Taking Its Toll

Posted on December 13, 2014 under Storytelling with no comments yet


Rolling on down the highway in Italy



When I think of Italy, images of famous landmarks race through my head.  It would be difficult to travel through this country without stopping to see the Coliseum, The Vatican, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Pompeii and the canals of Venice.  Italy simply oozes history and culture.  And while I can’t say this with a great deal of certainty, surely we owe a great debt to the Italians for inventing pizza.

There are other more obscure landmarks that don’t have the same cache.  Take the toll booth near Foggia on the Adriatic Coast, for example.

With every passing year, the “user pay” mentality has swept the globe.  It’s hard to travel anywhere these days without encountering toll roads.  They are a necessary evil to ensure that the highways and byways are well maintained.

Nova Scotia has always been a trend setter, and long before the Cobequid Pass came into being we had our very own toll booth just a mere half hour up the road at the Canso Causeway.  You see, Cape Bretoners realized that it was a privilege to enter their domain and charged mainlanders and tourists a modest fee to spend time on their hallowed ground.

I recently travelled to Florida by car and, by and large, the toll booths are occupied by very pleasant attendants.   However, every so often there is a stretch where you simply pick up a ticket as you enter the Interstate and place it in a machine as you pay and exit.  No human interaction required.  It’s like an ATM in reverse.

Friends of mine were travelling in Europe this fall and were wending their way through Southern Italy.  They came upon one of the unmanned pay stations on a toll highway.  There were about a dozen booths, with several accepting cash and credit cards.  In order for the barrier to lift, payment had to be rendered.  Not remarkably, my friends chose the one with the shortest line.  This strategy is occasionally fraught with danger.

The car in front of them pulled up to the pay machine and the occupants inserted their toll card, followed by a credit card.  It appeared that the payors were experiencing some problems.  Their cards were entered and spit out several times in rapid succession.  My friend tapped his steering wheel with a tiny bit of restlessness.   When he saw the driver of the car exiting to stand in front of the ticket apparatus, (a no-no according to the strict rules at these booths), the thought ran through his mind that this was simply a doddering old person having a senior’s moment.  “How difficult can it be to pay a ticket?” he pondered.

Extremely challenging, as he was soon to find out.

Mercifully the ordeal came to an end and the car ahead pulled away.

He pulled the rented Volvo into place and briskly placed his ticket and credit card into the pay machine. Nothing.  As he had observed with the previous road warrior, both items were shot back out like a bullet.  Several more attempts yield similar results.

Feeling a “Pompeii like” eruption simmering, he noticed a green button with words written in Italian.  While he claimed bilingual status (English and Dutch), he had not studied Italian at school and he concluded that the button was for help.  He pressed it and, not surprisingly, the language on the other end (from an automated voice) was Italian.  “I can’t get your machine to accept my card,” he explained as his blood pressure bumped up a few notches.  The driver behind him watched with some bemusement as my friend flailed away, trying to explain that he didn’t speak Italian.  He even tried a few words in Dutch.

And a long line of cars accumulated at the booth.  A few cars honked their horns, adding to his cumulative angst.

There is something called a “mercy rule” in baseball.  When one team is running up the score and the result is not in doubt, the game is shortened by several innings.  The young male driver in the car behind my friends decided to come to the rescue.  He was Italian and spoke flawless English.  He took the toll ticket and rubbed it before inserting it into the ticket device.  Not quite “genie in a bottle” type of rubbing but with a similar magical outcome.

It took a few tries but eventually the machine gobbled up the ticket and credit card, spewed out a receipt and the barrier lifted.

My friends proceeded down the highway and took the exit for The Vatican.  They wanted to report the reappearance of “The Good Samaritan”.

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