Saturday, January 16, 2010

"Wrong Country"

The scene in Richmond, VA last fall probably called for a suit--or a least a sport coat--and a law degree--or at least the intention of obtaining one. I can not say how many players were involved. Nor can I explain the methodology whereby they arrived at their conclusion. I can only tell you that--when the ink hit the paper--they had agreed to raise the rates on the toll road I travel from DC to near West extremities of northern Virginia. Effective Jan. 1, 2010.

It is an unfortunate fate for me--and any one else who commutes occasionally along the Dulles Toll Road. What used to cost 75 cents now costs a dollar. What used to cost 50 cents now costs 75 cents. Incremental change, to be sure. But that's precisely the problem: the change.

As you approach the toll booths that populate the Dulles Toll Road, flashing lights steer you toward the lanes that are E-Z Pass accessible as well as those reserved for the unwise or stubborn souls who've yet to affix an electronic sticker to their windshields. The lanes that service the unwise blare plainly that you must use coins if you wish to pay the machine. Otherwise, you'll have to suffer the indignity of interacting with a living human being in order to hand your folding money over to the Commonwealth.

I'm unwise. But I'm not a complete fool. I traveled the toll road last week and realized that the change holder in my car was nearly emptied by the new, increased fees. I made it a point to grab a whole bunch of change from the change dish at my house on Thursday night because I knew I'd need it on Friday morning.

(Yes, that means I spent the night in the city. Probably in someone else's bed. And that's all that needs to be said about that. ;P)

Jump cut to Friday morning. NPR is telling me about what's happening in Haiti. Or maybe in the US Supreme Court. I've arrived at the very last tool booth I must endure before hopping off the parkway and slipping into my office. My paw swipes four big, round coins from my car's change holder. I good morning the old fellow manning the toll booth as I dribble each of those coins into the oversized coin collector.

As I inch my car forward, the graybeard yells something. I pump the breaks and glance at the red light that tells me I've not completed my transaction. The attendant climbs out of his post, retrieves a coin from collecting device and reaches his hand into my car window to hand me ten pence.

"Wrong country."

Whoops. Um...yeah.

I threw an American quarter into the machine and sped off.

Haven't been to the UK in more than two years. Haven't sifted through my change jar in at least that long. I'd like to be mad at the suits--or sport coats--in Richmond who caused me to dig so deep into my change reserves.

But I can't really be mad. 'Cause I wouldn't have been there in the first place if there weren't a woman involved somewhere in this story.

I think next time, I'll buy an E-Z pass. Assuming I will still have a need for one.

(Yeah, go 'head and assume that one. For both of us. ;P)

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