The Toll Booth Cashier
by Eric Suhem
I first met the Toll Booth Cashier on the commute drive across the bridge. As I appeared day after day, depositing my toll, we started to chat, and became friends. Theyre going to replace me with a computer system, said the Toll Booth Cashier, informing me that Id soon be able to use a Quick Pass to get through the tolls. Theyll keep a few toll takers, but Ill probably be gone within a month, he said. I told him that I was sorry to hear that, though I could identify with it, as the information systems company for which I worked was going to soon replace many of us with automated solutions.
Im glad you know how I feel, said the Toll Booth Cashier. So until they fire me, would you be interested in participating in toll collection on a higher level? I asked him what he meant and he explained. I agreed to do so, based on the friendship wed established.
On the next day driving across the bridge, the Toll Booth Cashier asked me, Are you having any unresolved personal or business conflicts right now?
Well, Ive been having some issues with a co-worker, I said. But Im sure its something well sort out eventually.
Or you could resolve it now, suggested the Toll Booth Cashier, pointing toward the cell phone next to me on the car seat. I dialed my co-worker and we straightened out the differences wed been having, as traffic lined up behind my car. The Toll Booth Cashier looked on, satisfied by the interpersonal progress being made. After the call, the Toll Booth Cashier said, Okay, you can go through. He raised the wooden traffic arm, and I passed through. See you tomorrow, he added.
The next day I pulled up and the Toll Booth Cashier asked me, Have you set long-term goals? I admitted that I hadnt, though it was something that I meant to do. The Toll Booth Cashier instructed me to pull off on the right to a turnout where I could think about future objectives. I did so, and after 30 minutes the Toll Booth Cashier told me that I could drive through.
On subsequent days, the Toll Booth Cashier demanded unpredictable objects from me when driving though: pieces of string, a plastic replica of an 18th century statuette, wrapping from Burger King. I happily handed them over, glad to be removing litter from my car. He said that he was interested in my reaction, and as I gave him the items, he scribbled notes in a book. On other days, the Toll Booth Cashier asked probing questions that burrowed deep into my psychological core, leaving me spent and emotionally drained, but also cleansed.
One day I drove up, and the Toll Booth Cashier looked at me pensively. Im beginning to have some concerns, he said. I think that we havent reached a sufficient level of psychological intimacy. Until you find words that I can emotionally respond to, Im afraid I cant let you through. I thought long and hard, as the cars backed up behind me, and then gave a sincere description of the personal growth that his new method of toll collection had brought to my life. He decided to let me through.
The day after that I approached the gate and saw that the Toll Booth Cashier was no longer there. Yes, Im sorry, hes no longer here, said his replacement, an attentive yet distracted redheaded woman, adding, but I hear that hes going to write a book about the different people who have passed through the booth. I thought that this sounded like a good idea, and I hoped that hed include me in his book.
The next day I drove up and found that the redheaded woman was also gone, replaced by a Quick Pass Lane.
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