For Whom the Cash Tolls...

Saturday, 11 August 2012

I'm an idiot. It is not easy to type those words but this time, I truly am. An IDIOT.

How many times have my loving, intelligent parents told me to never travel without cash? I'm estimating here... but I'm going to guess 543 gazillion times. I however, do not listen. I rarely ever carry cash unless I just know I'm going to be hit up by all of the homeless fellows in the Old City in Knoxville. Even then I just say something ridiculous like, "Get a job!" and move on. (Aside: I'd never say that but when people do I think to myself, what a jerk, but I kind of secretly admire their commitment to whatever "value" it is that makes them say such a thing.)

I'm currently sitting in Brasserie by LM in Chicago a block from Lake Michigan. I drove here from Columbus, Ohio in a rental car Friday and the ride up was eventful. As schooled folks do, I typed in the address of my Chicago hotel into my iPhone, trusting that it would successfully lead me to my destination.

Note: Do not trust technology.

Let me back up. My iPhone DID lead me exactly and directly to my hotel but as some may argue about a lie, an omission of the truth can lead to the same circumstances as a lie. Here's what I mean... when one drives from Columbus, Ohio to Chicago, one may be directed to take I-90 which is a TOLL ROAD. Mapquest knows nothing of what that means.

Toll road, Webster's dictionary: a road for the use of which a toll is collected.

No problem. We've all been on toll roads. The topic would not turn into a blog post except for two things. When I arrived at the first toll, I was a little worried. I thought, "Come on. These are modern days. Surely these toll people take debit cards." Good news: they do. Bad news: in IL they do not take debit or credit cards that are of the MASTER CARD genre. This is only explained by a sign the size of a business card.

When I figured out the toll would not accept my debit card as it was affiliated with the devil (?? I still don't get why they won't take Master Card), I was overjoyed to realize I had the $.70 cash necessary to keep on moving. YAY! I didn't give the sad toll situation a second thought because I figured I'd paid the toll... time to roll into Chicago.

Wrong.

I see a toll sign for toll #2 along I-90 just in time to figure out there are no exits so I cannot get to an ATM. The attendant says, "Oh. You have a Master Card debit card?" Fighting the urge to say, "And what is wrong with Master Card?" I say, "Yes, and my credit card is Master Card as well." She judges me with her eyes. My heartbeat quickens. She says sharply, "Do you have cash?" I don't have the $3.50 required to pass. Imagining imprisonment, never making it to the conference, being stranded forever, I say, "I have checks." She literally rolls her eyes and askes for my driver's license. I hand it over - so thankful that she writes up a receipt that I MUST remember to send in with payment. Once again, I was on my way.

Let me remind you, third time is a charm. Toll booth signs again start popping up and I have a sinking feeling in my stomach. Why the h*ll didn't I stop to get cash after the second encounter with tolls? I thought I was out of the woods. I'd paid $4.20 by then and Chicago was in sight. Well.... you have to pay ANOTHER $2.50 to get there.

I pull up to the third toll booth. The operator, a nice, very hip young man was extremely unimpressed with my problem. "Oh. You ONLY have Master Card?" "Yes, sir, and I didn't know there was another toll or that you didn't take Master Card until I came through today. Can you give me a receipt that I can mail in?"

"Nope. You'll have to back up. There's an ATM at that McDonald's."

I looked in my rearview window. The "McDonald's at the toll" was at least 100 yards behind me and cars were narrowing down from the interstate to the toll booths at the speed of approximately 75 mph. I gulped.

"I can't do that. It isn't safe." (BTW - I've NEVER uttered that phrase before in my life. You know it was bad.)

He looked at me with an eyebrow raised. "Look, I'm trying to save you some time. It's going to take the bosses a long time to get here. I've shut down my lane. You need to back up all the way to McDonald's and get cash."

I looked at him. He looked me in the eyes. He was serious.

I put the car in reverse and started backing up...but gingerly. No dice. The dude turned his booth sign back to green and someone quickly ramped up on my a$$ and laid ... I mean LAID... on the horn. I pulled back to the guy. "You can't turn your light back on until I back up, dude!" He sighed the longest sigh in history... one that makes up for 30-something year old Tennessee drivers that attempt to make it to Chicago...

He gestures at the driver behind me to back up and go into another lane and looks at me. It is TIME. I take a deep breath, hold it, and slam the rental car into reverse. I back up at such a speed that with the window down, my hair was blowing in the breeze, steering to avoid cars swerving into the toll area. I had to be aggressive and (I could see it in their faces) drivers who were attempting to perform normal driving techniques were shocked. I don't recommend it.

Steeled to achieve my goal of backing the crazy-long way to McDonald's and getting money, I did not let humiliation stop me. Eventually I made it, turned in and still shaking, withdrew money. I pulled through the toll (to another attendant's station) and paid. The gate rose and I was elated! Green light!

Through a small miracle, I made it to the city and am having a successful conference. I'm surprised too. Don't let this nonsense happen to you. CARRY CASH.

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