people know about these, so much revenue is produced from all the fines generated in these unattended and often inoperative zones that the Authority is not likely to publicize this corrective procedure.

Away we go for about a mile and a half and CRAP, It's Saturday morning and about thirty thousand people are all headed up this road to Six Flags. Is there a dedicated exit to Six Flags, whose customers are also the prime market for this highway on weekends? Of course not! All these people, and those going to a huge mall called Gurnee Mills on the same exit, block two lanes of the Toll Road and back it up for 30 miles as they wait to dump onto a suburban street, wait for a light, turn right and head into the lots they went by 30 minutes earlier. These people have all kinds of time to look for change, but this ramp is strangely free.

Not so for me, as an hour and a half later I pull up to the booth not more than five miles north of Six Flags and hand an attendant double toll to leave Illinois. I tell 'im, "I need one of those envelopes cuz I didn't have change where I got on."

"Oh, I haven't seen any of those for some time."

"Do you still use them?" I hopelessly ask.

"I don't know. I think so. But I don't have any."

I see a tech up ahead and a thought occurs to me, "What's that guy doing?"

"He's working on a camera."

I KNEW it.


At 9:21 AM, Anonymous JustNotAHoosier said...

After 3 years of driving home from Indiana (even more if you the count the school years) through the lovely tolls of Chicago, we finally submitted 2 months ago to the ipass. I have to say this vehicle tracking device has really made an improvement in our weekend commutes. Now instead of wasting a billion gallons of gas making our inefficient Chevy go from "55" to 0 to "55" in 200 feet, we sail through at the posted speed limit. No more cash and change to worry about. We never carry it anyways. The perk of being able to reroute ourselves without the worry of having exact change has saved us $20 since May 28th and perhaps some minor artery hardening due to stress. Yet, my husband is checking the mail waiting for when they start calculating timepoint to timepoint on the ipass draws and start mailing out speeding tickets to everyone who uses the tollway and miraculously doesn't get stopped in traffic for 10 or more minutes. I don't suppose we will save so much then...

At 1:56 PM, Blogger Bullock said...

Just back from my first European vacation and some insight on how they handle freeways and traffic.The autobahn is a delight, gets you from point A to B per how fast you want to drive.We averaged around 140 km/hr or 90mph here.Demographics are different, tho. Germany is the size of Montana with the population of California, mainly concentrated in cities with wide open spaces in between.No tolls.Driving around the cities is trickier but they have 'thru lanes' and, poof, you're back out on the open road.Parking in the city? You get your ticket just like here except it has a mag stripe on the back. You do your business or shopping, feed the ticket back in a reader/pay machine and it tells you what you owe. You pay, retrieve your ticket and feed it back into a reader on the way out.Easy.
Then, the French system--toll city. Here you can pay the attendant at the toll booth or faster,slip in a prepaid debit-type card and go.Ratio of unattended booths to attended ones was like 5 to 1.
California now has the transponder system on their few toll roads and I have to say it works fine.Technology works for simple traffic throughput but runs afoul when the local politics want traffic directed a certain way, like to tax generating shopping malls or amusement parks.


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