So I'm from Columbus, Ohio. It's not exactly a small town... But we don't have toll roads. If you want to go somewhere, you just get on the highway and go, no cash required.
I know that toll roads exist... I have plenty of memories of stopping at toll booths when riding with my parents on vacations. You pay the bored attendant, the light turns green, and you move on through, right?
So when I got the rental car at the Orlando airport, they asked me if I wanted to pay my tolls now, through them. I was really confused by this thought! Would I need to know now how many toll booths I would pass through for my entire vacation?? That sounded difficult. I figured I'd better just stick with what I knew, and pay tolls as I went, with cash, like my parents always had. I'd brought with me a few $20s, plus all of the $1s I'd made a few Sundays ago when I got to wait on the counter patrons at work. I should have more than enough cash to handle whatever toll booths I encountered. So I told them no thank you, and went on my way.
On the way to the hotel from the airport, I passed through two or three toll plazas. I paid the attendants, got change, and went on my merry way. I avoided toll roads for the rest of the trip, until today...
I left the hotel and headed to the airport. I didn't realize it until I was pulling onto the highway, but my phone directed me to get there by spending a short period of time on a toll road. I didn't think this was a problem... Until I realized that this toll road was different! You didn't pass through huge toll plazas along the road itself; instead, you paid a toll at a tiny toll booth when you got off at your exit. The signs for exits before mine said "75 cents, exact change only" or "50 cents, exact change only", and I started to worry. I had a quarter in my pocket, plus some loose change (a nickel and a few pennies), but not enough to come up with 50 or 75 cents exactly... Luckily, when I got to my exit, my sign said "$1.00, exact change only". Perfect! I had a dollar bill!
There were only two lanes. One lane was for ez pass users. The other lane had a booth and was for people paying cash. So I pulled into that lane, my dollar out and ready... But there was no person in the booth! It was dark--blacked out, even. I couldn't see in at all. A little farther up, there was this round metal cage that went into the wall. Now that I saw it, I had vague memories of my parents throwing coins into one of these... But surely coins weren't the only way! Floridians can't possibly be expected to drive everywhere with pockets full of change, right?? So I threw my dollar bill in there.
Nothing happened. The dollar just sat in the metal cage. I knew it needed to go into the hole that went into the wall for the light to turn green, so I rolled my window down and leaned all the way out of the car to shove the bill into the hole. Still, the device did not accept the bill and the light stayed red.
Now a car pulled up behind me. I pulled the dollar bill out of the cage and inspected the wall for another option. Maybe coins went in this thing, but elsewhere along the wall, there was a dollar bill receptacle. I looked everywhere, but didn't find one. Another car pulled up behind me. I was starting to feel a little panicky, now. I tried again to get the hole to take my dollar. This time, I shoved it in there as deep as I could, but I was left with a wadded up dollar bill blocking the hole, a light that was still red, and now three cars waiting impatiently behind me. I looked around helplessly, searching for a human or a sign or something, but there was nothing-only a line of cars and that glaring red light.
I didn't know what to do! I had visions of driving away, and having cops hunt me down and arrest me... I'd lose my job... All for a dollar that I desperately want to give to this stupid cage!
I see an area to the left, in front of this toll area. I pull up and pull into it to let the other cars through. I put the car in park and I get out. I wander around to the back of the toll booth, hoping for a human or a sign to tell me what to do, a number to call for help, something... I go to all sides of the toll booth, even walk back out into the road to look at it from the front, when there are no cars coming. I find nothing. So then I cross that lane and wander around the easy pass lane, again looking for a sign. Still nothing.
Then I realize that as I've been wandering here, I've passed a lot of change on the ground. It was mostly pennies, but I know I saw at least one dime! I get all the change out of my pocket, and then I circle the whole area again, picking up every coin I can find. When cars come by, I try to just stand there and act normal, so nobody thinks I'm crazy or homeless or something. I don't think it works completely; at least two vehicles rush to roll up their windows when they see me, and one does it prior to paying the toll! (i'm in front of the toll booth. She approaches with her window down, rolls it up when she sees me, then pulls all the way up, even past the cage, as far from me as she can get, before rolling it down again, throwing her money backwards into the cage, and quickly rolling it back up.)
Once I've circled the entire area twice, I stop to count my coins. 76 cents. I make one final round, hoping to find a quarter that I've missed. I watch the cars throwing money into the cage, hoping that one quarter will miss the cage. (seriously, how do ALL of these vehicles just happen to have a dollar's worth of coins?!?) I do find another penny that i'd missed, but that's it.
I've now been at this toll booth for 10 minutes. I'm going to be late to return the rental car. I am out of ideas. I go back to the car, and I stand there, defeated. What else can I do?? Money is not going to appear, no matter how long I stand here. I guess I have to just keep going, and deal with the consequences, whatever they may be... I know that there are cameras here, so to show my good faith, I walk back into the road and put the 77 cents in the cage. The red light stares back at me. I shrug apologetically at the light and the camera, and then I get in the car and drive the rest of the way to the airport.
When I get there, I frantically explain to the guy what happened. He stares at me blankly and asks, "you paid rental car for tolls?"
Oh, if only I had known... "no!" I exclaim! "I didn't know! I had a dollar, but it wouldn't take it!"
"ok, say again?" he says.
So I start over, more slowly this time. When I finish, he is laughing at me. "ok," he laughs. "ok."
"so what happens?!?" I ask him.
"you do this how many times?" he asked.
"oh, just once!"
"it's ok," he said. "no problem. No worry. Nothing happens."
And then that's it, and he sends me off with my baggage to catch the flight. So I guess it's ok?!
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