With E-Z Pass, he now rolls through tolls

July 11, 2005|By KEVIN COWHERD

LET'S BEGIN with a simple message for all you toll-collectors on the highways, bridges and tunnels of this great state, and all the other great states that have the vision to recognize the future of modern toll facilities.

And that message is: Get the riff-raff out of the way, boys, `cause daddy's comin' through!

How does the old hymn go?

I once was lost, but now I'm found? Was blind, but now I see?

Yep, that's it exactly.

Guess who's no longer suffering from E-Z Pass Envy?

Guess who finally got his own E-Z Pass and affixed it to the windshield with his own fat little fingers, thereby allowing him to bypass the teeming, sweltering masses in the regular toll lanes as they howl and shove crumpled dollar bills at snarling toll-takers?

Right, little ol' me.

So to those of you who still pull up to the tollbooth and have to rummage through your pockets for - oh, what's the word for that stuff again? Cash? - let me just say this about my own situation:

Well, we're movin' on up, to the East Side

To a dee-luxe apartment in the sky-y-y!

Yep, me and the Jeffersons, baby. We're movin' on up.

OK, maybe a little background is in order here.

Regular visitors to this space may recall that a few weeks ago, I wrote about having a bad case of E-Z Pass Envy, now that every highway in America is clogged with summer vacationers and the backups at the toll plazas stretch from here to Wyoming.

I wrote about being stuck in those backups and watching the big-shots with their E-Z Passes glide through their "special" lanes, and of the deep-seated feelings of inferiority that stirred in me.

I also decried the widening caste system of travel in this country, and pledged to stand in solidarity with my E-Z Pass-less brothers and sisters - even though there was this new, cutting-edge technology that could make my highway travel so much smoother and easier.

Well, forget all that.

I must've been crazy when I wrote that stuff.

Actually, what happened is that reader response to that first E-Z Pass column was over-whelming.

Dozens and dozens of you e-mailed, called and wrote in with comments. And the gist of the comments was this: Cowherd, you're an idiot.

You don't know what you're talking about. Where do you get your facts?

(Like this was going to hurt my feelings. Like we're suddenly going to get hung up on facts in this column.)

Look, the readers said, getting an E-Z Pass is no big deal anymore.

You don't have to be a big-shot. Anyone can get one. You can get one online, by phone, by mail, in person, etc.

You can even go into a Mars supermarket, put 25 bucks on a credit card, and walk out with an E-Z Pass you can use instantly.

Honest, the readers said, you're nuts not to have one of these things.

Why wait in one of those horrible back-ups at the toll plazas, with your wife fanning herself furiously and the kids going nuts in the heat and the dog throwing up, when you can sail through the E-Z Pass lanes and at least keep the whole rolling disaster moving?

Well, it made sense to me.

So I've got an E-Z Pass now. And I'll tell you: it changes your life out there on the open road.

Cruising up Interstate 95 North and across the Susquehanna River bridge on my maiden voyage with the thing, I could feel the familiar anxiety welling up as we approached the Perryville toll plaza.

Sure enough, it was the usual summer nightmare: endless lines of idling cars in front of each of the cash-only tollbooths.

The whole scene was depressing. It was hot and steamy. Great, choking clouds of exhaust fumes rose into the sky. Children cried. Babies wailed. Dogs barked.

It was Calcutta-by-the-Bay. All that was missing were cows wandering through the traffic and chickens squawking from the roofs of buses.

But in the E-Z Pass lanes to the left of all this madness, it was different.

There, it was an oasis of calm. Open, uncrowded lanes of shimmering macadam beckoned, where traffic moved smoothly and briskly.

I nosed the car into the far left lane. Nearing the toll booth, I slowed to 10 mph, as the sign directed.

The green light winked on: toll paid.

Oh, it was wonderful!

No muss, no fuss. No windows cranked down, no steamy air blowing through the car. No grimy $5 bills pressed into the damp hands of exhausted toll-collectors trying to listen to the O's game on dying portable radios.

So that's how the other half lives, I thought.

As the toll plaza quickly receded in our rear-view mirror, I felt a pang of sympathy for all the poor wretches still waiting to pay the toll behind us.

But you'd be surprised how quickly that goes away.

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